July 1, 2020
I am often asked while tending the White Squirrel Winery tasting room, “How did this all begin”? And because time passes so quickly or because I honestly forget , the questions cause me to pause , “Was that last year, or the year before… when was it”? There are no books or maps written to help direct or navigate the course I chose. Home Winemaking for dummies was an early read but fell short as I progressed.
Why I did it, and what moved me to do it, I have no idea, but in my late 20’s I ordered my first home winemaking kit. It included a 5-gallon plastic bucket and lid, an air-lock, a #10 can of grape concentrate, wine yeast, various chemicals and an instruction sheet (eckraus.com) Beginning to end, it took about four months of fermenting, racking, fining and then bottling. I anxiously shared with friends and received comments like, “Not bad,” and, “That’s pretty good”. The process seemed pretty easy, and with my past success, I ordered another kit and started two more batches.
what was I thinkin
After taking the easy road and making mediocre wine using various grape concentrates, in 1999 I planted my first 50 vines. And, because I liked the name, the first varietal I planted was a French-hybrid called Chancellor. Aside from growing a Muscadine and Concord, this was my first attempt to grow an actual wine grape. I was inundated with mold, fungus, insects and rot. A visit from the local agriculture extension office pointed out that my trellis was wrong, the vine spacing was wrong and the direction the vines were planted in was wrong.
the harder I work, the luckier I get
“The harder I work, the luckier I get“, is a quote my grandfather Charles Sanderson always threw out at me. At times, it was discouraging but more often focused my drive. And in this case, I would not be deterred. I pulled up the vines and started all over. In the next year or so, I bought a small wine press, a grape crusher, and a 30-gallon stainless steel tank, and continued to make wine with my new Steuben grapes and blackberries. And now, 30-years later, I still use the grapes from those vines and that 30-gallon tank. But this was only the beginning.
Wine Club Pick-Up Party
Saturday, June 6th, 2020 will be Wine Club pick-up day at White Squirrel Winery. This quarter we will have a taco bar for Club Members plus 1 guest, $10 for non-members, and live music by Scott Allen Shell, from Union City.
*Lunch for Members only will begin at 12:00-3pm, and for non-members, our regular opening hours at 1pm.
*Music will be from 2:00-6pm.
Mark your calendar for this fun-filled day!
Schedule · Saturday, June 6, 2020:
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM for Wine Club Members-Only plus 1 Guest Taco Bar-eat free
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Non-Members may eat at Taco Bar for $10 starting at 1pm & enjoy the music for free from 2-6pm
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM Music by Scott Allen Shell
May 28, 2020
Easter morning 2007, many blooming fruit crops like grapes, peaches and apples were destroyed by 3-days of 25-degree early morning freezing temperatures. Ironically, April 15th, 2020, the Wednesday morning after Easter… it happened again.
5:00 a.m., a 26-degree early morning temperatures totally destroyed all green tissue, including blooms on our 20 acres of grapes. Once this occurs, most grape vines will set a 2nd set of blooms and produce 25-50% of the initial crop. Unfortunately, the European vinifera grape Syrah will not do that. I have 650 Syrah plants and was hoping for 7-8,000 pounds of these wonderful, peppery, dark purple grapes. This year they will receive the weekly sprays, all the vine training and all the mowing… but will produce no grapes.
Here is the possible bright side of the coin. Theoretically (Bill’s theory), the energy of the plant will be directed to the remaining crop. I am hoping the smaller cropload will produce a sweeter and tastier grape and thus produce a more robust, full-flavored and superior wine. So, keep your eye out and get ready for the White Squirrel 2020 vintage.
Why are White Squirrel wines so crisp, so clear, so sparkly, so good?
We use a filtration system called “crossflow”. There are only a couple wineries in Tennessee but more and more wineries across the country are using this new technology and we feel this sets us apart. The crossflow technology has been around for many years, but only within the past few years has this system been used in the wine industry.
During the filtration process, under pressure, wine is forced through a ceramic filter. Clean wine exits into a clean tank and cloudy wine continues to be filtered. By using crossflow we avoid using harsh chemicals and avoid discharging excessive cloudy wine; we have less waste, cleaner wine and less chance of refermentation.
Wine customers don’t compare our wine to other Tennessee Wineries. They compare our wine to California Wine and European Wine. When our wine is on the shelf of your local WalMart or liquor store we are in the shark-tank and we are hoping for a repeat purchase. So, even though the cost of a new crossflow prohibits many wineries from upgrading to the newest, best filtration system… we felt there was no other option. With my 35-years of retail experience, the one lesson I have come to know as the most important and enduring: for long term success, it’s all about repeat sales.
February 13, 2020
Let me throw out these two words… wine label. What goes through your mind? Yellow Tail, Robert Mondovi, Barefoot, Gallo, Sutter Home… all of these produce thousands of cases of wine per year. There are around 1,000,000 wineries worldwide. Some are really small, producing just a couple hundred cases per year and then there’s Gallo, the world’s largest, producing 70 million cases per year using 80 different brand names. Our little winery, White Squirrel, is what the industry calls a boutique winery, that’s a winery producing less than 10,000 cases annually. However, as boutique as we are, we still have 18 different kinds of wine and 18 different wine labels.
