Most folks who grew up along the twisting county roads of rural Alabama have fond memories of gobbling down sweet scuppernongs until their bellies were about to pop, or spreading muscadine jelly on a hot, buttered biscuit. But few ever considered trying to earn a living from the native vines found growing in backyards and along fence rows.
|Jahn Coppey demonstrates how a stretcher is used to harvest muscadines.|
For one Etowah County farmer and former NASA engineer, however, muscadines aren't just a late-summer treat, they have become the key ingredient in a profitable business.
Jahn (pronounced John) Coppey, owner of Wills Creek Vineyards, immigrated to Alabama from Switzerland in 1971, carrying with him generations of experience in caring for and raising grapes.
"The two things that led me to create a vineyard in Alabama were the soil being well suited for growing muscadines, and the encouragement from my wife, Janie, who wanted to return to her Stephens family homestead in Duck Springs," Coppey said. "I just wanted to continue my family's tradition of wine making that my grandfather had inherited from previous generations in Switzerland's Rhone Valley."
Coppey and his wife cultivate muscadine vines for their operation which produces muscadines, jelly, juice, sauce, preserves, wine and even muscadine-scented candles.
"We researched all the vineyards in Tennessee, and everyone there said muscadines are what people are looking for," said Coppey. "Muscadines are native to Alabama and are especially hearty for this soil type."
Coppey has five acres of muscadine vines with ongoing expansion for another three acres. He not only uses all the muscadines he grows but also buys grapes from other local growers.
Coppey attributes the high demand for his muscadines to published articles touting the health benefits of the anti-oxidants found in grapes and muscadines. "Many people come here saying their doctor said drinking a glass of wine would provide them health benefits, but they don't like the dry taste of most wines, they like the sweeter muscadine wine," said Coppey.
There are about five vineyards scattered across the state with more in process of development. One such venture is White Oak Vineyards, which is owned and operated by Randy Wilson.
Wilson has created a state-of-the-art vineyard operation that will be open to the public in March 2004. It includes six acres of French hybrid grapes and muscadines as well as a 1,500 square foot processing building and tasting room.
"All of my neighbors and the surrounding county have been strongly supportive," said Wilson. "Vineyards are a boon for the local economy from a tourism aspect as well as for the individual farmer interested in growing and selling grapes."
For more information about Wills Creek Vineyards and muscadines visit www.muscadine.com or call (256) 538-5452. For White Oak Vineyards, call (256) 238-1092.