The Delta Blues Winery
As long as you’re driving slowly while looking for it, you won’t miss the black, iron gates that open up into the long, scenic driveway of the Delta Blues Winery, located at 6585 Stewart Road in Lakeland, Tennessee. To the left of the driveway is a small, calm lake, the vineyard growing and twisting along the grounds around it. This particular cold, late autumn day was clear, despite the suffocating fog blanketing the Mid South for the better part of the week. The sky was painted a deep blue, with an occasional cloud lazily lolling across the sky, a mirror image reflecting out on the lake. Trees, standing stoically, border the entire property, crisp with dark red and orange leaves, making the winery feel like a special, hidden place in a valley. At the end of the sloping driveway sits the Delta Blues Winery, where winemaker, Dr. Ed Stevens, his wife and manager, Dianne Day, and the owner, Jerry Michie, operate their establishment on three unwavering principles — cultivation, dedication, and plenty of wine.
Padding softly up the stone steps, you find your way to the wraparound porch. Chairs face slightly away from the tables, having been set up to invite you to take a seat. French doors open up into the building, where the subtle smells are mixed together: clean, floral, and just a hint of something tart or spicy. The entire room is open with a wraparound bar which juts centrally from the back of the building. To the right, a gift shop displays products from local businesses. To the left, an open sitting area with large, inset windows looks out across the vineyard and over the lake. This is where I initially spoke to Jerry Michie about scheduling an interview with Cypress, and again when I sat down to interview Dr. Stevens and Mrs. Day. I went at about the same time both times, sitting in about the same place, where I was facing the windows; both times, the late morning sunlight billowed in the room through the windows, dust motes dancing in the light.
What was the driving force is behind opening up a business, particularly a winery, in West Tennessee? “Our driving force was simply the fact that we loved wine,” says Dr. Stevens. Ed and Dianne are both share a love for fine wine, having toured wineries in California with a group of friends some years before opening Delta Blues. The wine was lovely, but the experience is actually what inspired the couple. What had been the seed of an idea—planted and dormant, much like a lot of ideas that have to be pushed aside for daily life to carry on—had finally taken root. “It’s been very interesting in lots and lots of ways,” Dr. Stevens explained when I asked about their experience so far with their business and what they have learned. “When we went into it, we didn’t know that 85% of the wine buyers in the United States likes sweet wines. We thought they were like us and liked dry wines!”
The public response has been overwhelmingly positive. With several different varieties that range all across the spectrum of possible wine flavors, a lot of their wines are favorites among their customer base, and tend to surprise people visiting for the first time. Ms. Day tells me of one such instance, explaining, “We had a fellow who came in here one night, and he said ‘Well, I came for the music, but I’ll taste the wine,’ he said. ‘But I don’t really like wine.’ I said, ‘That’s fine!’ So, he tasted four wines for five dollars...and said, ‘Well, I might just taste them all.’ He said, ‘I didn’t know this wine was going to be that good.’ He ended up taking home several bottles. I think people’s anticipation of it being a local wine is that it’s not going to be that good, and then customers come in, they taste our wine, and they are really surprised about how good it tastes...when they taste it, they buy it.”
Wine tastings are offered throughout the day, where you can try four wines for five dollars. Tours are also available as time permits, and groups of eight or more are encouraged to call ahead and make reservations.
The winery is not just known for its spectacular products. Dr. Stevens and Ms. Day wanted to bring their experience from the West coast to West Tennessee by creating that experience at Delta Blues. With such picturesque scenery, it’s no wonder that Delta Blues Winery is an incredible venue to host events and activities. “We do birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, wedding showers, rehearsal dinners, you name it,” Dianne tells me. “And sometimes we have a group of, say, twelve to fifteen people call and say ‘Can we all come out and do a wine tasting together?’ And we do a lot of tours, and hopefully, we’ll get to do more.” They’ve accommodated the winery to host such events, making modifications such as turning their upstairs loft into a dressing room for the bride-to-be for weddings booked there.
Constructing a pavilion to accommodate for bigger events, such as reunions and wedding receptions, is in the works with the hopes of it being completed by January of this coming year. Behind the winery is a music stage, where musicians play for a jovial crowd sipping on wine and simply having a fun, laid-back Friday night. The stage sits in a valley. “One of the nice things about that is,” Dr. Stevens says, “the Greeks built their theaters down in a valley. I understand fully why now from direct experience, and that is, the acoustics are incredible.” Low-key Sunday afternoon music is played on the porch or in the tasting room, depending on the weather (though, you’ll have to check out their Facebook page to find out all the details).
