Lonnie Bailey is an attorney by day, having practiced with Upshaw Williams Bigger & Beckham in Greenwood, Mississippi for some 31 years, 25 of those spent as a partner. But a hobby and passion of this Shelby, MS native has recently turned into a full-fledged second career and, in the process, turned a lot of heads and pleased a lot of palates in the wine-drinking community.
The Winery At Williams Landing, an LLC which officially opened in late November of last year, is truly a family-owned and run business with Bailey and his wife and sons making, bottling, labeling and selling the wine themselves.
Housed in the restored Fire Station #1 in Greenwood, a few blocks south of the Yazoo River,The Winery at Williams Landing is a small batch artisanal winery specializing in wines made from locally sourced fruits grown in Mississippi. Owners and winemakers Lonnie and Debbie Bailey personally oversee every step of the process–from the crush, to creative blending, to the bottle–”ensuring that their wines reflect the charm, dignity, and character of the Old South” according to the company’s Facebook page. It continues, “Even so, they utilize state-of-the-art techniques and equipment that allows their boutique fruit and grape wines to rival those of larger upscale wineries.”
“I’d been enjoying wine for quite some time,” Bailey said, “and had a background in chemistry and biology; those were my majors and interests in undergraduate school. Wine making is part chemistry and part art I tell people. We have some land in Carroll County where we grow muscadines and figs, and we also grow figs in our backyard here in Greenwood. And, to be totally truthful,” Bailey laughed, “my wife got a little tired of making jellies and preserves! So I decided to combine my love of wine drinking with my knowledge of chemistry and, a few years back, I made my first batch of wine and it wasn’t half bad.”
From the first batch (which was made in his house with figs), Bailey experimented with some other wines, letting his friends and family sample the various “fruits” of his labor. With the enthusiastic responses he received, Bailey said the light went off and he decided to open the winery.
A statute called the Mississippi Native Winery Act was passed several years ago in order to attempt to build up a wine industry in the state, Bailey said, and part of the requirements of the legislation is the fifty-one percent of the base components in the wine had to have grown in Mississippi . “The Winery at Williams Landing got licensed under that act,” Bailey said. “We use homegrown fruit that we grow ourselves as well as purchasing fruit from other in-state producers. Right now, though, there are only three licensed Mississippi native wineries in state and we happen to be one of them.”
Bailey said that right now it’s just him and his wife Debbie—with occasional assistance from his two grown sons—that make up the staff of The Winery at Williams Landing. “We make our wine in batches,” Bailey said, “and the process of getting it from start to inside the bottle takes about six months or so. Last year we made 570 gallons of wine which equals five bottles per gallon—a little over 2500 bottles of wine. Some of that wine, though, is still in storage tanks waiting to be bottled.”
The wine is being sold right now solely at the facility, Bailey said. “Per the Winery Act we are allowed to offer our wine for consumption on and off the premises. In the future, we do want to take orders off the Internet and gain distribution through liquor stores and restaurants. Right now, though, the focus is on perfecting the product and building up clientele,“ Bailey added.
Since the wine the Bailey family produces is made in batches, Bailey said that certain periods of time are labor-intensive, taking up a couple of weeks to prepare the wine, but then the waiting period sets in—that’s when the family can go about their other responsibilities. “Once the wine is transferred over to the tanks at our facility, we won’t touch it for thirty days,” Bailey said. “So it’s not a constant, day-in, day-out line of work or process. The Winery is open on Wednesday through Saturday and either I or my wife will be there on the premises but that’s the sell the wine, not make it.”
Bailey said The Winery currently offers five different wines in the bottle with another four in the tanks that should be ready within the next month or so. “Our plan over the next year or so is to have that total of nine wines for sale,” Bailey said. “Two fruit wines and then seven muscadine-based wines with three of those actually 100% muscadine.”
So who will appreciate this Delta-made wine? And just how good is it?
“We’ve tested our blueberry wine,” Bailey said, “and connoisseurs can’t tell if it’s a merlot or cabernet. I think any wine drinker from coast-to-coast can enjoy our product. The muscadine wines are very dry and, as far as our fig wine, I cannot find anyone in the country who is making it. No one. That’s probably because it requires a lot of work to make!” he laughs. “One of our friends, a very cosmopolitan and seasoned wine drinker, described our fig wine as ‘ Very complex,’” he added. “I think she was giving me a compliment!”
Bailey plans to market his wine to the many tourists who come through Greenwood every year, especially to the blues aficionados. “We’re a small winery,” Bailey said, “but we obviously want to grow. I think we have a niche. In about a year’s time I would like to double our production and then maybe double it again in another two years. That would put us in the neighborhood of a thousand cases which would be ideal.”
Bailey said that Greenwood Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Main Street Association, Chamber and The Alluvian Hotel have all been very helpful in spreading the word about The Winery though various marketing packages that include discount for their wines, complimentary glasses and just general publicity.
“We’re counting on their assistance to help us move some of our product,” Bailey summarized, “because I think we have really good and unique wines to offer.”
(Originally published in the Delta Business Journal)
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