It was nine years ago when Old Millington Winery owners Perry and Carrie Welch took a trip to Napa Valley. Perry was inspired and, upon returning, decided to plant some vines on the couple's 12-acre Millington spread. Carrie figured her husband would just buy a few vines. He bought 500.
After that, Perry, who was working odd construction jobs, devoted his free time to learning how to tend his vineyard.
"I went around to everyone I knew who grew grapes or made wine," he says. Perry soon made friends with a vineyard-owning neighbor.
"He told me if I came and helped him pick his grapes, he'd give me half of them, and I could start making wine," Perry says. "I didn't have a clue how to make wine, but I had 200 pounds of grapes. I took them in my kitchen and put them in garbage bags and stomped them. I made the worst wine you can imagine."
Because grape vines don't produce for the first couple of years, Perry had time to experiment with various fruits. He entered some of his results, such as his apple wine, for judging at the Mid-South Fair. He won several ribbons, and his friends came clamoring.
"I remember on Sunday afternoons, my buddies were hitting me up, saying the liquor stores were closed and they wanted some wine," Perry says. "One night, after a couple of bottles of wine, I said, 'Hey, I think we need to open up a winery.' Carrie must have agreed to it."
It was 1998 when they began learning all the agricultural and business steps necessary to open a winery. The Welches wanted to control everything, so they invested in larger equipment and built a store, which opened in October 2000.
By then, Perry had produced 500 gallons of their first blend, Maggie's Rose, named after their daughter who was born the previous January.
These days, the winery has three stainless-steel fermenting tanks capable of holding up to 800 gallons of crushed grapes, a large crusher/de-stemmer that can handle 1,000 pounds of grapes, and a six-spout bottler that bottles more than 100 gallons of wine in 90 minutes.
The Welches and their part-time employees can turn 1,000 red-grape vines, combined with white grapes and fruit concentrates they purchase from other farms, into 3,000 gallons of wine each year. Crush season, as harvest time is known, lasts from August through mid-September. The whites take six months to prepare; reds take eight.
Old Millington's wine selection includes dry and semi-dry whites, reds, semi-dry blushes, sweet and fruit wines, and red and white ports. Best-sellers are the muscadine and blackberry wines.
A new red wine is currently in production. It's named Crying Angel, after a statue that once stood in a family cemetery outside of Millington. Humidity made the marble statue sweat, which made the angel appear to be crying. The statue, rumored to be crying for fallen Civil War soldiers, became an urban legend among Perry's peers, especially, he says, for the guys who wanted to scare their girlfriends.
All Old Millington wines are available exclusively in the store and can be purchased by the bottle or case. Bottles range from $9.50 to $12.
Old Millington Winery is able to sell wine on Sundays, Perry says, because it's classified as an agriculture business and is not regulated like liquor stores. Perry makes the wine 12 percent alcohol, except for the port, which is 20 to 21 percent because brandy is added to the mixture.
"Twelve percent gives a better shelf life," he says. "And it will give you a little buzz. Some people say our wine is hangover-proof. I don't say that, because if you drink too much, it'll hurt you."
Perry says he can't see himself doing anything else, that he enjoys being the face behind the counter. "It gives me the opportunity to talk to people," he says. "I've gotten to know a lot of folks through the winery."
The Welches intend to keep their business small and hope to one day pass thewinery on to Maggie.
Old Millington Winery is located at 6748 Old Millington Road (873-4114, email@example.com). Hours: Wednesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. On Sundays from April through October, the winery offers a concert series featuring local musicians.