Grandfather Vineyard uncorks success

By Jesse Campbell (

Article Published: Sep. 5, 2013 | Modified: Sep. 5, 2013
Grandfather Vineyard uncorks success

Vineyard and winery co-owner Steve Tatum inspects a recently mashed batch of grapes that will be turned into wine in about a year’s time.
Photos by Jesse Campbell

Not many vineyards can thrive on the rocky slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.

Then again, not many of those same vineyards can boast numerous medals for their award-winning entries that beat out hundreds of varieties from wineries across the Mid-Atlantic region.

As they have been doing since 2003, when the first grape seeds were sown into the unforgiving mountainous terrain, Grandfather Mountain Vineyard and Winery is silencing pundits that a quality chardonnay or delicious meal accentuating red wine cannot come from the most unlikely of places.

“It all kind of started in 2003 when dad planted the first vines,” winemaker Dylan Tatum said, holding the Legacy Winemakers Blend, the vineyard’s Best in Show winner from the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition.

“To win Best in Show, especially with a red wine, is really something,” said Dylan’s father, Steve Tatum, a co-owner of the winery. “Red wines are what you are really known for. The big red is what makes your reputation (as a winery).”

The vineyard’s status as a premier winery has been slowly building since the first grapes ripened.
Since then, the vines have taken root and so has the winery’s reputation for handcrafted winemaking.

“When we first started planting, no one else was growing grapes around here,” Steve said. “We are still trying to figure out what does the best. Some varieties haven’t been tried yet. The jury is still out.”

While late spring and early fall frosts typically wreak havoc on grape harvests annually, the vineyard gathers most of its winemaking fruits from vineyards off the mountain and across the Southeast.
By the numbers alone, Dylan said around 90 percent, if not more, of the winery’s products originate from the vines of distant vineyards.

That does not mean the father-son duo doesn’t try to incorporate its own homegrown flavors whenever the opportunity arises. They also have a few exclusively grown and procured house wines that hold their own.

The labor that goes with managing the vines that sprawl along the adjacent Foscoe hillside and the vats of grapes that are just waiting to be smashed and transformed into a new Southern delicacy is immense.

Last year, the winery filled a personal best of 1,200 cases of wine. With its current scope of operations, Steve said capacity for the small winery is probably in the neighborhood of 2,000. “We are still so small, so everything has to be done by hand — even the bottling,” Dylan said.

A general appreciation for wine and the art of making traditional varieties runs deep for the Tatums.
When Steve was trying to decide on what to do with acres upon acres of unattended earth near his home at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, he turned to his passion instead of what was considered more practical at the time.

“I could see the wine industry was picking up in North Carolina, and a lot of farmers were starting to get away from tobacco,” he said. “A lot about having a vineyard or winery is also about getting people off the beaten path. I noticed in Yadkin Valley that a lot of these vineyards were 10 or 15 miles from the interstate. We are right on the highway and are already in a tourist area.”

At the end of the day, it’s also about the grapes, the wine and the flavor that flows with it.

“I’ve always enjoyed a good glass of wine,” Steve said. “To be able to manipulate it the way that you want it is really fun to do.”

Additional Images

Vineyard and winery co-owner Steve Tatum inspects a recently mashed batch of grapes that will be turned into wine in about a year’s time.
Photos by Jesse Campbell

A view from atop Grandfather Vineyard and Winery in Foscoe.

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