Successful winemaking is a combination of climate, chemistry and attention, plus the maddeningly elusive qualities of poetry, magic and the spell of a good story.
Every wine has a story, and the story of Beans Creek starts just past the eastward bend in I-24 East, beyond Bell Buckle and Wartrace. In an especially beautiful corner of soft rolling hills and pitched ridges, the Brown family of Manchester is living a dream: running a successful winery.
Beans Creek Winery, in its eighth year in operation, began as an extension of patriarch Tom Brown’s 27-year hobby, then grew into a family enterprise. And while Beans Creek is still maturing, it’s turning out some exemplary wines.
And just a lot of wines, in general. The winery’s product list runs to a whopping 40 varieties. Compare that with eight wines made by Keg Springs in Hampshire, Tenn., Arrington Vineyard’s 16 wines, or even the 20 made by Stonehaus in Crossville.
Beans, like many interstate-side wineries, sells to a diverse bunch of consumers. The snowbirds passing through on I-24 love the Blackberry Mountain and Pannydropping Peach, which vie for No. 1 among Beans Creek’s best-sellers. The party crowd grabs the Mountain Red, the-next best-selling wine. Bonnaroo White and Red, originally for sale just four months each year, now sell a bit here and a bit there all year long. Strolling Jim and Roseycheeks have their uses in sipping and swigging.
There are 33 more, all with a story, most of them worth hearing, especially if production manager (and Manchester city firefighter) Josh Brown is doing the telling.
For instance, remember the Easter Freeze of 2007, when the mercury fell to 23 degrees in Nashville? In grape-growing regions, the temperature was 16 degrees — with disastrous results. To make up for the loss, Beans Creek bought Washington State grapes. That’s how wines like Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Syrah made it on the list.
And did you know there’s a thriving strawberry industry in Bedford County? At the end of picking days in May and June, Valley Home strawberry farm gathers up the ripe unpicked berries for delivery to Beans, where it’s fermented to a sparkling Champagne-style wine. All strawberries, no grapes.
The most delicious wines on the Beans’ list are the food-friendly types. Chambourcin, Chardonel and Vidal Blanc are French hybrid grapes that can thrive in Tennessee’s clay soil and temperature extremes. Cynthiana is a traditional wine grape of the Americas. The Browns vinify them into wines of the same name.
The trick is to conceal your surprise when you taste how good they are. Not just “good for Tennessee” wines, an acknowledgement that for decades “Tennessee wine” has meant very sweet, often coarse-flavored wines. Rather they’re “I’m pleased to say this is from Tennessee” kind of wines.
I’m not a wine writer, but it’s difficult to write about wine without at least attempting to decide what makes each bottle appealing. So here goes.
Vidal Blanc is light as a feather, dry (about .5 on the Brix scale of sweetness, if you follow such stats), floral and citrusy. Chardonel is a French hybrid that vinifies into a full-bodied chardonnay-style wine. Chambourcin Reserve spends a year in oak and emerges luminous and ruby-colored, perfumed by a berry scent, with the characteristics of a big gutsy wine, but in a light wine. Cynthiana, a native grape with a long history in America, yields a slightly brick-tinted elixir with enough tannins to stand up to beef, plus a hint of cinnamon on the finish. Again, not just “good for Tennessee,” but good enough to serve with dinner.
The real prize among the wines is arguably the port-style dessert wine Apropos, a rich and complex brew with a fine Tennessee pedigree and another of the winery’s good stories.
In the mid-late Aughties, there was a quality issue with a very large delivery of Cynthiana grapes. When vinified, the resulting 550 gallons of wine had an unappealing scent, or, as Josh Brown puts it, “an awful nose.” The Browns worked with the wine, but couldn’t improve it enough to bottle and sell it.
Tom Brown contacted Phil Prichard, whose Kelso, Tenn., rum distillery was originally planned for Manchester, except that the city wouldn’t grant the requisite permissions. Prichard reckoned the whiffy wine would distill into acceptable spirits. Months later, the winery had 110 gallons of very nice, barrel-aged brandy that they were not permitted to sell under Tennessee’s Byzantine alcohol laws.
The Browns had been pondering a port-style wine for some time, and the Cynthiana brandy was the push they needed. They combined it with equal parts Cynthiana wine, then sweetened it a little to create a Banyuls-style wine. Forty gallons of Apropos, as they named it, debuted in 2009. It’s such a success that a sherry is forthcoming.
In the right hands, the Beans Creek Euro style wines are ideal with food. Mad Platter restaurant in Germantown put together Beans Creek wine dinner early in the fall, a brilliant mix of food and wine pairings and the usual assortment of interesting people who frequent the Platter. The chambourcin’s complex aromatics crooned to the salad of butternut and spaghetti squashes with escarole. The buttery Chardonel fell into the arms of smoked corn chowder. The vidal blanc fluttered its delicate hands over squash rissoles, and the Apropos and pumpkin charlotte eloped to a woodland glade. It was that kind of night, that kind of food and that kind of wine.
A cold weather classic. Serve with Beans Creek Chambourcin Reserve or Cynthiana.
• 4 pounds beef short ribs, boneless or bone-in
• Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
• Vegetable oil
• 2 carrots, minced
• 2 onions, minced
• 2 celery stalks, minced
• 4 cups coffee
• 1 cup Cynthiana or other dry red wine
• Several slices fresh fennel
• 2 star anise
• 3 or 4 cloves
• Beef broth
Season the ribs heavily with salt and pepper. Sear the ribs in hot oil in a large iron skillet over high heat. Remove from the skillet.
Turn the heat to medium and sauté the carrots, onions and celery in oil until tender, about 15 minutes. Set the ribs on the vegetables, curved side down. Pour the coffee and wine over the ribs. Add the fennel, anise, cloves and enough beef broth to cover the ribs. Bring to a boil, cover the skillet and transfer to a 300 degree oven. Bake for 90 minutes to 2 hours until very tender.
Pour half the liquid from the ribs into a saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to a syrup consistency.
At this point, the ribs can be served with the reduction. Or refrigerate for several hours up to a day or two. Skim any fat that solidifies on top. Reheat gradually in the cooking liquid. Serve with the reduction. Makes 4 to 6 servings, depending on whether boneless or bone-in ribs are used.
This chowder is on the Mad Platter menu often during corn season because it’s universally beloved. Serve it with Beans Creek Chardonel.
Stuart and Jamie Protich use a stovetop smoker to smoke the corn. To improvise one in your kitchen, line the bottom of a stockpot with foil. Spread a handful of chips on the foil, then top with another layer of foil. Set a metal steam basket on the foil. Fill the basket with corn. Seal the pan with more foil. Heat on medium heat for 15 minutes. Definitely turn on the exhaust fan.
• 4 ears corn
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 bell pepper, minced
• 1 celery stalk, minced
• Vegetable oil
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons flour
• Heavy cream
Garnishes: cooked crumbled sliced smoked bacon, shredded Parmesan, chopped parsley, crème fraîche, tomato jam, chives
Cut corn off cobs. Combine the cobs with 2 quarts water in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer; cook for about 1 hour. Discard the cobs.
Sauté the onion, pepper and celery in the vegetable oil in a stockpot until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the butter and heat until it melts. Stir in the flour. Cook about 5 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and begins to change color. Add the corn broth and corn, and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough cream to give the mixture a rich body — start with 1 cup.
Serve topped with any of the garnishes, or a bit of all of them.