By Megan Hall (reprinted from The High Country Magazine, October/November 2013)
In other areas of the country and the world, wineries mean towering Tuscan villas, sleek limousines, crowded tasting rooms and high prices. Not in Avery County. Wineries are a whole other animal in the High Country, and Jack Wiseman knows how to tame the beast.
Jack, owner of Linville Falls Winery, was born and raised in the High Country, and always knew he would one day own his own winery.
“My grandmother Ida taught me to make wine when I was eight years old and I’ve been passionate about grapes ever since!” said Jack, lounging in pair of slightly wrinkled khakis and a light blue button down on the elegant patio of the vineyard.
Since opening in October 2012, the Linville Falls Winery has been the talk of the town. With 40 acres of rolling land planted with both grapes and Christmas trees, locals and visitors alike have found themselves at home on the property. Whether it is hiking to the top of the ridge for a beautiful view, picking out a Christmas tree, enjoying a few glasses of wine in front of the outdoor fireplace, or, most recently, supporting a fundraiser for the victims of the mudslide on Highway 194, there is something for everyone.
Before he pursued his dream of opening a winery, Jack, who is now 80 years old, spent more than 40 years researching the wine industry, and, more specifically, the feasibility of growing grapes in Avery County.
“From the time I was young, I wanted to try and grow grapes up here,” said Jack. “I spent time in the Korean War as an Army medic and after I finished my enlistment I lived in California working as a sheet metal mechanic at a shipyard. I spent most weekends in Napa and Sonoma. This was in the 1960s before vineyards were crowded. There weren’t many tourists at all. I paid attention to how they operated. It was great research!”
During another of his weekend trips, Jack visited Oregon with a friend and helped harvest Frasier Firs. He immediately fell in love with Christmas trees as well. Many of Jack’s uncles graduated from North Carolina State University with degrees in agriculture, so he saw a very plausible opportunity to plant trees back home.
“I moved back to North Carolina and told my uncles we should plant some trees,” Jack said. “It didn’t go over too well, so I moved down to Charlotte and started a janitorial business. When I lived in California, I used to pick up extra work cleaning buildings, so I had plenty of experience. I started the business in 1962 and when I sold the business fifteen years later, I had more than 300 employees cleaning buildings all over Charlotte.”
Jack wasn’t just building a janitorial empire; he also eventually convinced one of his uncles to go into the Christmas tree business. In 1962, Jack and his uncle planted 5,000 Christmas Trees. After that, he split his time between Charlotte and the High Country. Any time Jack had extra money, he would pack up his wife and children and drive to his old stomping grounds in Avery County and buy parcels of land.
“People thought we were crazy when we planted the initial 5,000 seedlings,” said Jack. “And then two or three years later, we planted 100,000 – they really thought we were crazy then!”
Even after settling into a life of Christmas tree farming, Jack couldn’t get wine out of his mind. He took several samples of soil from his farms and had them analyzed in Raleigh to help determine if the soil would produce a fruitful vineyard.
“I knew I would like to open a vineyard someday, so we took samples from many of our farms,” said Jack. “The results showed several locations had good viability for grapes.”
Twenty-six years after those initials samples, and after watching the success of Banner Elk Winery, Jack felt confident that grapes would grow in Linville Falls.
“I knew if they could grow grapes in Banner Elk, we could certainly grow grapes in Linville Falls,” said Jack. “We are 800 feet lower in elevation and eight degrees warmer [than Banner Elk]. Linville Falls is already known as garden and fruit country. After Banner Elk Winery’s success, I knew we could make something special happen down here.”
Soon construction began on a spacious tasting room modeled after the wineries Jack once visited in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It’s Tuscan charm, bolstered by vaulted ceiling with exposed wood beams, is most evident when relaxing on the warm stone patio complete with an outdoor fireplace and breathtaking view of the vineyard and tree farm.
“I handpicked this particular piece of land out of 22 other farms to be the vineyard location,” said Jack. “It is an old cabbage and cattle farm that has a good slope for drainage and it faces southeast so it gets every drop of sun.”
Linville Falls Winery is known for many of their wines, but there are two or three that ring out as fan favorites including the Riesling, Cherry Bounce and, of course, Blueberry.
“Drinking Riesling makes you a better person!” said Jack. “I think it’s because there are at least nine different flavors of Riesling, everything from dry to sparkling. It makes it valuable.”
The Riesling at Linville Falls is no exception. Smooth with a hint of pear and touch of acidity, this delectable wine is heavily influenced by the Blue Ridge soil from which it grows. These grapes ripen more slowly in the High Country because of the cool nights and warm days, which results in a fresher, more complex taste.
In addition to the Riesling, the award-winning Cherry Bounce was destined to be a crowd pleaser.
“I designed this wine for women,” said Jack with a mischievous grin. “It’s actually a twist on Martha Washington’s recipe that was George [Washington’s] favorite. We use apple brandy made in Lenoir and combine it with cherry wine made with fresh Avery County cherries and then add a hint of cinnamon. It’s very easy to drink.”
Last, but certainly not least, one taste of the Blueberry wine will keep you talking for weeks. This light fresh wine is bursting with fresh High Country blueberries. As Jack is known for saying, “This would pair well with some good stanky cheese.”
