After years of work, weather and waiting, Newberry couple savors fruit of their vines
NEWBERRY - The sun hadn't been up long over the rows of muscadines in Richard and Laura LaBarre's backyard.
There was a slight hint of fall in the September air. And a definite hint of anticipation.
It was to be a very big day.
After four and a half years of working and waiting, through an Easter freeze and years of drought, it was grape-picking time. Muscadines from 700 vines would be plucked on their way to ending up in bottles of Enoree River Vineyards wine.
"This is our first harvest," Richard LaBarre said as he looked over the sloping field on a Saturday morning. "We've waited a long time for this."
Richard and Laura, along with family and friends, had pounded every post, strung every wire and nurtured every grapevine on their Newberry land.
They had learned to be farmers. And vineyard owners. And wine makers.
For a few years, before they installed an irrigation system, they would drive up and down the rows, a 55-gallon drum of water in the back of Laura's father's pickup truck, dousing the plants with much-needed refreshment.
They were married here three years ago, right in the middle of the 18-acre vineyard. (Richard says the reason he asked Laura to marry him was because her father owned a tractor. That's a joke. But the tractor did come in handy.)
Richard LaBarre, 62, was always a city guy, growing up in Columbia and never spending any time in the country.
Laura LaBarre, 46, calls herself a "local girl," raised in nearby Prosperity. She is a computer applications teacher at Mid Carolina High School in Prosperity.
He owns the Vietnam Veterans Full Circle Charity Thrift Store on Two Notch Road. As the regional director for Vietnam Veterans of America, he spent some time traveling around the country. As he traveled, he would visit wineries. And he liked what he saw.
"I knew I wanted to get out of Columbia, and I knew I wanted to be a farmer," he said.
So he started looking at land. It turned out Newberry County sits in a good weather zone for growing muscadines - the only grape that grows well in South Carolina.
So for months "we drove down every country road we came across," looking for a new home, Laura LaBarre said.
They happened upon some property not far off I-26 at exit 74. It wasn't for sale, but they kept looking at it. At times it was overgrown; at other times it was mowed. They found the name of the owner and wrote a letter to him in North Carolina, saying they were interested in leasing or buying the property.
It was 18 acres with a house - a medium-size place that was just what they were looking for.
They closed on the property in January 2005 and got to work.
The land included a barbed-wire-surrounded pasture that was already cleared for planting. But there was an old farmhouse that needed to be torn down, land to be worked, fences to be built, vines to be planted.
They dug out land to build a basement, the room that serves as a tasting room for now.
The LaBarres named their enterprise Enoree River Vineyards (since Enoree is a Cherokee word that means riverbanks overflowing with muscadines.)
Richard's brother came up from Florida to help. Other folks stepped up, too.
""The Lord brought people right when we needed them," Laura said.
One of those was Bob Stacks, who moved from Michigan to Prosperity three years ago with his wife Jutta. Bob was interested in learning abut the wine making business. He asked Richard if he needed any help. Yes, he told him, "but I can't pay you."
That didn't matter to Stacks. He knew a little about wine making, but jumped into it, learning everything he could through books and Internet sites.
It takes about six months for muscadine wine to go from vine to bottle. Along the way the grapes are washed, crushed, separated, fermented and bottled. The grapes picked this fall will become part of the vineyard's first commercial bottling.
For now, as Enoree waits for its federal license, the LaBarres are working with Carolina Vineyards in Chester where the fermentation, corking, bottling and labeling is done. Once the federal license comes through - in a few weeks, they hope - everything will be done in Newberry.
Eventually, the LaBarres hope to build a second floor and turn that into the tasting room, with a wrap-around deck and views of the expansive vineyard.
Richard LaBarre's 10-year plan has him sitting on the porch sipping wine and smoking a Cuban cigar. There will be a rock fireplace and rocking chairs, a grill area and music. But not yet.
First there are muscadines to be gathered, pressed and fermented. And wine to be bottled and tasted.
For now, the LeBarres invite visitors to wine tastings each Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Or to just come out and bring a picnic and enjoy the view of the vineyard. Parties are hosted at the site, and tour buses are making detours to visit.
They hope to someday host festivals in the field among the grapes.
"We did this so people can enjoy it," Laura LeBarre said. "Bring a picnic basket and sit out here and enjoy it."
IF YOU GO
WHERE: 1650 Dusty Road, Newberry
WHEN: Tasting room is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
COST: Wine tastings are $3.50, includes nine to 10 tastings A souvenir glass is $1.50.
GETTING THERE: From Columbia, take I-26 west to exit 74. Turn right onto S.C. 34. Go .6 miles and turn right onto Dusty Road
INFO: (803) 276-2855; e-mail email@example.com or go to enoreeriverwinery.com