When considering quintessentially Southern drinks, bourbon and rum may come to mind. Classic cocktails like the Mint Julep and Hurricane are especially beloved throughout Kentucky and in New Orleans, La., where the drinks originated and continue to fuel nights and weekends.
In the last several years, however, a distinctly Southern wine scene has emerged, bringing urban wineries, tasting events, and destination wine bars to Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. While the South might not be home to America’s most famous wine growing regions, it has another homegrown asset: the art and culture of hospitality.
Lindsey Williams, a lawyer by trade, has lived with her family in Davidson, N.C., for nearly a decade. She decided to open Davidson Wine Co. (DWC), an urban winery, last summer. “I have always loved wine, and gained a greater appreciation for winemaking after a trip to Italy with my closest friends,” Williams says.
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The city has evolved since Williams first moved to Davidson, she says, but she felt it was missing a place where the community could enjoy a variety of wines in an inclusive, approachable environment.
Located in the historic business district, DWC makes its own wine with grapes from California, France, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. It also invites customers to create their own labels and host events for special occasions. “We strive to create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome to enjoy wine,” Williams says.
A trip to Italy also inspired Racquel Valburn, a former accountant from Atlanta, Ga., who recalls feeling “blown away” by the level of hospitality she experienced while visiting wineries. Valburn believes the American South can deliver similar hospitality experiences for wine lovers around the world.
Valburn’s company, The Wine Rac, is a boutique events firm that creates themed events such as Champagne brunches, corporate events, and yacht parties centered around wine education. She noticed that Atlanta was missing its own special wine-tasting experience and wanted to tap into her gift of bringing people together.
“I always want my guests to walk away feeling happy, carefree, and more knowledgeable about wine,” Valburn says. “I also hope that I’ve piqued their curiosity about wine and encouraged them to explore it a little more.” Valburn sees Atlanta as a budding market for wine and has noticed an increase in the population of people who are interested in learning more about wine.
At Graft Wine Shop & Bar in Charleston, S. C., sommelier Femi Oyediran believes you don’t have to be a connoisseur to participate in wine culture. He and co-owner Miles White opened Graft in 2018 to celebrate the experience of good times, good music, good friends, and good wine. “When people walk into Graft, they aren’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is a super-serious wine shop,’ which it is,” Oyediran says. “And that’s because the first thing they’ll see besides wine are shelves dotted with records we love. It creates a sense of familiarity that makes for great icebreakers and trips down memory lane. You can feel at home, and that’s a good wine experience in my opinion.”
Southern hospitality isn’t just a marketing term or cliché. According to Southern Living, it’s a source of local pride that includes politeness, charm, and charity, among other attributes. Williams, Valburn, and Oyediran all believe it sets Southern wine culture apart from other places in the country.
“The wine scene is changing all over America, and we wanted to make sure that we were apart of that conversation in terms of where the industry is going and what potential lies in that growth,” Oyediran says. “In Charleston, we are getting access to better wines every week. But at the end of the day, it’s not just about having the ‘best wine’ — everyone can do that. We’re truly invested in how people feel every time they walk in and out of our store, and providing them with a quality experience.”