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When Peggy Belcher was a little girl, her dad would pop open a bottle of wine for the holidays and give her and her siblings a taste.
It’s those memories that led to a lifetime of learning and developing a love for wine. Her dream has been to grow a vineyard and produce some of the best wine, and throughout the years she has taken viticulture and enology classes at UC Davis in California, toured numerous wineries and studied a variety of textbooks to learn about her passion.
Now, the grapes are harvested, the tanks are full, the wines are being bottled and her dream is coming to fruition as the Belchers open the only winery in Grayson County.
“I’m anxious to get the winery open,” said Peggy. “And I hope people like the wines as much as we do.”
Overlooking the rolling hills of Grayson County, Peggy and her husband Noel are living the dream with every bottle of wine that is devoured by their customers, reads the wine bottle label. Cocktail napkins depict a wine bottle and wine glass, with the saying “Living the Dream.”
The Belchers will open Mount Vale Vineyards on Friday, offering three of their own wines: Cranberry Delight for the holiday season, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. They plan to expand their wine selection, adding new wines in months to come.
Noel owned a construction company for 30 years, and Peggy served as the office manager for his company.
“Well, we got to do what I wanted for the first 30 years, so now we’ll do whatever you want to do for the next 30 years,” he told his wife of 35 years. “Little did I know, she wanted to open a winery.”
The couple, who lived in Raleigh, N.C., had owned a getaway home in Fries, but it wasn’t suitable for a winery, he said. So, they contacted a real estate agent who found some land nestled between the mountains with long range views of the countryside.
The vineyard encompasses 38 acres on Meadow Creek Road in the Mount Vale community just outside Galax and includes their new home, the vineyards, a winery and even a lush guest house for vacationers.
Mount Vale Vineyards will host a range of events, such as weddings, socials and music shows.
“Whatever we bought, it had to be beautiful, and we knew this would be perfect,” said Noel of the property.
In 2008, the couple began planting their vineyard to produce wine from their own grapes. They also purchase a variety of grapes from vineyards to make wine.
In about five years, when the vineyard hits its peak of maturity, about nine or 10 tons of grapes will be produced.
“Last season, the vineyard produced three tons, so we’re right on schedule with production,” Peggy said. “And we’ll make about 3,000 gallons of wine this year.”
If business is good in years to follow, Mount Vale Vineyards may produce about 5,000 gallons a year.
“Farming is a risky business,” said Noel, noting that the vineyard depends on the weather and other factors. “But in the wine industry, it’s not cutthroat. It’s a friendly atmosphere.”
But the most important aspect of the winery is the vineyard. If you don’t have a good grape, you don’t have good wine, he said.
Mary Simmons, an assistant viticulture and ecology instructor at Surry Community College in Dobson, N.C., is the winemaker for Mount Vale Vineyards.
Finding out about the Belchers’ new endeavor, Simmons called them to ask if they were interested in buying grapes from her vineyard.
“We said, ‘We’re more interested in having you as our winemaker than the grapes,’” Noel told Simmons. “We’re very fortunate to have met her.”
Because Simmons is an instructor, she stays on top of the wine industry and knows the ins and outs of the business, he said.
“I’m excited and feel blessed to be a part of this,” said Simmons. This is her first private winemaking position.
Noel said they are planning to sell their wines to restaurants and other businesses once Mount Vale Vineyards gets going.
“Winemaking is an up and moving industry,” he added. “And Virginia has come a long way with producing good wines.”
Everything is done in-house. The Belchers — along with Simmons, Chris Sayers and Earl Johnson — crush the grapes, ferment the wine, bottle it, cork it, label it and box it.
“It’s been a lot of hard work — more than we realized,” Noel said. “But it’s been a good experience. It’s a 180-degree turnaround from the construction business — a rather stressful business.”
Noel said he hopes Mount Vale Vineyards becomes the first of many wineries to come in Grayson. It’s not a competitive business, but would instead create a wine trail and grow tourism for the county.
“We believe the vineyard is the true source of a wine’s greatness,” says their website. “Great grapes make a great wine. Our mission is to pamper and cultivate our grapes to one day make an exceptional wine.”
• Mount Vale Vineyards will open Friday, Nov. 25.
Hours of operation are Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Monday through Wednesday by appointment. Wine tastings are available daily.
Mount Vale Vineyards is located at 3222 Meadow Creek Road in Galax.
For more information, call 238-9946, or visit www.mtvalevineyard.com.