Under a large pavilion on the grounds of Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, a group of professors from Appalachian State University banters about news and politics. Since the tasting room opened in 2011, the self-proclaimed “ASU Renegades,” including around 20 current and retired professors, have met every Friday at this Banner Elk winery to “get a glass of wine and solve the world’s problems,” says marketing professor Ünal Boya. While they frequent Grandfather for its delicious wines, they’ve made it their designated hangout because they, like many customers, have formed a friendship with owners Steve and Sally Tatum.
The Tatums were running an interior design firm and furniture showroom when they first planted grapes on five acres in 2003 and 2004. The goal was simply to make wine for themselves. But when their son Dylan graduated from Surry Community College’s wine-making program, the couple decided to get into the wine business. Now, the winery produces some 5,000 cases annually under the direction of Dylan, the head winemaker, and his wife, Nicole, the tasting manager. Grandfather has cultivated a vibrant community, boasting a wine club with nearly 400 members who gather at the winery for events and tastings. Still, Grandfather is a small, intimate operation: If the parking lots are full, customers park in Steve and Sally’s backyard. And regulars like the ASU Renegades agree that sipping a glass of Chardonnay at Grandfather is like being invited to a dinner party at the Tatums’ home.
These places are the stewards of some very special items: Doc Watson’s first recording, the desk Virginia Woolf used to redefine the novel, and Elisha Mitchell’s pocket watch are just some of the cherished pieces that teach us about our state’s history and the people who preserve it.