Nestled among the rolling mountains of the Blue Ridge and the Fraser firs of Alleghany County’s Christmas tree country, Thistle Meadow Winery provides a unique getaway with more than 45 varieties of wines to sample and enjoy.
The winery, which imports its grape juices from vineyards in California, began as a hobby for Tom Burgiss, whose son Brant now runs the three separate companies operating on the property, which lies just off N.C. 18 north of Laurel Springs.
“The winery was started by my father, Tom, who is a retired pharmacist,” said Brant Burgiss. “You take someone with all that chemistry history and knowledge, it started as a hobby and it got out of control.”
Brant’s family is the fifth generation to live on the Alleghany County property, residing in the house built in 1890 by his great-grandfather, who was a dentist. Burgiss said his ancestor used a waterwheel to power his dentistry equipment and people who come by horse and buggy for miles to sit in line for his services.
As his father’s hobby of home winemaking was growing, Grapestompers was developed. The wine industry supply company, which operates online at grapestompers.com, was designed to bring in enough money to break-even on the winemaking hobby, Burgiss explained.
The winemaking grew to a point that Thistle Meadow Winery was opened to the public, with a winery and tasting room in what was the old tractor shed.
Today, the winery has moved to the former location of the Mountain Music Jamboree, with the stage, sound equipment and part of the dance floor remaining for use by those wanting to hold events at Thistle Meadow. The tasting room remains in an expanded room which was part of the tractor shed.
A new horseshoe-shaped bar features purse hooks and electrical outlets for visitors to recharge their digital devices while they taste samples of Thistle Meadow’s 48 different types of wines.
Thistle Meadow’s offerings include two cooking wines — a garlic wine and a jalapeño wine, as well as a mulled red wine called Sleepy Hollow, which is only available October through December but is the number four seller for the entire year. Sleepy Hollow is served warm from a slow cooker at the tasting room.
“We were interested in selling the highest quality, and there weren’t a lot of grapes around here then,” said Burgiss, who developed grapestompers.com in 1998 before the days of modern, easy web-page designing. “We would write our opinions in our newsletter.
“We had a guy from Houston, Texas, who would come up and buy the grape juice and now he lives in the area,” Burgiss said of the following of their newsletter.
Instead of buying the grape juice, the Burgisses began getting requests from people wanting to buy the wines. “We heard those requests about two years, then when we pulled the trigger, it took 18 months to get it approved,” he said of the certificates and licenses required to operate a winery.
At that time, all the applications were on paper and traditional mail, and each wine’s label had to be approved by the federal and state authorities, so it was a long, slow process.
Burgiss said his family did try to grow grapes on the property, but they wanted vinifera grapes. “At 3,000 elevation, all slopes facing north and roots freezing, we tried for three years,” he said of the unsuccessful venture.
“Yes, we could have planted French-American hybrid, but we still have the wrong kind of soil,” Burgiss said. “It’s about product recognizability. We had the source buying the juice from California, Europe, so why not make it from what we get.”
At a fall 2017 meeting of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, Burgiss said, “Whit Winslow admitted during open session there is only enough grapes grown in the state to support 40 wineries, and there are 180 wineries.”
For Thistle Meadow Winery, most of its grapes are sourced from Central Valley, California, vineyards.
“We redid the tasting room two and a half years ago and built a bar to serve 30 people at a time, and bring the gift shop inside,” Burgiss said.
As visitors enter the property, they are greeted by an open field with a gazebo and covered bridge, and then cross the creek to get to the winery facilities. A waterwheel fountain greets visitors as they walk up to the covered front porch which features tables and chairs.
The old silo is now painted with a giant wine bottle and inside is a restroom accessed from inside the business operations facility.
“We have wifi, purse hooks, plugs for charging in the bar and we’re handicap accessible,” Burgiss said.
The winery is open year-round, but Burgiss said it is busiest from late May through the end of November. “We named the winery after the thistles that grow wild in the meadow here,” he said.
While his dad still owns the winery, Brant is the head winemaker and quality control, and Don Mabe, who has been with Thistle Meadow for seven years and is one of Brant’s high school classmates, is the winemaker in execution of the product.
“Myself and Don are the only full-time, but we have lots of part-time help on weekends, and everybody has to be cross-trained on all three businesses,” Burgiss said. The third business is Purple Toes, a wine kit distributor.
The winery hosts is own annual wine festival the first Saturday in October each year, with 2017 being its 20th such festival. Its wines also can be found in its off-site wine shop, Thistle Stop Wine Shop in downtown Kernersville.
Burgiss said Thistle Meadow’s sweet wines, which are eight percent alcohol and three percent residual sugar, are their most popular. The top three wines include Horse Stomp Red, a raspberry-flavored white zinfandel; Peden White, a peach-flavored chardonnay; and Lucky Black, a blackberry-flavored merlot.
The wines are all named after communities and crossroads in the region, Burgiss said.
Thistle Meadow was the 67th winery to open in North Carolina, “so we’ve been here a while. There are 18 wineries in this state my dad has helped train,” he said.
While there is no restaurant on site, Burgiss said they do sell Ashe County Cheese and crackers, and visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy spending time on the property. Also, dogs are welcome on the property, but not in the tasting room, with a pet watering station available outside.
For those looking for some entertainment, corn hole and bocce are available to play as well.
To find Thistle Meadow Winery, travel to 102 Thistle Meadow, Laurel Springs; visit thistlemeadowwinery.com; or call 800-233-1505.
Wendy Byerly Wood is editor of The Tribune, Yadkin Ripple and On The Vine. She can be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.