Fruit of the Vine: Beans Creek Winery
A family of farmers turns wine into a local institution.
A winery in the heart of whiskey country may not seem like an obvious fit, but for the nine families backing Beans Creek Winery, it was something they felt Manchester needed.
“My dad [Tom] started making wine out of his home back in 1976,” says Beans Creek winemaker Josh Brown, who grew up down the road in Hillsboro. “It was a hobby that got out of hand.”
For a quarter of a century, Tom Brown, who passed away in 2016, worked on perfecting his craft until he was able to turn the dream into reality. In 2001, he started getting interest from locals wanting to invest in his concept, and the following year, they teamed up to purchase the land the winery now sits on adjacent to I-24. In 2003, construction on the property began—which entailed adding a warehouse and tasting room in addition to the house that was already standing—and Beans Creek made its debut in 2004. The name was derived from Josh’s childhood home, with the label paying homage to the bucolic setting.
“The last house I lived in growing up was on Beans Creek in Hillsboro, and that’s when my dad started making his 200-gallon allotment of wine each year out of the basement,” Josh explains. “My brother and sister had made him homemade labels that said ‘Beans Creek Cellars,’ and when we opened here in town, he fought with coming up with a name but knew it had to have a story behind it. So we decided to bring the creek with us.”
At the time Beans Creek opened, Josh was employed as a firefighter but came in on his days off to help out at the winery. When Tom retired in 2013, he passed on the torch to Josh, who left his post at the fire department after nearly 14 years and began to oversee production with his mother Becky and the other families backing the venture. Luckily for Josh, there wasn’t a huge learning curve as he had helped Tom out on the farm and at the Hillsboro home winery as a teen—but the job did wind up being more than he bargained for.
“I’m now the janitor, the winemaker, the yard boy—I do whatever needs to be done around here,” he laughs. “It’s fun, though. How many people say they get to make alcohol and drink at work, too?”
Cultivating vines is a precarious profession, one that relies on so many factors as altitude, climate and soil quality, and while Beans Creek has a handful of its own vines, it mainly sources grapes from a number of growers throughout Middle Tennessee, such as the Weaver family on the edge of Woods Reservoir who grows Traminette, Concord and Chardonel. When it first opened 15 years ago, Beans Creek had to buy all its fruit from outside of Tennessee as the vineyards it now buys from weren’t mature yet; this out-of-state sourcing ended in 2007 when Josh and Becky were able to start keeping all grape purchases local.
“We’re weaning out the varieties we got from out of state early on,” he adds, “and are now promoting the ones that are growing here really well.”
Beans Creek Winery is open 361 days a year, and even in the dead of winter, it receives at least a handful of visitors daily to the tasting room. The team has also been able to capitalize on a growing wine culture in Tennessee, one that continues to flourish as more wineries open throughout the state each year.
“Within two to three years of when we opened, there were six new wineries opening in the state,” Josh recalls. “Tennessee’s wine industry isn’t as old as, say, California or New York, but Highland Manor [in Jamestown] is more than 30 years old—so they’ve been around for some time, wine just wasn’t so much promoted as a whole.”
In all, Beans Creek utilizes nine grape varieties to make 30 different wines, producing between 3,000 and 4,000 cases a year. The kinds of wine Josh makes are largely dependent on the kind of grapes that prosper in Tennessee; Cabarnets, Merlot and Syrahs, for example, don’t grow in the area, so more and more grapes are being developed that are conducive to the climate of the eastern United States.
“Everyone has always associated Tennessee with sweet wines, but we make everything from fruit sweets to dry reds and white to a port and three different kinds of sparkling,” he says. “I’d love to see the port get out a little bit more. It’s won several awards, not just nationally but internationally.”
Half of Beans Creek’s wine list is always available for tastings, and since the winery doesn’t serve food, visitors are allowed to bring along picnic spreads if they like, though all booze must be purchased on site. Tasting options range from six pourings for $6 to the entire list for $10. And from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend, the winery offers free live music in the backyard every other Saturday night; on those occasions, a BBQ truck is on site for food purchases. Beans Creek also boasts a wine club that includes discounts, access to members-only vintages and a quarterly shipment of some of their best wines.
“We’re just a small family business trying to do what we can to keep going,” Josh says.