Long before North Carolina vineyards reached the hundreds, before their wines received national acclaim, before the industry became a tourism draw across the state. There was some land, the so called experts said could never grow grapes and there was Jack Kroustalis. Little did he know, he would be making history and planting the roots of what is now a thriving industry, when he planted North Carolina's first Venera grape vines.
As we go through life we all have accomplishments, that we look back on with pride. My husband's legacy was that he was the founder of the pioneering vineyard, in the state of North Carolina.
Jack and his wife Lillian loved wine and traveled the world to visit vineyards, on one of his travels, he came up with a crazy idea. He felt the climate and soils of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, were similar to areas of France were it prospered. Vidis vinifera are grape vines, native to Central Europe and the Mediterranean and they had not been successfully cultivated in North Carolina before. There were strong negative opinions for many agricultural authorities, but Jack didn't listen. he wanted to grow grapes, which produce fine California and French wines like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Merlot.
Jack Kroustalis was a very strong-minded and very determined person. Tell him you can't do that and he would do it, if for no other reason to show you that could.
My father was a very passionate man, so when he decided to do something, it was a 100% all-in.
He imported the first vines from France and began planting, it was 1972. Kroustalis began with several varietals, in an experimental vineyard affectionately known as old number one. The first plot was an acre of a lot of different types of wine growths and we did have a sign in front of that vineyard, with number one on it. And it says established in 1972, number one was right there at the tasting room area, where all of the public sat on the patio and they were very much aware of this vineyard. We didn't become commercial until 1988, didn't open to the public until 1990. These vines were planted in 72, so they were old guys they had big trunks weathered looking and there's something charming about an old grapevine.
To the astonishment of many the vines flourished, more acreage was planted and by 1986 Kroustalis had grown to a 70-ton harvest. Until now the grapes were sold to wineries outside North Carolina and Jack frequently received compliments as to their quality. It was just the encouragement he needed to take his next step.
A decision had to be made what to do, there was no West Bend yet it was daddy's farm. So that decision came in 1988 and that's when we became a bonded winery and West Bend vineyards was actually born.
What had been known as daddy's farm, became Yadkin Valley's first commercial bonded winery. West Bend vineyards, the community embraced West Bend from the beginning and the location just 15 minutes from Winston-Salem proved to be ideal.
I've grown up with this place from the time that it was a small country estate to having my hands in the dirt, helping plant vines and watching it grow into a destination that people really really really do cherish.
When we first started the winery, we had no idea how important this place would become to the visitors who walk through the door. People were getting married here, having family reunions here, we were becoming a part of their families. That's what happens when you are a part of a beautiful place like this, it does become a part of other people's lives, because you're sharing their lives and all of their celebrations, which we did for a long time. We're very proud of that fact.
Early on Jack set out to get West Bend into local restaurants and retailers, at first many were skeptical.
Back in the early days there was skepticism about North Carolina wines in general and this was now North Carolina wine made from grapes so he would go into restaurant owners and want to do tastings and in a way to prove this point about how high-quality his wines were, he would put sleeves over the bottles and nobody knew what they were drinking or trying and in many times our wines were what they liked the best.
Soon West Bend wines were featured in well-known restaurants and retailers like Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Total Wine and Fresh Market. Then came national attention, in 1995 Robert Parker, the most influential wine critic in the world and founder of the wine advocate called West Bend one of the South's best-kept secrets.
We found out that Robert Parker a very renowned wine critic, had reviewed West Bend wine. He had somehow made it his business to get some West Bend wine and gave us very good scores and that opened the door, because there are a lot of people who pay attention to what he says about wine.
West Bend received favorable press of the Wine Spectator, The Wall Street Journal visited and wrote an article. Then Time magazine conducted a tasting of wine from each of the 50 states and reported West Bend Chardonnay as one of the twelve found to be excellent in the entire country. The word was out and visitors flocked to the vineyards to learn more.