Not only do we sell wine at our winery, we also sell wine in grocery stores and package stores. That means our product sits beside wines from some of the world’s largest producers with professionally designed, ad agency produced, focus group approved, wine labels.
While visiting City Liquor in Dyersburg I proudly strolled through the wine section where White Squirrel Wine was on display. Bert Chandler, the owner has several hundred wines on display and does a great job with White Squirrel. As I scanned through the wines, reality slapped me in the face. I realized our cute, beloved, cartoon-squirrel wine label did not stand out among the crowded field. In fact, our label appeared bland and somewhat lacking. I almost felt sorry for the precious, cartoon-squirrel.
Over the past several months I have immersed myself in wine labels, looking for the style that best suites White Squirrel Winery and a label that would sit proudly beside Yellowtail, Beringer and others. I visit retailers, take pictures, do online searches for critter wine labels, check out wine label contest winners, and quiz family members. Finally, I realized I needed help with the concept I had in my head. I posted a job on an online freelancer marketplace, GURU.com.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story!
(preview: next blog will include pictures and concepts)
January 31, 2020
It is a gloomy day in West Tennessee and a bit warm to be the last day of January. Marjie just asked, “ Where is the snow? I thought someone said it was going to be a cold, hard winter”. “Lucky you, you don’t have to miss a day of school”. I don’t think she liked my response.
Today I’m a bit sad. For 6 years I have been using “Shopkeep” as my point of sale software provider. For those unfamiliar with a POS system, think of an old cash register with a modern look. This is my cash register, and where I enter my inventory descriptions, quantities, prices, customer data and pretty much everything about my business. My sales histories, credit card transactions and, most importantly, 6 years of sales and customer info is stored on a distant Shopkeep cloud…. I think?
Six years ago I recall sitting at my kitchen bar and doing endless Google searches and reading endless reviews about the many POS providers and finally narrowing it down to two or three. I absolutely wanted cloud-based with IPad terminals and a small footprint. After doing a few online demos, I chose Shopkeep. And now, six years later, this lukewarm POS marriage with counseling, a lot of arguments and the threat of separation… I started chatting with “Square”. Yep, Square is the biggest cloud-based, IPad POS provider in the country. I am not a sheep, and I hate going with the Walgreens or WalMart of POS systems, but after six years of Shopkeep, I think I finally know what I really want. And for fear of sounding too techie or like a spouse coming out of a bad relationship, I’ll just say, one of the many advantages of being a billion dollar company is you can hire the best developers and programmers money can buy.
So, on your next visit to White Squirrel Winery, you will see one of those little white terminals with the grey square on the back… the one’s you see in all the coffee shops, donut shops and dress boutiques. And that too makes me sad. I was rooting for the small guy… the one that was there when I started.
January 27, 2020
Just google “movies about wineries” and you find movies that are goofy, serious, romantic and even a thriller… Sideways, Walk in the Clouds, A Good Year, SOMM, Wine Country. To my surprise, of the 53 movies listed I failed to see a single movie, not even a documentary that shared the real life story of running a vineyard and winery. Maybe that’s the reason so many folks come into White Squirrel Winery with an burning curiosity about the business. Afterall, there are more counties than wineries in Tennessee (95 -vs- 54), more dairy farms than wineries in Tennessee (220-vs- 54) and even more breweries than wineries (82 -vs-54) in our state. So, for the next several months I will share the real life decisions, drama, struggles, triumphs and sometimes, romantic lighthearted fun of owning a real and working winery. You will get to know my family and the all the folks that help hold and put this business together. So, stay tuned as I tell the real story and post to: “The Wine Doesn’t Make Itself”. Bill (01/27/20)
October 10, 2019
VOTED “BEST WINERY IN WEST TENNESSEE”! We are thrilled to announce that our White Squirrel Winery & Vineyard has been voted “Best Winery in West Tennessee for 2019” by Tennessee Magazine Readers Choice Awards! We are honored YOU have chosen us for the 3rd year in-a-row. We try hard to ensure you have an enjoyable experience while doing a tasting, shopping for gifts, staying at our B&B, attending your private wedding or event, a paint class or our Arts Fest. Thank you to our awesome staff and vineyard harvest crew, and to TN Drone Services for the great aerial photo! Cheers to all of YOU! ❤️🍷 To view all winners, click here: https://www.tnmagazine.org/bestoftennessee-2019/
We have our music line-up for our 3rd annual Art & Music Fest in the Vines Sat. Oct. 12, and we are so excited for these great musicians! Music and mimosas start at 10am, and we have music all day until 6pm! Our vendors open at 9am, so get there early to get first pick of all of the great art and crafts! We will have food vendors, so bring your appetite, and of course, great wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks as well.