You get a feel for Ross and Deborah Proctor’s great sense of humor about their business from Deborah’s business card. “Deborah Proctor,” it reads, “Chief Bottle Washer and Tractor Driver.” As owners of Chateau Ross, one of Tennessee’s smallest wineries, a good sense of humor, plus patience and persistence, are necessities when the humid climate and stuffy wine world seem less than accommodating.
While many scoff at the prospect of bottling decent wines from Tennessee vineyards, the Proctors seem to be the ones laughing. “We’re growing varietals that aren’t believed to do well here in Tennessee,” Ross says. Adds Deborah: “People say you can’t grow Zinfandels here.”
At the moment, we’re sipping proof to the contrary, surrounded by burgundy-stained oak barrels on the bottom floor of their Springfield home. The Proctor’s claim they started Chateau Ross on a whim and take great pride in making wine “the Old World way”everything done by hand and without filtration. (Ross strongly believes that every time you filter a wine, it loses some of its character.) This year, Chateau Ross hopes to produce roughly 1,000 cases of wine. The bottling facilitythat very same bottom flooris full of the evidence from bottling, labeling and corking nearly 150 cases by hand the night before. Now, what used to be a guest bedroom is wall to wall with cases of Merlots, Cabernet Francs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Sangioveses and more.
Ross, whose day job is head of estate wines for Lipman Brothers Distributors, began making wine 13 years ago in his mother’s basement, but has only been producing commercially for four years. He’s been confident for some time that his wines are capable of standing up against California winesand others are beginning to agree. Chateau Ross wines have won 52 awards, including “Best of Tennessee” honors, as well as several international awards. Ross admits that the toughest thing about growing grapes in Tennessee is the moisture, and says that they will be “on pins and needles about the frost until mid-April.” Still, the Proctors successfully grow about 10 different varietals, 90 percent of which are dry redsnot the fruity, saccharine stuff that is stereotypical of Tennessee wines.
One of Chateau Ross’ best-selling wines is Big Bitch Red, a table wine named for the Proctor’s intimidating but sweet-as-can-be Rottweiler, whose picture graces the label. The vineyard’s most highly regarded wine is a Bordeaux-style blend featuring 75 percent Cab Sav, 15 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cab Franc, named McMahan after Ross’ grandmother. Chateau Ross wines to look out for in the future include their Tuscan Red and a stunning, yet unnamed, dessert wine, made from 100-year-old Zinfandel vines from California. You can find Chateau Ross wines at almost any Middle Tennessee wine and liquor store, plus at restaurants like The Trace and F. Scott’s.
In addition to their 10 acres in Springfield, Chateau Ross grows Merlots, Cab Francs, Chardonnay and Chambourcin (hybrid) grapes at a three-acre vineyard off Whites Creek Pike. With business taking off, the Proctors are about to break ground on a new winery facility in White House. They’ll move the entire production from Springfield to the new facility (so maybe there will be room for guests in the guest bedroom) and add a retail shop, where they hope to host tastings and wine dinners more often.
Wine education is indeed one of Ross’ strong suits, and a chance to hear him speak about wine is worth the trip. With his casual, boyish demeanor, Ross takes the pretension out of a famously pretentious subject, making it accessible to neophytes and aficionados alike. He leads many tasting events for Lipman each year, as well as a tasting event featuring his own wines at Latitude in May. For the full monty, you can make an appointment for a tasting at Chateau Ross in Springfield by calling (615) 654-WINE. The Proctors are gracious hosts, but if you’re not careful, they might put you to work.
“Really tasting wine adds an extra dimension to the basic daily routines of eating and drinking. It turns obligation into pleasure, a daily necessity into a celebration of life,” writes Thomas Matthews in his “ABC’s of Wine Tasting” published in Wine Spectator. Nashvillians can look to local stores for a variety of wine-tasting events this spring. Plus, serious wine enthusiasts can look forward to the annual l’Ete du Vin events, benefiting the American Cancer Society. The following is a list of events to help you get up to speed on your wine education:
2003 l’Ete du Vin, Nashville’s International Wine Events
This year’s edition of the annual event, which has contributed over $8.5 million to the American Cancer Society, includes “A Taste of Spring” Grand Wine Tasting, featuring more than 100 wines for tasting and a silent auction, 5:30-8 p.m. April 17 at Sheraton Hotel Downtown, 623 Union St. ($60). The “Friends Tasting” takes place 5:30-7:30 p.m. July 18 at Vanderbilt Stadium Club ($50). The “Friends Auction” takes place 5:30 p.m. July 19 in the Tennessee Ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center ($125). The “Vintner’s Tasting,” featuring a commentary by importer, marketer and vintner Anthony Terlato, Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “Man of theYear,” takes place 5:30-7:30 p.m. July 24 at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza ($100). The black-tie “Grand Auction” takes place 5:30 p.m. July 26 in the Presidential Ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center ($350). For tickets, or to make a donation, call Jan Anderson at 341-7300 or e-mail email@example.com. For more information about l’Ete du Vin, visit www.nashvillewineauction.com.
