While some wineries in North Carolina may be getting involved with the beer industry, it was only natural for the owners of Windsor Run Cellars and Shadow Springs Vineyard to instead incorporate the spirits industry.
The winery for the two vineyards, owned by Chuck and Jamey Johnson, is the site of the distillery as well. Making spirits isn’t new for the winery as they already were making them to create their fortified wines, but being able to bottle and sell the spirits solo is a new addition as well as a tasting room in the distillery.
“All of the fermentation takes place in the winery,” said Dana Acker, winemaker and distiller for the winery.
The spirits bottled at WRC Distillery, the formal name of the spirits company, include White Widow, made from a Traminette grape; Shadow Hawk, made from Seyval Blanc grapes; and Killer Bee, distilled from Africanized Killer Bee honey, Acker said.
The White Widow, he said, is aged in a metal tank so it keeps the clear color similar to a vodka. Acker said its flavor favors a tequila or gin.
Shadow Hawk, on the other hand, is aged in a wooden barrel, which gives it the brown whiskey color. It also has that whiskey taste, Acker said.
The Killer Bee liquor is a distilled mead and carries that honey color through to its bottling. Acker said the honey flavor can be tasted in the end product.
All three are designed to be enjoyed either straight up or mixed in a cocktail, with more than 30 recipes featured on the website, wrcdistillery.com.
Chuck Johnson explained that Windsor Run Cellars was the creation of Terry and Joanne Crater in 2002 as Buck Shoals, named for the community in Hamptonville where the vineyard was planted the year prior. “The labels had a picture of the old grist mill,” he said of Buck Shoals’ wine bottles.
The winery got a license in 2007 to distill to create the fortified wines. Terry Crater passed away in early 2011, and Joanne decided to sell the winery and vineyard, and the Johnsons, who already owned and operated Shadow Springs Vineyard nearby, bought Buck Shoals and named it Windsor Run Cellars. They also kept the distillery license, which now operates at WRC Distillery, Johnson explained.
“There was only one other distillery in North Carolina — Piedmont Distillers, which makes the Junior Johnson liquors — when we started,” Acker said. “It was difficult and expensive to get on the market, because taxes are 10 times what they would be for wine.
“The distillery was built to make fortified wines,” he said. “We were the only winery making fortified wines that used their own brandy to fortify it.”
Then, the distillery industry took off in the state, Acker said. “It started to grow and the laws changed, and that’s why we decided to go pro.”
Prior to this year, tastings weren’t allowed and bottles could only be sold one per person per year from the distillery. Then a few months ago, the state law changed and now distilleries, in addition to marketing their spirits through ABC Store sales, can sell five bottles per person per year at the distillery and have tastings as long as participants take a tour.
In June of this year, WRC Distillery opened its own tasting room to its club members, then July 1, it opened to the public.
The cost to purchase the spirits at the ABC Store is the same as purchasing them at the distillery, but the difference is the opportunity to taste the spirits before buying them and the experience of seeing the still working in the distillery.
Also, Acker said the bottles purchased in the distillery have a special sticker on them noting they were purchased at WRC Distillery.
“Distilleries can make bourbon, Scotch, vodka, but we have grapes here and honey on site,” he said. “Like moonshiners, you use what the still is near.”
So far, the three offerings at WRC Distillery have been well received, Acker said.
The distillery uses a pot still, which is primitive technology compared to column stills. Acker said column stills are good at producing spirits at 190 proof the first run, but the pot still provides the smell and taste they desire. “We want a flavorful drink. It can be enjoyed if you drink straight up or mix them,” he said.
Another perk of WRC Distillery’s spirits is that they are gluten free, because there are no grains added to the distilled liquors.
A fourth liquor, a brandy, is in the works, but since brandies have to remain in cask for two years, it won’t be ready until 2020.
With 60 distillery licenses now approved in the state, Acker said WRC Distillery wanted to have different products so they would stand out.
So far, WRC Distillery’s spirits are available in just about every ABC Store within a 50-mile radius of Hamptonville, including the Charlotte and Raleigh areas, as well as the Yadkin Valley and the High Country.
Johnson said they’ve also hired someone to market the spirits to restaurants and bars in the state. “I think we have a really good product and a really good story,” he said.
Wendy Byerly Wood is editor of On The Vine, The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. She can be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.