Each and every wine on the tasting list offers its own unique flavor and pairing options, but none of these would be possible without Jack’s vision and his right-hand man, Rick Donley, the wine maker for Linville Falls Winery since October 2011.
Rick was previously the director of Appalachian State University’s enology and viticulture department. He also spent years as wine maker with Glen Ellen and Gundlach Bundschu wineries in Sonoma, California. His background includes a degree in enology and viticulture, a graduate degree in food chemistry and almost 30 years in the wine industry.
As Jack will lament, Rick joined the winery family just in time to help pioneer some note-worthy High Country wines.
“I’d known Rick for a couple years before I proposed he come on board,” said Jack. “I liked his demeanor. He was very forthcoming. We’re both dedicated to proving that the High Country can produce unrivaled, world-class wine. And Rick has something few wine makers have – a great taster!”
Rick isn’t the only person enjoying the tastes of Linville Fall Winery. On websites such as Tripadvisor and Yelp, visitors to the winery hail it as a “must-see” that has a “wonderful Tuscan feel.”
One enthusiast who visited the winery in September left a review on Tripadvisor stating, “[It was a] beautiful Tuscan-like winery in the middle of the gorgeous Blue Ridge. We tasted the eight wines and enjoyed the flavors. Then we decided to explore the vineyards and surrounding landscape. Four of us tackled the high hills behind the winery where we found awesome views but the best part came when the owner pulled up in his ATV and offered us a ride to the top! Such a treat — really made our trip. We could see for miles and loved the mix of Christmas trees with the vineyards. Don’t miss a visit here when you are in the area.”
Evidenced by many such reviews, Linville Falls Winery is experiencing steady business despite being a relatively young vineyard.
“We get a lot of business from the [Blue Ridge] Parkway,” said Jack. “Some people just go for a drive, get a little lost and end up here. Every time that happens, they always say, ‘What a great place to end up!’ That’s what we want. We want to focus on producing high-quality, award-winning wines that people will die for.”
Linville Falls Winery is already hosting live music every Saturday from 3-6 p.m. through October 12, but they would like to expand into more events.
“We’re planning to do landscaping and, I hope, refurbish the old barn on the property to be an event space,” said Jack. “I would love to host weddings and other events more often!”
While broaching into the realm of event hosting, Jack has already opened the doors of Linville Falls Winery for a fundraiser benefitting the victims of the recent mudslide on Highway 194. In a joint effort with Reaching Avery Ministry and WAMY, this past August, Jack offered live music by Graham Ferrell and Friends, tours and tasting, while also donating a percentage of all wine sales to the affected families.
Philanthropic endeavors such as this, combined with his years of service to the community, garnered Jack’s entry into the Martha Guy Hall of Legends this past September. Sponsored by the Williams YMCA of Avery County, the event honored Jack, along with Dr. Bill Tate, for making a significant difference in the community through the course of many, many years.Hall of Legends committee member, Nancy Morrison, who introduced Jack at the ceremony, commented to High Country Press, “Both of these men have given back to the community and have served on almost every board imaginable, been members of every organization in the county and spent many, many years adding and contributing significantly to causes that have bettered Avery County citizens.”
In his typical fashion, Jack said that the induction came as a surprise and “a hell of an honor.”
Among other accolades, Jack has also been recognized as Avery County Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.
After spending the better part of a century researching, planting, cultivating, harvesting and enjoying his dream of owning a vineyard, Jack is just thankful it all worked out.
“This was a risky venture,” said Jack. “I invested a lot of money and I’m just happy that my dream of having a vineyard and being successful at bringing fresh, local wine to the people of the High Country has come true! My next feat will be to move to all estate-grown grapes. I’m hoping that will happen in the very near future.”
When Jack isn’t at the vineyard nurturing his love affair with grapes, he can often be found spending time with his wife of 51 years, Jo Ann, or his three children and six grandchildren.
“My wife puts up with a lot from me,” said Jack with a chuckle. “The secret to a 51-year marriage is a Christian upbringing, communication and honesty. That’s it!”
Jack and Jo Ann have an interesting story all their own. They are fifth cousins, both hailing from Aldridge bloodlines, who met at Crossnore High School.
“My wife’s parents travelled the country playing hillbilly music, which then became known as country music and is now known as bluegrass,” said Jack. “Her father was from Crossnore and her mother was a classic pianist from England. Jo Ann’s mother went to one of the hillbilly music shows, fell in love with it and met her future husband! They had Jo Ann in San Francisco and eventually moved back to Western North Carolina.
“I met Jo Ann at Crossnore High School,” said Jack, “and one day I looked at her and said, ‘You know, you’d make a great wife someday.’ After the war, I found out where she was living. Then when I moved back to Charlotte I ran into her and one year later we were married!”
Jack Wiseman is a multi-faceted businessman with a heart of gold. He’s changed the landscape of Avery County with his revolutionary Christmas tree methodology and now, once more, he’s changing Avery County with the addition of delicious, unmatched wines.
The Linville Falls Winery is located at 9557 Linville Falls Highway outside of Newland. They are open daily from 12 – 6 p.m. for tastings. Their wine can also be purchased online. Please visit www.linvillefalls-winery.com for more information.
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