The winery attracts people every day. Their bottling room is open to volunteers in the community to learn about and get involved in the local winemaking process. It’s a great learning experience, but most importantly, you get to keep a bottle of wine for free.
The winery’s charm entices people to visit with friends and family and to drink and be merry, making it become much more than just an establishment that sells alcohol and hosts parties; it becomes a true experience. “I think that’s part of the winery business that people don’t really think about,” Dianne says. “It’s a place you go. It’s a place you come with friends, you do things, you sit on the porch and enjoy a glass of wine.” They are warm and personable with their customers and appreciate the fact that a lot of their business is local.
Demonstrating their passion for local business, they sell local business’ products in their gift shop. Along with soaps, shampoos, jewelry, t-shirts, and other local goods, they sell gourmet cheese, sausage, jams, and jellies. They also sell products from a local Methodist Church, where the money from the items are donated to charity for the elderly. They will have more items available for purchase for Christmas. As of now, not every item is local, but their goal is to have eventually offer exclusively local items. “We try to be an outlet for local things rather than just buy stuff across the country,” Dianne says. “That’s one of the things that I think we’re lucky to be able to do; since we’re not a ‘big, ole store,’ we can try to find people that we can help out in our community.”
As for the most important part of visiting Delta Blues...the wine. Delta Blues Winery offers several varieties of wine. They import their grapes from other wineries in West Tennessee, currently cultivating their own grapes for self-sustaining wine production in the near future. It will take about five to seven years for the Delta Blues vineyard grapes to fully mature and develop in flavor. Right now, they’ve planted four varieties of grapes: Sangiovese, which is the primary wine grape in Tuscany; Barbera, a grape hailing from the Piedmont region in the Northwestern corner of Italy; Tempranillo, a grape of the Spanish variety; and Primitivo, the most planted grape in California. Dr. Stevens is a former professor with a background in microbiology, so the complex science behind the winemaking process was an easier learning curve for him.
Dr. Stevens led me into the fermentation room. The room is open and spacious—and quite cold. There are four 1,000 gallon metal tanks in the first row and four 500 gallon metal tanks in the second row. The professor walked me through a comprehensive overview of how the wine is made, his background in teaching apparent as he pointed through the opening of the access port on the bottom of one of the tanks and explained how no two batches of wine are the same, depending on where it’s planted, the soil it’s planted in, and the differing heat, humidity, and moisture. The fermentation room is where Dr. Stevens has control over the process and refines the flavors of their wines according to the type of grape.
The initial step is called “primary fermentation.” Grapes are cultivated and ferment in the tank. As the wine ages, material “precipitates out” and sinks to the bottom, forming a layer at the bottom of the tank. In reference to winemaking, “precipitating out” is the natural process in which particles are moving around and accumulate, creating larger particles, which eventually become big enough to sink down to the bottom. After primary fermentation, the batch is pumped out of one tank into another, leaving the material behind. The batch will age, develop its flavor, and let a bit more material to precipitate out, until it is pumped into another tank. This process is called “fining the wine.” The last step is referred to as “cold stabilization.” All of the tanks are equipped with “cooling jackets,” where chilled glycol runs through the jackets and cools down the wine to below freezing and precipitates out the tartaric acid. Both red and white wine wine develop tartaric acid in the winemaking process, which produces a hard crystal. Throughout the process, Dr. Stevens experiments with the wine by adjusting fermentation times, temperatures, and intensities. Fermentation produces heat, which affects the flavor of the wine — the more heat that is produced, the richer the flavor. For more aromatic, floral-tasting wine, Dr. Stevens runs well water through the cooling jackets, cooling down the wine but not freezing it. This is what draws out the fermentation process and makes it less intense. After this initial refining process, the wine is left to age, waiting to be bottled, labeled, and enjoyed.
Delta Blues is a great stop for any wine aficionado. Located at 6585 Stewart Road in Lakeland, stop by and try a sip (or more) of the wines they have to offer. For more information, you can call (901) 829-4685.