Main and Mulberry: Grindstone – Bart Horton, Century Farm Winery

Have you visited the vineyards of Century Farm Winery in Jackson, Tennessee? We spoke with the owner, Bart Horton, about his family’s history producing and selling wine, and Bart explains, although a catchy name, being labeled a Century Farm is more than marketing. It means that his farm has been owned and operated by the same family for more than a century – what an accomplishment!

Transcript

Anna: Hello and welcome to Main & Mulberry, Grindstone. I’m your host, Anna Bell. Grindstone is a podcast all about small businesses and today I’m excited to have with us Bart Horton, owner of Century Farm Winery in Jackson, Tennessee. Bart, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Bart: I’m glad to be here and thanks for having me.

Anna: Absolutely. If you can, let’s start with a quick profile of Century Farm Winery. Can you tell our viewers a little background on the winery? You know, when you got started, maybe how many grapes you’re growing, the varieties that you bottle – paint that picture for us, if you will.

Bart: Absolutely. Well, let’s start with the name itself – Century Farm Winery. We’re a Tennessee designated century farm. So that means we’ve been in the same family ownership with continual agricultural production for over a hundred years. In fact, we are, almost 200 years. I’m sixth generation here on the, on the property. And the winery itself, started by planting grapes in 2003. It takes three years for grapevines to mature to where they can produce grapes or fruit for, to make wine. And so first harvest was 2006, and we opened the tasting room in 2007. It really began as a retirement hobby that’s something my mom and stepfather did. And I came back in the fall of 17’, purchased the winery operation from them and I’ve been here since then. So that’s a little bit about the background of the winery itself. The history – we do have, a 13 acre vineyard on property. We grow eight different varieties of grapes. So we’re true what we call vine to wine operation. You can see behind me, these are the vats where we make our, our wines. And we do have Oak barrels for aging, which are right next to me. And, you know, our vineyard is located right behind us. So our guests can actually see, somewhat of the entire wine making process from grapes and vines in the ground, through the harvest, processing of grapes through fermentation and, bottling system, which has set up here as well. And then, tasting and retail up front.

Anna: Okay. So you said you grow, you know, eight different, varieties. Is that right? Okay. And so kind of tell us, maybe what’s your favorite wine that you make, that you drink? 

Bart: Whichever one is in my glass.

Anna: There you go!

Bart: I get asked all the time, why are you in the wine business? I say, well, it started with consumption. So anyway, yeah. We grow the traditional Southern grape muscadine here. So we’ve got a red muscadine and a white muscadine. They grow in, they’re native to the Southeast. They grow in the wild tree tops, fence rows, riverbanks, ours are obviously domesticated, but we’ve got several muscadines. We also grow, many hybrids. You’lll learn, come to learn that in the South, our humidity and heat, tends to require us to grow hybrids that have been developed over time to be resilient to grape rot and mold and fungus. They grow as a result of the humidity. So, we grow, corot noir, which is a Cornell university developed grape. And it’s to emulate the Pinot noir. It’s a very nice dry red. We also go by Cayuga, which is somewhat to the Pinot Grigio for white wine. So others, a couple of the wines that we do grow here also have won the governor’s cup for best wines of West Tennessee. 

Anna: WOW! That’s wonderful! 

Bart: So, yeah, thank you. We’ve got a full spectrum of wines that we make here on property. Currently we have 23 wines and that goes from dry wines to semi-sweet to sweet fruit. And then we have three specialty wines, two of which are port style, and one is a sparkling.

Anna: Oh, wow. How awesome! You know, what can visitors expect to experience when they come and visit with you at Century Farm Winery? Do you have, you know, host many events?

Bart: We actually have a summer concert series, which knock on wood! And fortunately for us, we did have to cancel our first two, but since then, we’ve been able to host every one of them. And we’ve had tremendous crowds on Saturday nights and Thursday nights, for our Voices in the Vineyard concerts. So we’re talking 2-300 people for an outdoor concert, social distancing, masks, you know, uh, outdoors. So if people are comfortable, we have food trucks that come and set up for these events. Those are on specific Saturday and Thursday nights. Normal hours are Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Sunday one to six. And during that time you can come in and do a wine tasting. You get three wines for free. You can add five for five. So that gives you eight for five bucks. And if you really feel ambitious, you can do them all for 10.

Anna: Oh, wow. That’s awesome! You just need a driver though, right?

Bart: That’s right. Need a driver, uh, but  the venue here is beautiful. Um, like I say, this it’s been in operation for over 150 years, so there’s antique daylilies. There’s a Rose garden. There’s all Barns with porches. Uh, you can walk through the vineyard. We, we of let people just take the, uh, treat the venue as it’s their own to get out and walk the ground

Anna: Kind of roam around and enjoy.

Bart: Yes.

Anna: Hi, thank you for that profile. I really do appreciate you sharing that with us now. How did you get involved though with the actual winemaking process? Is that something you started when you were fairly young or tell us about, you know, your role and responsibilities?

Bart: Oh, well, I have all the role, every role and responsibility, but, uh, I, I didn’t start the operation here. Like I said, I purchased it from my mom and stepfather. He, of which since the sixties has always planted grapes, wherever he’s lived, and he’s always enjoyed making wine kits on a small basis and it just kind of grew and grew and grew till eventually he said, you know what, I’m going to plant my own grapes for commercial. And so they decided to open the winery and, um, you know, he’s still involved. My mom is actually out front now waiting on customers while I’m doing this podcast. So, uh, it’s great to be able to be in business with them. And, um, I just got into it because 25 years of corporate life, I was ready for a change. It brought me home. This is where I grew up. I grew up farming, it brought me back to doing something I love. And, I did go to culinary school in Chicago. Uh, this is part of, allowing me to do something along the same lines as the hospitality and culinary side.

Anna: Very neat. Oh, that’s kinda, it’s kinda neat how things kind of come back full circle don’t they. You know, what would you say is one of the most unique aspects of, of the business?

Bart: Uh, what’s really neat is the fact that you mentioned that you went to Napa Valley not too long ago, is that who are the thought in rural West Tennessee, that you would have customers or guests, I should call them from South Africa, Russia, China, Japan, Canada. We have people from all over the U.S. and the world that come and visit here. 

Anna: How cool.

Bart: Prior to the COVID pandemic, it was 15 to 20 carloads, a day of people that were traveling between Memphis and Nashville, Nashville, and Memphis that see our billboards and say, Hey, I want to stop the visit. And I had a map of pinpoints where you could place where everybody comes from. It would have been covered, and so that’s probably the most unique thing.

Anna: Very cool. You know, can you tell us, as we wrap things up kind of the general price range for those who are visiting for a Century Farm Winery?

Bart: I would say the average price is $15 – $17. Um, we did some of our specialty wines are as high as $20. Uh, one is $30 and our lowest is $14. The most of our non-specialty wines are going to be between that $14 and $18 dollar range.

Anna: Awesome. Awesome. All right. Sounds like I need to make a trip up to Jackson, Tennessee. Thank you, Bart, for that background. We really love to hear stories of how small businesses are getting started and we really appreciate your time and your insight today.

Bart: You’re welcome to visit any time.

Anna: Yeah. For more information on events and visiting Century Farm Winery, checkout centuryfarmwinery.com for more information. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.

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