But construction and real-estate developers Charlie and Ed Shelton believed the red clay of the Yadkin Valley shares climate and growing conditions with some of the best wine-growing regions in Europe, so they launched Shelton Vineyards in 1999.
A new industry to Surry County was born.
But a new industry needs trained workers, so the Shelton brothers prompted Surry Community College to create a viticulture and enology program – in the accompanying video, Surry President David Shockley confesses the president at the time wasn’t sure what the terms meant at first.
Later came the $5 million Shelton-Badgett NC Center for Viticulture and Enology – which houses the only on-campus bonded winery of any college east of the Mississippi1 – to train workers for the wine industry in North Carolina and across the Southeast.
Since 2004, North Carolina’s wine industry has grown from $74 million to $1.34 billion, with 180 bonded wineries, Shockley says.
“This community college is so honored to be at the hub of all of the educational and technical training for those programs,” he says.
“With the help of Charlie and Ed making it happen, we’re the only one on the East Coast that has a winery and viticulture center where we actually grow our grapes, we actually make the wine, we market the wine, and there was special legislation given so that we could sell the wine.
“So our students have the ability to go from the ground all the way to the bottle –including making the labels for those bottles … it’s a unique program where our students truly do learn every aspect while they’re in college of the wine industry.”
It’s also a classic case of a community college serving the unique needs of a local industry.
Enology instructor David Bower says only five colleges in the United States have an on-campus winery like Surry’s – and almost every student has a job when they graduate.
“The wine industry in North Carolina is definitely in need of people to work in it, because we are growing so quickly,” Bower says.
“It’s exceedingly important,” says Shelton Vineyards Winemaker Michael Egues.
“The youth in these communities who have traditionally gone into industries that are on the decline – they’re seeing this wine industry around them growing. And it gives them another vision, another means of perhaps staying in their community and returning something to their community.
“So it’s exceedingly important – it’s delivering hope and delivering promise … to find jobs for people in the community themselves.”