Sitting in a wicker chair on the front porch of his office on Clocktower Hill, Billy Newby actually has the look of a wine master. The neatly pressed long sleeved shirt, in spite of 93-degree heat and 100% humidity, belied the butterflies in his stomach Tuesday as he waited for a meeting with Floyd County commissioners who held the fate of his proposed winery in their hands.
After the evening meeting where the commission approved the rezoning of his longtime family farm and a special use permit for a winery, Newby started to finalize plans for a regional road trip.
He’s got a pretty good idea of what he wants his new winery to look like. But he wants to check out a few others across North Georgia before construction gets underway at his farm off Billy Pyle Road across from Camps Lake.
“I’m going to look at facilities that I have not seen and talk to the owners — to see what they liked that they did, what would they not do again, try not to repeat others’ mistakes,” Newby said.
He’s always enjoyed wines, Newby said, and he realized that his terraced property was not suited to row crops. Grapes turned out to be the perfect fit for being able to use the land without bringing in bulldozers and flattening the hillside.
Lisa Smith, director of Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism, said the new winery will offer a lot of possibilities for visitors to the community.
“There are already existing wine trails across North Georgia,” Smith said. “I’m excited for Billy being able to blaze a new trail to Rome.”
The winery industry has really taken off in Georgia. There are currently close to 100 wineries across the upper tier of the state, many of them in Northeast Georgia.
“There are several others that have planted (vines) but are a little further away from opening,” Newby said.
The whole Newby family has been involved in the business, his wife and two children helping to pick tons and tons of grapes the last couple of years
His first vines were planted in 2014 and 2015, and more vines were added the next couple of years. By 2018 the vines were ready, but his first big harvest wasn’t until last year. His 2018 grapes were sent off to a friend’s winery and last year’s harvest was juiced and frozen. Now, he’s ready to move forward with making wine on his own farm.
There are well over 5,000 types of grapes used in making fine wines, but Newby is growing five on his farm: Chambourcin, Lenoir, Blanc Du Bois, the Dillard Blanc and what is known simply as the America grape.
Lenoir is the heaviest producer of the group and he’s hoping to get between 11 and 12 tons of that particular variety this year. The farm should produce 22 or 23 tons overall. On average, he’s expecting to get 750 bottles of wine per ton.
“We’ve looked at buying additional fruit, too,” Newby said.
Particularly some muscadines. But the real joy of it is being able to grow your own grapes, harvest them and produce wine from the fruits of your own soil.
All five are hybrid varieties that are resistant to Pierce’s disease, which is carried by insects and kills the vine. The five varieties are also well-suited to grow in the soil, heat and humidity of Northwest Georgia.
White wines can typically go into the bottle between three and six months after picking. Some reds can go into a bottle in six months. Others, according to Newby, might not see a bottle for two years.
One of the other things he is looking at is harvesting some of the old oak trees on the 58-acre farm, to make his own wine barrels.
Plans for the winery include a tasting room where people can come in and try the wines, maybe enjoy little live music — a place where some folks can come in and hang out for the evening.
“No loud rock bands; just something like a Scott Thompson and his guitar type of music,” Newby said. “Just a nice, picturesque location.”
The hours won’t be late into the evening. He’s still trying to finalize plans for the operation but suggested that it’s not likely he’d stay open past 9 p.m. on the weekends. The few wineries that are open weekdays generally don’t stay open much past 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
“We do live there, too,” Newby said.
Hosting special events and weddings is something that will be considered over time — the permit he has doesn’t allow them — but he said the wine is his primary focus.
Smith said she believes the new winery could be an attractive facility for the growing number of people interested in agri-tourism.
The plan is to construct a completely new building. Newby is thinking about incorporating the building into the topography of the farm, sort of a wine cave. But that’s just one of the ideas he said he’s considering to create a high-end facility that would be a positive addition to the community.
“It’ll be a commercial building that is dressed up not to look like a commercial building,” Newby said. “There will be some nice woodwork and stonework, nice windows with some indoor and outdoor seating.”
He suspects seating would be limited to something in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 customers.
Construction is not expected to begin for a couple of months. It will take five or six months, which would lead to an opening sometime in 2021.