During a typical week we can see well over a thousand people come through our door and take a tour which is both fun and educational. We distribute our wines all over North Carolina from the mountains to the Outer Banks.
In 2003 Kroustalis and West Bend were instrumental in another historic landmark, with great fanfare the federal government approved North Carolina's first American Viticultural area. The Yadkin Valley A-VA.
That was big when that happened for the Yadkin Valley, the wineries in this state who are in the yadkin Valley were able to put that valley on the label. Much as Napa Valley, the Sonoma region's, Alexander Valley, all the great areas of California do the same.
The production of wine grapes is much better in this region due to soils and weather conditions etc. So that was a big feather in the cap of our wine industry in the states. So it was a very important step to give credibility to the one that is made in this area.
Over the years West Bend became known as an innovative wedding and event venue for the entire region. Art fairs, concerts, car shows, private parties and other special events became commonplace and drew large crowds.
We've had people with every type of family celebration, it's beautiful, it's the perfect setting for any events. Our events are always well attended, people find it very easy to get to us from all parts of the state.
To accommodate demand West Bend renovated and expanded the Joel Benjamin Hooser house, a hand-sewn log home constructed in 1850.
On our property is a lovely old house called the Joel Benjamin Hoosier house, since it was built in 1850 by Joel Benjamin Hoosier and his wife Margaret.
The home is now a multi-purpose Event Center with kitchen facilities in a private deck overlooking the vineyards. West Bend took notice of the rapidly growing micro brewery industry and in 2012 West Bend brew house and Tap Room became only the second winery in North Carolina, to offer locally brewed craft beer.
Our newest addition to the West Bend brand is our brew house. We had a wonderful reception to our quality craft beers.
With its five barrel state-of-the-art brewing equipment, the brew house began by offering five year-round craft brews plus seasonings. There was an immediate hit.
Craft beer is very very big right now in the United States. So we wanted to get involved in that and offer that to people and we think that there's a lot of room for growth in this burrows.
When Jack Kroustalis has planted his first grape vines he could never have imagined what his vineyard would become, nor how many lives he would touch. Over the past 15 years, North Carolina has become one of the 10 largest wine producers in the country and ranks third in wine tourism. The wine and grape industry generates an economic impact of over a billion dollars, supports over 7,000 jobs and attracts over a million tourists each year. Today people have the help of the North Carolina wine Growers Association, the grape Council and nearby Surry Community College even offers certificate and degree programs in viticulture and enology.
Local and state magazines focus on wine and vineyard tours, wine festivals and other events add to the Yadkin Valley, wine country experience. Sadly Jack passed away in 2006 at the age of 74. Lilian and Alex have carried on the family business ever since.
West Bend vineyards has been around long and the name West band has become synonymous with good wine made locally. Everything we have done at West Bend has been very sincere and very real, we're very happy to know that West Bend has become very important to people. For the longest time we were one of the only or very few wineries now that we have a lot of company we are also sharing those visitors with others but West Bend will always have a special place as being a founding pioneer in the wine industry in this state.
West Bend is well positioned to capitalize on two of the state's fastest growing industries, the wine industry now boasts 120 wineries and more than 400 vineyards. In 2014 craft beer sales grew over 15%, marking the fourth straight year of double-digit growth.
One thing that we have taken a lot of pride in is that we have been very generous with our knowledge and helping others and this business get started. It's always been very very important to my mother and father and my family to carry the port so to speak for this industry.
Our wine industry is alive and well in North Carolina and much of it is based on our veteran Ephraim grapes I think I can say that West's been sort of paved the way so to speak for this growth of an industry and there are now over a hundred wineries in the state. All over the state, this property has always been very special to me and to my family. It would be a great gift to me to see someone come and pick up that thread and use West Bend with all its potential, as an event center, as a winery, as a brewery. A place where people can come and continue to enjoy.
While there are other wineries few if any can offer the name, recognition, reputation and potential of West Bend vineyards.
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