As travelers drive or walk south along North Main Street in downtown Mount Airy, they may catch a glimpse of people enjoying a glass of wine and a meal on the front porch of Old North State Winery. Or with a glance through the windows, visitors to the winery might be seen tasting wine or enjoying live music.
Old North State Winery has become a gathering place for both locals and tourists to the area, with the Downtown Deli providing food for customers as well as nonalcoholic beverage options and the wine tasting bar providing a place to enjoy a nice glass of wine.
And special opportunities are available for cellar tours to the basement of the winery and get a closer look at the barrel room, the bottling and wine tanks used in the winemaking process which is done on site. The barrel room is even available for special events such as wedding rehearsal dinners, explained Joel Woodson, operations manager for ONS Winery.
The history of the winery dates back to 2002 when it was founded as a co-op winery to provide smaller vineyard owners a place to meld their grapes into a sellable wine product under the name of Old North State Winery.
In 2006, father-and-son duo Tom and Ben Webb along with Mike Thomas, who were all co-op members, purchased the winery, and since that time, Ben Webb has bought out his father and Thomas to become sole owner and operator of the business, Woodson explained.
He said most of the grapes are grown on 15 acres at Sandy Cross Vineyards in Rocky Mount in the eastern part of the state, but three years ago, a second vineyard, Green Hill Vineyard, was planted in the northern part of the Yadkin Valley.
“We’ve constructed a vineyard in Mount Airy, but it takes several years to cultivate those,” Woodson explained, noting some of the wineries grapes are purchased from other vineyards to meet demand. “We try to get most of our grapes from the Yadkin Valley and vineyards here, but it depends on the weather and the yield.”
The winery also has a priority to use as many supplies as it can from North Carolina companies, such as wine corks and other products needed in the business, Woodson said. “It is really important to us to be supportive of North Carolina. It is tourism, but we also want to support the people who are here,” he said. “It’s got to be NC.”
The winery frequently features live music in the evenings as well and hosts many local activities in its first-floor space such as fundraisers for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and a bridal fair put on by the Downtown Business Association, just to name a couple.
Woodson said popular local chef Chris Whishart recently came on board as the general manager for the tasting bar and deli, which could mean new menu items.
As far as the wines, Woodson said, “We try to offer a lot of different style wines, because we want to make them available to different people’s taste preference, whether it is dry reds, sweet whites and in between.”
One of the wines offered is coined Restless Soul and specifically refers to the history of the historic building which houses the winery, Woodson said.
“The Old North State Winery’s building was originally constructed in 1885 by Thomas Franklin Prather as a general store,” explains the winery’s website, oldnorthstatewinery.com. “Mount Airy is home to the world’s largest open face granite quarry. Accordingly, dynamite sales became a lucrative business in the area. Legend has it that due to a disagreement with Prather, the owner of the neighboring general store set of dynamite charges along the store front in 1926.
“The store façade was completely destroyed and Belk’s Department Store purchased the distressed building and rebuilt the storefront remaining here till 1969,” it goes on to say. “During the reconstruction, the skeletal remains of an arm were found. Still to this day no one knows to whom the arm belongs.
“The staff of Old North State Winery have noticed mysterious events inside the building. Seasonally, our cellar staff works long hours and may be working into the early hours of the morning. Many reports of walking on the hardwood floors, closing doors, shuffling feet, shadows of movement and the feeling of not being along when alone.”
The story has even brought paranormal researches to the building in the recent past.
This story sparked the creation of Restless Soul, a red wine blend dedicated “to this wandering sleepless spirit.” The bottle’s label features a skeletal arm holding a glass of wine.
A series of wines have been labeled Fish Hippie after the Fish Hippie brand of which Webb is a part owner, Woodson said. Fish Hippie is a lifestyle brand featured on T-shirts and other product lines. It got its start in the ONS building, but has since moved to its own location.
Fish Hippie wines include a 2014 chardonnay, Fish Hippie Soul, cabernet franc 2013, merlot 2011, which are reserve wines; Fish Hippie Bare Bones, Fish Hippie Spring House, 2012 chardonnay, Fish Hippie Soul, merlot 2011 and Fish Hippie Rose, which are semi-dry and dry wines; and Fish Hippie – Seersucker Social – Sandy Cross and Fish Hippie – Seersucker Social – Red Muscadine, which are both semi-sweet and sweet wines.
Other wines offered at ONS include a Riesling; Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which is a red blend; Afternoon Delight; and Starlight White – 38 Vines.
Leading the winemaking at ONS is Nick McCrary, said Woodson, adding he’s worked at the winery many years and “is very intuitive and makes sure things run seamless.”
“Our main goal is to provide the best customer service we can,” Woodson said of the winery. “We have an amazing staff right now.”
He said one of the things he enjoys about working at ONS is, “I’ve been able to work in the cellar and I helped construct the vineyard here in Mount Airy. About the only thing I haven’t done is cook.”
Woodson added that Webb is a hard worker and is always working right alongside the rest of the team.
“Ben definitely still does the harvesting. We have a vineyard crew also, an eclectic crew, they work in the vineyard and are hands-on with building anything. The versatility among that group is amazing,” he said.
ONS wines can be found in about 700 retail locations, Woodson said, from grocery stores to restaurants and convenience stores, as well as specialty wine stores. Distribution includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia was recently added to that list.
The winery is open Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until, depending on the events going on, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. with the deli closing that day at 3 p.m. The deli is open during business hours on the other days, except from 3 to 4 p.m. for a switch in menu from lunch to dinner.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.