Winston County, Miss., is on a roll. Sales tax collections are up, there are no vacancies on Main Street, Chamber of Commerce membership is growing, there is a great new restaurant downtown and there is even a new winery in town.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet, which was held at the beautiful and always busy Lake Tiak O’Khata resort just outside Louisville. Gerald Mills, the affable and professional director of the Winston County Economic Development District, shared a ton of positive economic and community development news with me. He also happened to mention that, “We now even have a winery in Winston County.” More about the winery below, but first the economic and community development update.
Downtown Louisville is bustling. There are no vacancies on Main Street. More importantly, the buildings are filled with tax-generating retail and commercial businesses. There is a new, colorful mural on the side of a brick building on the corner of Main and Church streets. The old parking meter poles on Main Street have been crowned with “toppers” of various forms of artwork. They go well with the flowers and flower pots that line the sidewalk.
The biggest downtown news is the arrival of the Market Café, which had its ribbon-cutting in April. It is located in the Blon Harris Building, which was built in 1890 and restored to an impressive dining facility. The project was put together by local community leader Mike Forster, who pulled together about a dozen Louisville families to invest in renovating the Harris Building and the Bradford Building (1910) and preparing them for Johnny and Alice Wooten, who operate the Market Café and Ala Carte Alice. Forster also recognized the local and county officials as well as Sen. Giles Ward’s help with contacts at the Department of Archives and History to help place the buildings on the National Historic Register. Market Cafe is open for lunch weekdays, and 5:00 – 8:30 on Friday evenings. I have been there on two occasions, one was a private banquet in a beautiful meeting room and the other a luncheon meeting where I witnessed lines out the door by 11:35 a.m. The food and atmosphere were excellent.
Business activity in Louisville is evidenced by a 9.2 percent increase in sale tax collections when comparing May 2009 numbers to May 2010, according to State Tax Commission figures. That compares to an overall 3.5 percent statewide for the same period.
On the education front, the Louisville School District has gone from “Academic Watch” to “Successful” and its graduation rate has improved to 74.5, according to the District Report Card as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. This year all of the schools in the county combined to produce 35 Mississippi Scholars, an education initiative of the Public Education Forum of Mississippi that involves business leaders in encouraging students to take more rigorous courses.
Now about that winery. I have visited wineries from Tuscany, Italy to Pasa Robles, Calif., and I knew of the Old South Winery in Natchez, but I have never seen or heard of a winery in Winston County, Mississippi. I had to learn more about this.
Mills told me that a Winston County native of some winemaking fame had returned to Louisville after living out of state for much of his adult life. His name was James Davis, and his company was called Red Hills Winery. The detective in me went to work. I discovered the winery’s Facebook page, and from there learned where I could purchase a bottle of wine in another town. A few days later I had a bottle of Davis Cuvee‘ from Red Hills Winery. The label read as follows:
“Our Davis Cuvee’ is a special blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Muscadine. It is a medium-bodied wine that exhibits blackberry and red cherry fruit, and is floral with a hint of earthiness. It exhibits jammy black fruit flavors with a little spice. Aged in used French Oak barrels. 13.5% alcohol. 200 cases produced.”
My taste testing began. At this point I should disclose that I am no wine expert. However, I do have a glass of wine more often than not with dinner meals, and am just someone who is mildly fascinated with the industry from a business and product standpoint. My review is simple: it was rather good and had a noticeable muscadine finish. Indeed, it was good enough for me to buy another bottle. The winery also has a white wine blend.
I contacted Davis and learned that he grew up in Louisville, Miss., and attended the University of Mississippi where he received his BA degree in English in 1983. Afterward he worked in the telecommunications industry for companies such as NEC Corporation, DSC Communications, MCI and Nortel Networks. While living in the Dallas area, he studied chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington. He has been in the wine business since 2002 when he studied winemaking at the University of California – Davis in Davis, Calif. Subsequently, he interned and worked for a winery in Napa Valley. In 2006, he began studying filmmaking at the Colorado Film School so that he could produce his own films, documentaries, commercials and marketing materials. He received his AAS degree in film and video with an emphasis on producing, directing and writing in 2008.
Davis does not just want to blend wines, he is also in the process of planting a vineyard. His winery is located on Old Robinson Road, just off Highway 25, and his vineyard is on North Columbus Avenue just north of town. His research has led him to acquire a shipment of grapevines that he believes are well-suited to growing in Mississippi. So far he has 200 planted 200 out of the 807 that have arrived. These grapes are Blanc du Bois, Black Spanish, Tempranillo and Mourvedre.
It will be fascinating to follow this entrepreneur and his quest to establish a vineyard and winery in Mississippi.
Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact Hardwick at firstname.lastname@example.org.