As they congenially host tastings of the wines made from the eight varieties of grape grown at WineTree, their guests don't guess at the rocky road they've traveled to wine production in the 10 years since they purchased the farm. They cleared wooded land along a ridge for the grape plants and planted and replanted the vineyard three times.
They researched farming and the specifics of larger-scale wine production for five years before their first planting. Despite the research, the Bandys say they lacked basic farm experience.
"Farmers are smart people. It takes awhile to get up to speed," he said. "There's a big learning curve, especially for people who didn't grow up on a farm."
Birds and deer recently ruined their 2011 grape harvest. The loss happened just after the death of their dog Gracie, a St. Bernard who policed the vineyard and deterred voracious animals. Two weeks after her death in August, the deer and birds stripped the grapevines. They recently brought a Great Dane to the vineyard that they hope will assume Gracie's duties.
To qualify as a West Virginia farm winery, wines produced there must contain at least 25 percent of grapes grown on the vineyard. The remaining ingredients may be from purchased grapes or juice. The Bandys should receive a waiver from the 25 percent rule because of their devastating crop loss this year.
They'll process the wine in a newly constructed winery. The sturdy crafted wooden doors are constructed from poplar wood Craig and his son cleared for the vineyard. Scrawled formulas and equations cover dry erase boards inside.
"There's lots of chemistry in making wine," Craig said. "It's a costly raw product. You learn to become a chemist." A friend who is a professional chemist adds his expertise when needed.
Wines made from one grape variety, like chardonnay, Riesling and cabernet sauvignon, simply bear the grape's name on the label. They give blended wines more inventive names like MainSail, Black Tie, Red Satin and Hummingbird.
A print of colorful watercolor painted by the Bandy's 4-year-old granddaughter graces the label on Hummingbird, the WineTree's sweetest wine. "When we were thinking of a name for the wine, we came up with Hummingbird because it looks like the color of the sweet red water in hummingbird feeders," Candy said.
The Bandys own a printing business in Vienna, but are on the farm seven days a week and live nearby. Candy runs the wine shop.
Craig and Candy lead visitors up the steep hill to the vineyards for tours, or just invite them to taste sips of wine at the gift shop, which is open every day except Monday.
"You don't have to be an expert," Chuck said. "It's like trying on shoes. You're not an expert, but you know what fits."
WineTree wines are available in Charleston at The Wine Shop in Capitol Market. Visit the farm winery at 772 Jesterville Road in Vienna. Call 304-865-0507 or visit winetreevineyards.com. Fall hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.