Frugal MacDoogal701 Division St., 242-3863. For 13 years running, Frugal MacDoogal has earned Scene honors for Best Wine Selection. Jeff Warzynski, happy overseer of the impressive collection (and a very helpful guy) says Frugal’s brings in wineries once or twice a month for tastings and often teams up with area restaurants to do wine dinners. “We’re very picky about who we bring in for tastings. We’re not there to sell wine, it’s more about education.” No tastings are scheduled as of press date; check the Web site for more information at www.frugalmacdoogal.com.
Lil’ Ole Winemaker Shoppe5839 Charlotte Pike, 352-6301. Amateur wine brewers can get their start at one of Don Spurgeon’s beginning classes, held once a month at the store. The three-hour class covers wine style and attitude, fermentation process, the wine industry and other related subjects. Sign up for classes at the shop. For information, visit www.lilolewinemakershoppe.com.
Midtown Wine & Spirits1610 Church St., 327-3874. Upcoming events with Midtown include a tasting event on April 22 with Storybook Winery at Yellow Porch ($25). You can also look forward to the grand opening of Midtown Wine’s new 12,000-square-foot store currently under construction (opening planned for mid-May). Finally, although there are none currently scheduled, the store offers “cork dork” tastings, which are blind tastings followed by dinner, several times a year. For information, visit www.midtownwine.com.
Mr. Whiskers Wines & Liquors31 White Bridge Road, 353-0094. Owner Jim Byrd says he relies primarily on his well-versed staff to provide wine education to his clientele. Upcoming tastings are still in the planning stage for the spring, but Byrd is more than happy to talk about wines at private dinner events in your own home. Call the store for information.
Nashville Wine & Spirits4556 Harding Road, 292-2676. Upcoming tasting events include a May 7 tasting at Mirror Restaurant, featuring Vinum Cellars. Also in May is a tasting featuring Italian wines from Winebow Imports at The Acorn Restaurant ($25 per person). Call 383-8330 for more information.
Village Wines2006-B Belcourt Ave., 383-2102. Villages Wines will be participating in a trunk show with Image Optical, Cindy Earl Fine Jewelry and the Motorcar Company on April 24 at Belle Meade Plantation, featuring the wines of Morgan Winery. On May 22, the store offers a tasting with Esprit de Beaucastel (formerly Tablas Creek) and Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf de Pape at F. Scott’s. For information, visit www.villagewinetn.com.
Walker’s Wine and Spirits330 Mayfield Drive, Franklin, 778-7673. Walker’s manager, Joey Thompson, says the store’s selection reflects “small, more esoteric wineriesthat’s why we depend so much on tastings.” The store will be offering free, in-store wine tastings at various times this spring, including: a Kenwood tasting on April 15, a tasting featuring New Zealand wines on April 22 and a tasting featuring Washington wines on April 24. Call for information.
West Meade Wine & Liquor5402 Harding Road, 352-3001. West Meade Wine & Liquors offers wine tastings on the first Thursday of each month at Belle Meade Plantation, with hors d’oeuvres from Martha’s at the Plantation. The tastings are held in conjunction with an art show by a new artist each month and feature five or six wines. Dr. Nick Varallo of West Meade Wine & Liquors says the events average about 80-100 people each month and the priceit’s freeseems just too good. Other upcoming events with West Meade include a Junior League of Nashville dinner at Zola on April 15. The store will also offer a four-course wine dinner featuring Classical Wines, 6:30 p.m. May 20 at F. Scott’s. For questions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wine Emporium4117 Harding Road, 279-1852. Owner Mickey Despot takes pride in providing wine tastings with a personal touch. He leads wine “seminars” for up to 10 people in the comfort of your own home. If you’re interested, head to the store to schedule a time, pick out wines to taste and decide upon a seminar level: beginner, intermediate or advanced. Call the store for more details.
The Wine Shoppe at Green Hills2109 Abbott Martin Road, 297-5220. Ed Fryer has scheduled a busy spring for the Wine Shoppe at Green Hills. Each Monday, the store leads a tasting with appetizers at F. Scott’s, 6-7:30 p.m. ($10). Also at F. Scott’s, the Wine Shoppe presents its “Food and Wine From Around the World Series,” featuring Jack Henry and Kobrand Imports, 6:30 p.m. April 16 ($70). To make reservations at F. Scott’s events, call 269-5861. On April 24, join the Wine Shoppe for a “Taste of Showhouse” (Junior League Designer’s Showhouse), featuring 10 of Nashville’s finest restaurants paired with 20-plus exclusive Wine Shoppe wines. Also on April 24, the Nashville Symphony’s “Taste of Tuscany” fundraiser takes place at Ciba and features Italian wines exclusively from the Wine Shoppe. Call the store for details. On April 29, join John Komes, owner of Napa Valley’s Flora Springs Winery, at the Belle Meade Brasserie for a wine dinner, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (price to be determined). Call 356-5450 for reservations. Finally, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar hosts a wine dinner featuring Neibaum-Coppola Fine Wines from Napa, California, 6:30 p.m. May 7 ($125 plus tax and gratuity). Call 342-0131 for reservations.
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