De Terra Vineyard & Wines of Somerville
The Pentzes, who own de terra Vineyards and Wines of Somerville, open up about their long road to opening up their own winery and the detailed process of winemaking.
One of seven wineries on the Wine Trail of West Tennessee, De Terra Vineyards and Wines of Somerville is a stop in between Memphis and Jackson in Somerville, Tennessee, it sits on 34 acres of land, nestled between a beautiful country farm house and neat rows of grape vines. The winery could be perfectly described as quaint and picturesque. De Terra is a new vineyard; the people behind the winery, owners Jerry and Teresa Pentz, opened their doors in October of 2014, but the winery had been an idea 10 years in the making.
In 2004, the Pentz's bought the 34 acres that would eventually become the vineyard. They planted grapes and started construction on their house, which was completed in 2005. Jerry and Teresa Pentz moved into their home and continued growing grapes in the hopes of opening a vineyard and winery.
Throughout the interview, Jerry Pentz comes across as down to earth and is clearly hard-working: his work garb consists of shorts, a t-shirt, and work shoes, indicating without any sort of explanation that he is a “hands-on” business owner who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if it means producing a high-quality product. “[We] started making wine in 2007, started going for my license in 2011, and was granted my license in August of 2014. We opened up that October and have been in business for three years.” Pentz describes how he had to get licenses from five different government agencies before he could even open the doors. Even so, the vineyard opened and has been both a business and a community staple in Somerville, Tennessee since.
The grapes used for their wine are grown on the Pentz’s family farm, with the exception of the concord grape, which they import from Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The reason for this is the trouble one would have to go through to cultivate concord grapes in this area compared to the profit one would receive in doing so. This is not to say that growing any of the other wine grapes in this region is any easier, “It’s hard work,” Jerry Pentz says, “Growing grapes in the south is hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Now, the Muscadine is a different story—they grow easy and heavy. They’re easy to grow, but the french hybrids and the wine grapes, they’re much harder to grow in the south. It’s not the heat—they grow [grapes] in the desert. It’s the humidity. The grape is a thin-skinned fruit, and fungus eats right through it.” Pentz also describes the grueling, years-long process to open up a winery and packaging and distributing wine. With this in mind, it’s a wonder that not only do the grapes successfully cultivate, but they also produce high-quality and tasty wines, despite the odds. And being in business for such a short time, the process of perfecting the product is a learning process:
“When you do this, it takes about five to six years to make money. When I sat down and worked out my business plan, I wasn’t supposed to start making money until the fourth year, and this year, I’m hoping I can break even. It takes a lot of money to run a business that does it’s own manufacturing, and you’re putting a product out...but the first couple of years is perfecting your product. I was a red, dry wine maker, but then somebody mentioned to me a year or two before I opened up that I might want to look into white wine. So the white wines came on [the menu], and then the sweet wines after that. But basically, the last couple of years, I’ve been working on sweet wines. [The wine list] is pretty “across-the-board;” it has to be across-the-board. You can’t just stay afloat on dry, table wines.”
There are 10 varieties of wine that De Terra offers, from dry to semi sweet to sweet. When asked about the best sellers, Pentz starts off by listing Bonafide Red, Cedar Ridge Red, and Ghost White, explaining their flavors and why they are more popular. Then he goes on to explain that Revival Red was actually a flavor specially made for Christmas, but it was so popular that they now offer the wine year-round. He then goes on to explain how good and how popular their Muscadine wine is. It becomes exceedingly clear that De Terra produces such good wine that there aren’t any that wouldn’t please every single customer. Pentz makes his different wine flavors and levels of dryness using blending techniques. “A lot of my wines are blended wines. They’re all good. They’re all good sellers.”
What do people say about De Terra Winery? “I get all good ratings; we always get good reviews.” On their Facebook page alone, the winery has received over 50 five-star reviews—a really good number for such a new and small winery. “We’ve been really well-received in the Collierville-Lakeland-Arlington area. Now, some of the Fayette county people have been slow to jump on board—but that’s okay.” De Terra does not expect everyone to love wine and they don’t expect everyone to be big on drinking, but they’re more than just a winery. They also host community events, such as Grapevine Jubilee, hosted from 7-10 p.m. on Saturday nights during June until October. This jubilee features live music, a food truck, and, of course, De Terra is open throughout the evening.
The De Terra Winery is the smallest winery in the state of Tennessee. While most wineries produce a whopping 10,000 gallons, De Terra produces somewhere around 1,500 gallons. This was done on purpose to ensure that the winery wasn’t based off an assembly line of production and could really produce wine flavors that are unique to Somerville. Pentz describes his business philosophy and he carefully answers the question about what the future looks like for the winery: “Everything is based off of one man, it’s not an assembly line. It’s based off of what one person can do. Expanding? I don’t know. Let me get to five years. I may not want to expand. I may just want to keep it like this. And I might go to a seasonal, where I’m open eight months a year, and then I’d travel for four months a year.”