Winemaking came to Cumberland County in 1991 when a group of partners formed Stonehaus Winery on Genesis Rd. at the 320 exit of Interstate 40.
Bob Ramsey, owner and president, and his wife, Belle, owner and general manager, opened Tennessee's first winery, Highland Manor Winery, with Fay and Kathy Wheeler, in 1980. Fay is considered the "Grandfather of Tennessee Wine" and has helped more than 25 wineries and vineyards start production during his career. When the Ramseys looked to open a winery in Crossville, the Wheelers joined them, along with partners Dr. Lloyd Hassler, Martin Clark and Jaime Clark McGuire. In 2010, the winery became an entirely "family-owned" business, and members of the Ramsey family not only serve as owners, but in managing the everyday business of the business.
Wheeler is one of the few American members of the French Ducal Ordre de la Croix de Bourgogne, dedicated to Burgundy wines, and is a Master Knight in the American Knights of the Vine.
The name Stonehaus was chosen to recognize the distinctive native Tennessee Quartzite Stone found in the area that is famous the world over and "haus," German for house, to recognize Wheeler's time in Germany while serving with the U.S. military overseas.
Today, Stonehaus Winery offers 19 varieties of wine, including dry red and white wines, sweet red and white wines, fruit-flavored wines and four sparkling wines.
"We want to have something for everyone," said Rob Ramsey. " Our motto is 'Less pretension, more fun.'"
Some of the newer offerings are Moonlight Cab and Red Muscadine. The Moonlight Cab gets its name from the experience during the first crush for the wine, when the crusher and destemmer had trouble accepting the grapes and it had to be done by hand under the light of a harvest moon. The wine was later launched during a special concert at the winery by country music artist John Anderson, coincidently, during a full moon.
Distributors had been recommending the development of a red muscadine variety for several years; however, it took winemakers Wheeler and Jan Nix time to find a process they were happy with. Muscadine wine is made by allowing the skin, which provides all color for wine, to sit with the juice for 10 to 25 days. The problem is the grape variety used to make muscadine often develops a "musty" flavor after the fruit becomes overripe, Ramsey explained. Those flavors are concentrated in the skin, and the trick is to get the red color without those flavors.
"Fay and Jan were never happy with the process before, but they found a way to do it and get a flavor that they were pleased with," Ramsey said. "The red muscadine and white muscadine are two different animals, and some people love one but not the other."
The white muscadine continues to lead sales among the two, but both are sweet wines. Ramsey invites readers to visit the winery and decide which is their favorite.
"That's the great thing about wineries," Ramsey said. "You get to try before you buy, and we offer free tastings with no pretension and no high-pressure sales. Our goal is for you to have a good time, enjoy yourself, look around and taste. Visiting a winery should be a pleasant experience, a break from your day."
Other wine offerings include merlot, pinot gris, chardonnay, Homestead White, Fairfield Red, Davenport Red, Lantana White, Helena Blush and muscadine. Fruit-flavored wines are Blackberry Summer, Cumberland Gold (a peach-flavored after-dinner wine), Raspberry Mist and Orange Squeeze.
More than 20 years ago, Wheeler made a sparkling muscadine using the méthode champenoise, which is time consuming, expensive and difficult to do on a large scale. But the product was a hit.
"People were still asking when he was going to make it again after more than 20 years," Ramsey said. "When he figured out a process that we could repeat easily and at the volume we needed, we figured it was a home run."
Sparkling wines are Sparkling Seyval Blanc, Sparkling Muscadine, That's Just Peachy and Tickled Pink. A portion of the sales of Tickled Pink are donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Tickled Pink recently took Best of Show in the Wines of the South competition, and Sparkling Muscadine, Sparkling Seyval Blanc, Davenport Red, Blackberry Summer and Red Muscadine brought back medals, as well, in the blind tasting competition.
Coming up, the winery is working on a private label wine for the Tennessee State Park system in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Tennessee State Parks. Six of the eight state parks, including Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville, can serve wine and, beginning in the spring, diners will be able to enjoy the special selection.
"We hope to also be able to offer those bottles here at the winery, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the state parks," Ramsey said.
The winery also offers non-alcoholic juices, including muscadine juice, sparkling apple muscadine juice and blackberry cider.
The building where Stonehaus Winery found a home had previously housed The Urban Cowboy and later a church. It was a 5,000 square foot building at the time, but as popularity and production grew, more space was needed. The building has had seven expansions and now covers more than 35,000 square feet.
"Five of those expansions were supposed to be the last expansion we'd ever need," Rob Ramsey explained.
Much of that space is used for the wine-making process. While Stonehaus utilizes grapes grown in Tennessee, that supply can be quickly depleted. Fruit quality is critical, and like any agricultural product, the supply varies with the year.
"Winemaking truly is an art," Ramsey said. "And it's truly an agricultural product. It's messy and there is no blueprint. You have different grapes every year with different flavors."
The winery has a fermentation capacity of 90,000 gallons in 79 Criterion poly tanks. Fermentation takes place over months by keeping tanks at a consistent temperature below 50 degrees. This method helps to retain the fruit quality in the wine and results in a better product, the winemakers believe.
Filtration is vital to the quality and stability of the wine. Because Stonehaus produces many sweet wines, its imperative to remove all the yeast cells, which would continue the fermentation process and could cause a cork to explode from a bottle. Stonehaus Winery was among the first to utilize cross-flow filtration, similar to kidney dialysis, in its production. In 1992, 10 prototypes were offered in the U.S. It was used for 15 years before a replacement was needed.
"Fay saw this as the future of winemaking and bought one. We ran it until it couldn't run anymore," Ramsey explained. "The wine it produces is more chemically stable, it tastes better, it's faster and is less expensive in the long run. It's better all around, but it does have a high up-front cost."
Bottling was done by hand as little as five years ago, and Mondays were spent bottling wine. As production grew, the time needed to bottle grew until bottling was taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, too. An automated bottling machine allows the winery to bottle up to 3,000 bottles of wine per hour.
In addition to offering 19 varieties of wine, the retail store also offers a variety of unique, one-of-a-kind items, from wine accessories to gourmet foods and cheeses and artwork from nationally acclaimed craftspeople.
Homemade fudge is a popular seller, too, and Ramsey adds, was his first entrepreneurial contribution to the business. The winery now sells 6,000 pounds of fudge a year, and tastings of the sweet concoctions are available. The salespeople can also help pair wines with the fudge for unique, complementary tastes.
There are more than 40 cheeses available and Stonehaus is offering gourmet crackers already made or kits to make the buttery, savory treats at home. There are also soup mixes, dip mixes, jellies and more.
Smithville artisan Susan DeMay, a member of the faculty at Peabody College, has her ceramic pottery offered through the gift shop. Her work is on display in the Smithsonian Institute. The shop also offers a full line of Davinci jewelry.
There is also an educational toy room, which is great for tourists stopping by with their children, or who want to get a unique toy to take home.
"We want the kids to have fun, too," Ramsey said. The winery offers tastings of its homemade fudge and juices to its younger guests.
Stonehaus Winery is open Modnay through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call (931) 484-WINE, or visit www.stonehauswinery.com.