On a main road leading travelers from Winston-Salem and Rural Hall east toward Belews Creek and Walnut Cove sits a cozy brick building full of beautiful fine art pieces and award-winning wines, nestled in the small community of Germanton.
As one of the two oldest wineries in North Carolina, owner David Simpson said it is amazing how many people still stop in to visit who said they’ve driven by the building which houses the Germanton Vineyard & Winery and Germanton Frame Co., which included a gallery, for years and never realized what a treasure trove was inside.
In the 1970s, a group of local farmers began looking into alternative crops as they already anticipated a decline in the tobacco-growing industry, Simpson explained. So, led by Bill McGee and Jerry Pegram as wine master, the group formed a co-op and planted grapes on their various farms, including in the Germanton area.
“They saw the handwriting was on the wall that tobacco was leaving,” Simpson said. “They had grapes growing all over, and the one in Germanton had 18 different kind of grapes on five acres here trying to figure out what would grow here, because no one had tried to grow French varietals here.”
Germanton’s first year of selling wine was 1981, and Simpson said they sold out the first day. In addition to McGee and Pegram, those partners included Dr. Mallory Chambliss, Rick Bagley and Dr. Scott Lawrence.
The same year the first wines were sold, Simpson began the Germanton Frame Co. in his basement while he was working full-time at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, where McGee also worked, after working pro bono at the Frame It Yourself shop to learn the ropes.
The grapes for Germanton Winery were processed in an old dairy barn on McGee’s 100-acre farm, Simpson explained, which was in Germanton. McGee died in 1985, and the other partners began calling on Simpson, who had married McGee’s granddaughter, Judy, to go by the winery and check on things.
Simpson already had left his job with RJR to start his own frame shop, purchased with the money he got after selling a motorcycle he won on a $2 raffle ticket. He was quickly running out of room for the frame shop in his basement, and he said Judy wanted her kitchen back, because people were constantly coming to their home for the business.
In the mid-1980s, David and Judy purchased the old Stokes County Schools bus garage at the corner of N.C. 8 and Friendship Road in “downtown” Germanton. They were the only people to show up for the auction.
David Simpson said the took off the front awning and did renovations and remodeling before opening the frame shop in that 1929 building, which is now the site of both the frame shop, the couple’s art gallery and the tasting room for Germanton Vineyard and Winery.
So after checking on things for a while, the partners asked the Simpsons to buy into the partnership, which is now owned by the Simpsons; McGee’s grandsons, Tony and Mike McGee; and Tommy Preston, Judy’s nephew.
While original thoughts were to open a tasting room at the winery, it made more sense to have them in the same place so Simpson could run them both. He said the gallery features some of the top artists around the world, such as Mill Pond Press artists such as Robert Bateman, as well as artists Scott Burdick, a Stokes County native, and wife Susan Lyon.
“We became the first winery-art gallery in the country, and it’s everywhere now,” Simpson said. “I know a lot of people laughed at us when we opened this out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s where we live and where we want to be. This is where we raised our children and where we wanted to be, and it’s the closest winery to downtown Winston-Salem.”
Germanton Winery makes pure juice wines, Simpson said, not using any fillers or gel packs like other wineries might in the winemaking process.
The wineries offerings include Sweet Red Wine; Saura Red; Niagra; Seyval Blanc; Autumn Blush; Chardonnay; Dry Red Chambourcin; and Chambourcin.
“I started doing this full-time and I never looked back,” Simpson said of his decision to leave RJR and go with the gallery and winery full-time. “I don’t have all those holidays and stuff like I used to, but the people we’ve got to hang out with for the last 38 to 39 years and the places it’s taken us, and the people it’s brought here to Germanton … it’s just been fun.”
Germanton Winery and Gallery are open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, visit www.germantongallery.com.
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.