BRUSH CREEK – The Upper Cumberland’s newest winery is all rolling hills, blossoming vineyards and rustic charm, but before it was dedicated as the region’s latest agri-business, it was land slated for an 80-home development.
Cellar 53 Winery opened this spring in Brush Creek, an unincorporated community of Smith County wedged between Carthage and Alexandria. And owners Rebecca and Scott Paschal still very much consider it a family farm, where, instead of sweet corn, soybeans or wheat, they hand prune, handpick and handcraft nearly a dozen different wines, from dry to sweet, even a blackberry blend that’s proven to be one of their most popular selections.
“It’s definitely been an adventure,” says Rebecca, standing behind the L-shaped bar in the winery’s tasting room, a first stop for visitors. The winery – a recently built pole barn – also includes an event room and commercial kitchen, where she says she’ll make jams and jelly. The Paschals, including their three sons, finished out the inside themselves.
“I’ve read more and learned more than I ever wanted to know about winemaking, but I appreciate it more now,” she added. “This is definitely farming, and everyone knows that in farming, you work hard just to pay the bills. But it’s OK. We love it.”
Saving the family farm
The Paschal’s newfound labor of love story begins in the early 2000s, when the family farm, which spans 104 acres, was slated for residential development. Around 25 to 80 homes were plotted, part of the Hickory Hill subdivision (later, the couple would consider naming their winery Hickory Hill Vineyard as an ode, but there’s a winery in Virginia by that same name). The couple, hoping to save the land, approached Scott’s parents and aunt and were successful in buying it back.
In the year’s since, property around them has developed; visitors to Cellar 53 must pass by several such homes before landing on the winery’s front stoop. But theirs never will, Rebecca says. Maybe the Paschal’s didn’t realize it then, but they definitely better understand the significance now.
“We cannot keep cutting farms up and letting them go. Farming has got to come back in style,” Rebecca said. “I didn’t exactly realize our ag situation was the way it was until we got into this. The average farmer’s 58 years old. You’ve got to start having people farm again.”
The Paschal’s planted their first vines in 2006, and initially, sold their grapes to other wineries. But after a rough 2010, in which the Paschal’s were stuck with roughly 10,000 pounds of grapes they didn’t sell until the last minute, the couple decided to make a go of their own. Rebecca says the goal is to sell around 1,200 cases – or roughly 14,000 bottles – of their own handmade vino. All sales will be on site, but they can self-distribute to local restaurants. Grape varieties include chambourcin, a French- American hybrid; marquette, which replaced a crop they lost to freeze; noiret, which DelMonaco Winery also grows, and more. Meet that target and it would be enough to “save the family farm,” Rebecca said.
“I don’t know how that will go, but if we do sell through 1,200 cases, you’ll definitely see my husband do a dance,” she said with a laugh.
Traffic has been hit or miss – Rebecca said they’re working on signage to drive more interstate traffic – but Cellar 53 has attracted many out-of-state visitors, and local support has been strong, she said. Cellar 53 recently added Friday hours (noon-6 p.m.) to its weekend schedule. The winery is also open Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
There’s also bigger plans in mind. There will be occasional live music, and sales of honey and cheese. Even farm- to-table type events could happen in the future, where local farmers sell produce and meats while visitors sip on wine. While the winery’s name is partially attributed to Highway 53, which is its connecting thoroughfare, longer-term plans call for actual below ground cellar on the property.
“If this works, we could do something bigger down the road,” Rebecca said. “It’s one of those things…it’s like when you’re three-quarters of the way down the aisle, you might as well get married. That’s what Scott and I equate it to. It’s hard work. But I’ve met a lot of great people that I would not have otherwise met. And that’s been the most awesome part of it.”