JBR Vineyards realizes fruits of many years’ labors

JBR Vineyards realizes fruits of many years’ labors

Originally published by the Roanoke Times, May 2016

The third time was the charm when Narrows native Jesse Ring set out more than a decade ago to plant grapes in Giles County. The first trial planting of 100 vines in 2003, while Ring was still living in California, failed to grow. A second planting in 2004 suffered the same fate. But while the third planting, in 2006, saw a 40 percent die-off over the winter, the rest of the crop survived. Although changes still lay ahead, JBR Vineyards was on its way.

Ring and his wife, Debby, met while attending the University of Virginia, and moved to California during the technology boom. Always a wine enthusiast, Debby says, Jessee went to antique wine auctions, read many books about wine production, and took classes at University of California-Davis. The couple were still living in California when Ring purchased a tract of land near Trigg in 2001, simply to own a piece of Giles County, the place of his family’s roots. The planting of grapevines began before the Rings moved back to Virginia in 2005. Being back home and able to take a more hands-on role in cultivating the vineyard was key to moving the new enterprise forward.

In 2009, Debby explains, Jessee made the decision to expand the vineyard and to plant only two varieties of grape: Pinot Noir for red wine and Reisling for white wine, both of which are classic vitis vinifera types, and harder to grow than some hybrids. He ripped out the 2006 trial crop, which comprised various varieties, and cleared additional land to create one full acre of vineyard. On this expanded field he planted 600 vines, half of each type. Three years later, he harvested the first grapes from this new crop.

“He made wine from the grapes that first year,” Debby wrote via email. “It was good.”

As with any agricultural endeavor, there were challenges. Deer and raccoons did a number on the grapes. The deer were reasonably controllable with 8-foot fencing, but raccoon deterrence took a bit of additional engineering. Then there were the twin scourges of black rot and sour rot, for which Ring was able to develop a fungicide program that kept them in check.

But the question remained of where all this was headed.

“After much contemplation, it became clear to Jessee that he had two paths forward,” wrote Debby. “He could cut back on the vineyard to the point where it would be suitable for a hobby, or he had to expand the vineyard and start selling the wine. He had concluded long ago that he had no interest in simply being a grape grower who sold the grapes.”

Around 2013, Ring began hearing about the Virginia Farm Winery designation, which would enable grape growers to process and sell wine without having to go through a distributor. In November 2014, Ring became an officially licensed Virginia Farm Winery. JBR Vineyards & Winery had arrived. On May 28, 2015, Debby reports, the winery sold its first bottle of wine, marking yet another milestone on the Rings’ winemaking journey. To date, the Rings have produced about 500 bottles of wine, selling mostly at area markets and festivals.

It’s been a busy spring for JBR. In April, they held a sustainable viticulture workshop, which shared with a group of participants principles related to site selection, erosion control, water use, pesticide management, animal control and fertilizer. Just a month earlier, the business had announced an expansion of the vineyard’s acreage and planting stock, along with proposed upgrades to its winemaking and tasting room facilities.

“It will take four years to get this new vineyard into production,” Debby wrote. “But Jessee now feels confident and looks forward to the latest leg of this multi-year odyssey.”

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