Not far from Caswell County, a new winery, Tunnel Creek Vineyards, has opened its gates for elegant wine-tasting, scenic viewing, and plenty of personal “kick-back” time.
Eight years ago, owners Larry and Sharon Holler were finishing their successful careers as commercial developers in Morehead City, NC. Their next chosen move was to look for property to build their own winery on a location with expanse, a natural hilly landscape, and acreage that possessed a great climate to grow grapes.
That would mean plenty of sun, rocky soil, and sloping hills that drained well – three vital characteristics for quality grape production.
They found the site and purchased it in Northern Person County in 2013. It was in the Bethel Hill community off Route 15-501, eight miles north of Roxboro, at the end of Berryhill Road that skirts past the Bethel Hill Charter School. The 400 acres they purchased were located near the old Lynchburg and Durham railroad line, which runs right over the picturesque namesake tunnel that covers little Castle Creek. The land was also a historical hunting and trading area in the 1700 and 1800’s among the Sappony Indians and early settlers.
First order of business was to find the right variety of grapes to plant and produce American and European grapes that would grow well and provide the right variety of tastes. The market demand for recognizable wines such as Chardonnay must also be grown. There should also be wine choices to suit the traditional palates of the local culture (i.e., the sweet, sipping wines of the South).
The Hollers commuted from their eastern N.C. home for a while, but moved to South Boston, Virginia where they rented a home. That eliminated the tiresome 200-mile one-way commute. They began planning their groupings of particular varieties and where on the land they should be grown. It takes years to develop and establish a vineyard the size of Tunnel Creek. It also takes plenty of favorable weather, too, and a frost-free spring is a welcome gift.
Grape varietals were purchased, and the Hollers began building the foundations of their North Carolina viticulture. Each grape vine must be planted by hand and nurtured as its root systems mature.
It has been a slow, painstaking process with as many weather setbacks as there were building delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grand opening after grand opening was pushed ahead during the entire summer of 2020 and thirsty customers could only drive by in frustration.
That’s all history now!
The two-story Tasting Room was opened in September and has become a popular destination in its five-day weekly pouring schedule.
The elegant, 8,000 sq. ft. slump stone has two 30-foot custom tasting bars, dozens of built-in wine racks and cases upon cases of product displays. On the westside of the building are the ever-popular “slushie” machines keeping the iced-wine mixed for a perfect frozen treat on a warm day.
Outside on the roomy open-air patio stands a dozen table and chair sets surrounding a gas fire pit. Depending on the day of the week, there could be some soft piano jazz being performed by local musicians.
There is an elevator to the second floor that contains a roomy meeting area to discuss business or entertain a small celebration. The south-facing terrace accommodates another half-dozen of the table and chair sets and overlooks the patio and scenic southwestern view. The entire area is handicapped-friendly.
If that’s not enough, the Tasting Room has a limited menu of food and locally sourced chocolates to pair with the wine courses.
“We now offer assorted Cheese & Meat trays, chicken salad croissants, pimento cheese/pita chips and assorted truffles. We plan on adding more items in the spring & summer,” said Ms. Holler.
Recently, convenient home delivery of Tunnel Creek wines became part of their expanding business model. There is a six-bottle minimum to every order and you will likely see the brightly wrapped Chevrolet van crisscrossing this region each day.
The selections for the wine tastings vary, periodically, but include: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminette, Viognier, Sangiovese, Meritage, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The Castle Creek White, Red and Rose are their sweet wines. The highly-acclaimed Crystal Rose is their delicious champagne offering and Sweet Magnolia is their popular dessert wine. “Slushies, Sweet White and Sweet Rose’ have been a big hit, however two of our best sellers would be our Reserve Meritage and Viognier. We just bottled our Reserve Chardonnay and has only been available for two weeks. People have been very happy with it as well and there is an equal demand for all of our wines. They are all good sellers!” added Holler.
The wine labeling and packaging are beautiful and add to the enjoyment of presenting its contents. “I was almost hesitant to open my attractive bottle of Meritage, but my love of a dry red had its way. It was delicious and complex,” says correspondent Mike Floyd.
A nearby barn-sized facility, the Venue Room, also plays hosts to weddings, family celebrations, reunions and corporate meetings. It is poised next to a beautiful lake and a Heliport for shuttle convenience to and from locations such as the Raleigh-Durham airport.
Don’t think for a minute that the Hollers are into status-quo and Tunnel Creek Vineyards is finished growing. Not even close. With the Triad, South Boston, Virginia International Raceway, greater Greensboro, Caswell County and Danville only an hour or less drive, the lure of fine wine and good food in a private setting is attractive and compelling. It sells and people want to experience luxury.
That’s not why Tunnel Creek Vineyards was specifically built, but it’s certainly one of the reasons.
Oh, how is the wine, you say? Just go on out there and try it for yourself!
Visit Tunnel Creek Vineyard’s website: www.tunnelcreekvineyards.com for more information, directions and hours of operation.
Sharon Holler can be reached at 336-322-3600