Laurel Gray grows winning wine on family farm

Taylor Pardue Staff Reporter

January 3, 2014

Laurel Gray Vineyards is as much a picture of Yadkin County in 2013 as it is a prize-winning winery. It’s situated on Old Highway 421 on an old tobacco farm, ran by a retired R.J. Reynolds worker and his wife, produces some of the most awarding winning wines in the world, and owes it all to soil the rest of the country gets green with envy for.

Benny Myers and his wife Kim weren’t sure what they would do with the farmland when they bought it from Benny’s cousin in 1994, but there was no doubt they had to have the acreage. The farm was totally in tobacco at the time. He and his wife were in the Angus cattle business at the time, so purchasing the land made perfect sense.

Little did he and his wife know at the time that years of tobacco planting had prepped the soil for the perfect pH balance. Benny and Kim took classes at the viticulture department of Surry Community College to learn what to do about planting a vineyard. Benny said their instructors couldn’t believe the quality of the soil.

Almost exactly a neutral seven on the scale, the soil was far and away better than the local average of acidic 3.5-4. The Myers began planting their vineyard in 2003 on a two-acre patch of the farm and did not have to alter the soil at all, “just dig holes and put in the vines,” Benny said.

The first two wines that came out of the vineyard won gold medals at the Mid-Atlantic Wine Competition in Winston-Salem.

Benny said the two had planted the vineyard with the intent to sell the grapes, but the wine turned out so well they began looking at making their own wine. They expanded to a 10-acre vineyard and built their own winery and tasting room on the property. They produced about 3,000 cases of wine a year.

The wines have since won numerous awards both here in the U.S. and internationally. Benny displays a bottle of each winner inside the tasting room on a shelf over the serving bar, each wrapped in the medals they received.

But Benny doesn’t just create wine for the sake of medals. His main goal with each bottle is for the customer to take the wine home and savor it, preferably with a meal. Drawing on the customs of European connoisseurs, Benny tries to teach each customer to pair the French dinner wines the vineyard produces with the appropriate foods whenever possible. He says Europeans view wine as an additional food to their plate, not as a beverage all to itself.

If you want to buy a bottle or case you need to visit the tasting room at Laurel Gray. Benny is in the process of talking to restaurants to sell his wine, but currently the tasting room and the vineyard’s website are the only places to pick up the wine. Twenty-one and Main in Elkin serves a Merlot from Laurel Gray also.

The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, the tasting room is open 1 to 5 p.m. The average number of visitors passing through the vineyard in the last three years is 12,000 annually, but this year’s wet weekends have hampered some from getting out to the winery.

Visitors also can join a wine club that meets at the vineyard twice a year. Members can pick wine up five times a year for a total of 10 bottles which Benny selects. Pairing recipes are included with the wines in a further effort to teach customers how to best enjoy the Laurel Gray products.

Laurel Gray makes the wines through a separate company it owns called the Yadkin Valley Wine Company, located on the property across a decorative pond from the tasting room. Laurel Gray owns it but pays to have their wine made there like any other company would. Myers brings in a wine maker to make wine, with the facility crushing the grapes and making the wine on site.

Myers works on the property himself to keep the operation running smoothly. He refuses to take a hands-off approach with his winning wines, choosing long hours and hard work over the ease of letting someone else manage the business.

Benny cuts the grass and tends the vineyard himself, further keeping himself immersed in the growth and success of Laurel Gray. He primarily oversees Yadkin Valley Wine and Kim oversees Laurel Gray’s tasting room. Between them they have grown the businesses into two powerhouses of the Yadkin Valley wine region, with more surprises and expansions always on the horizon.

Reach Taylor Pardue at 835-1513 ext. 15, or at tpardue@civitasmedia.com.