With the prominent view of Pilot Mountain rising behind the tasting room and restaurant of the new JOLO Winery & Vineyard, the owners of the new winery are trying to make the location an oasis for wine lovers.
JOLO’s first harvest has been made into wine and is now bottled and waiting on the doors to open to the public so it can get a taste of what the Yadkin Valley and Pilot Mountain area dirt can reap.
“This is our very first vintage,” said Ray, who with his wife, Kristen, operates the vineyard and winery on Pilot Power Dam Road at the eastern intersection with N.C. 268. “And I dare say it came out pretty good.”
It was during a trip to France that Ray said the couple was inspired to join the wine industry. “We were in Burgundy, France,” said Ray. He said the man at the vineyard there showed him a thick vine and explained how big a decision it was for the grandfather to plant that one vine, because he would never see the fruits of its harvest.
“The big vine was for his grandkids. It is really neat that generations and generations can see the hard work you’ve done long after you planted it,” Ray said of the legacy that he and his wife want to leave for their sons, Jordan, 13, and Logan, 12, the namesakes of JOLO.
For 23 years the Massachusetts natives lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as Ray created and ran Learn.com, an online learning software company. It was later acquired by Oracle.
Upon deciding they would leave Florida to start a vineyard and winery, Ray said the couple “did a lot of research.”
The Rays didn’t want to focus on wines like muscadines, so the eastern part of the state was out. “We narrowed our choice to North Carolina and the Yadkin Valley, and with the help of Realtors, we found this property and view of the mountain,” Ray said.
“The schools are great, and we are close to (U.S.) 52 and Winston-Salem,” he said.
JOLO Winery & Vineyard began as one seven-acre tract adjoining the property that now features the tasting room and winery facility. Then last year, the Rays purchased a three-acre tract where they have built the tasting room and winery.
“It was all wooded. We cleared ten acres and have seven acres planted. In April, we will plant three more acres,” Ray said.
According to JOLO’s website, “Being green is a key theme for JOLO Winery & Vineyards. Our eco-friendly initiatives include the use of burnt vine clippings and compost for fertilizers, the use of baking soda and hot sauce in place of most insecticides, and the use of reclaimed creek and rain water as the only added source of irrigation for the vines.
“Although the vines yielded a promising bounty of fruit during 2012 harvest, the fruit was cut early and put back into the land for soil nourishment.”
In 2010, vines were first planted on the initial seven acres, and in September 2013, the first grapes were harvested with bottling in December.
“We should be releasing some in March, and we will have a little bit of red for our grand opening April 5,” Ray said, who serves as JOLO’s winemaker, with guidance from Sean McRitchie.
Grapes growing at JOLO’s vineyard include traditional bordeaux French grapes of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Also growing are French American hybrids of vidal blanc and traminette; a cultivar indigenous to Virginia called cynthiana; and a hybrid chambourcin.
The first four wines created from the harvest will be available for purchase after JOLO’s April grand opening.
From those seven grape varieties come six wines — 2013 JOLOTAGE, the vineyard’s premier red wine blend; 2013 Muddy Paws, from the pertit verdot, is named for the Rays’ Weimaraner Chief, who kept muddy paws from playing in the vineyard; 2013 Grey Ghost, also named for Chief, and is 100 percent vidal blanc based; 2013 Crimson Creek, a 100 percent chambourcin wine; 2013 JOLO Pink, created from merlot; and 2013 Happy Endings, which is a dessert wine based on vidal blanc.
Ray focuses on the winemaking and food, which will include an on-site restaurant, End Posts, in the tasting room, where visitors can watch the chef and staff create their meals in an open kitchen setting while trying out JOLO’s wines. He has more than ten years of experience in the restaurant industry and owned his own restaurant when he was 19.
The company recently hired Brian Brown as its executive chef.
Brown has more than ten years of experience, including owning his own restaurant and holding chef positions at five-star restaurants. He received training at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” said Kristen Ray, founder of End Posts and director of membership experience at JOLO.
“We were in need of a chef with extraordinary vision to provide the experience of a lifetime for our wedding and event guests as well as our restaurant guests, and Brian was the perfect fit.”
“We are excited to have Chef Brian here with us at JOLO Winery and Vineyards,” said J.W. Ray, founder and vintner. “With his stewardship, I am confident that we will make End Posts Restaurant and JOLO Winery and Vineyards the finest boutique food and wine experience in the beautiful state of North Carolina.”
Brown said he was “eager to impress food and wine connoisseurs by delivering the freshest food available paired with JOLO wine and regionally crafted beers.”
“To be able to bring my vision to life and create a renowned dining experience at a new vineyard is a remarkable opportunity,” said Brown. “I plan to set culinary standards at JOLO one ingredient at a time.”
Outside the restaurant, Kristen Ray handles the logistics, ordering, wine club and other business-related aspects. She has been in corporate sales for 20 years.
“We’re permitted and ready to go,” Ray said as he led a tour of the tasting room and kitchen featuring JOLO wines on tap, dining area, winery facility and a small one-room cabin for bridal couples to use following weddings held on site.
JOLO also is in the process of annexation with the town of Pilot Mountain so it can take advantage of getting ABC permits in order to offer cocktails and other drinks to visitors.
Ray said JOLO will likely offer other boutique wines such as those created by his mentor McRitchie. “Sean is the gold standard in the state,” he said.
“We’re hoping to be the finest dining establishment in North Carolina,” said Ray. “We get our chicken, pork and beef here at Our Chosen Heritage on Burge Road in Pinnacle. We have a two-acre tract dedicated for farming of produce here, and we will use Pilot Mountain Pride as much as we can.”
JOLO Winery & Vineyard began booking private events in October, and already has a couple of weddings scheduled.
JOLO Winery & Vineyard can be found at 219 JOLO Winery Lane in Pilot Mountain. To contact the winery, call 855-JOLOWINE, email email@example.com or visit www.jolovineyards.com.
Wendy Byerly Wood is the content manager for The Elkin Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. She can be reached at at 336-835-1513.