April 24, 2019. As a child, one of Dorrie Evans favorite places was her grandparents farm in the southwest corner of Anson County. Known to three generations of her family as "The Old Place," It was a gathering spot for holidays and special occasions; a place where memories were made and familial bonds strengthened. Dorrie and her husband, Rodney Evans, hope to rekindle that spirit and share it with others at their new venture, Vineyard at The Old Place.
AnsonEDP and the Anson County Chamber of Commerce were on hand yesterday as the earth movers started work on what will eventually become a premier entertainment venue for the entire southeast Charlotte region. Featuring a new 2,400 square foot tasting room and event center along with several renovated historic buildings and a working vineyard already located on the 50 acre property, the Evans plan to open to the public in the fall of this year.
"The builders say 5-6 months to complete the site work and finish the construction, so we are targeting September/October for the grand opening and expect to book Christmas and New Years parties, as well as a fall festival," said Rodney Evans.
"With hay rides," added Dorrie. "My grandfather would always hitch up the mule and take us kids for rides through the woods to see the leaves changing colors. We'll have to substitute a tractor for the mule, but that's a tradition I'm looking forward to starting back up."
Like many families with agricultural roots, Dorrie's moved away from farming the land themselves and began leasing it to larger, more efficient operations as new generations found jobs in towns and cities. When she inherited 227 acres of The Old Place, though, the wheels were set in motion to return a portion of it to hands-on growing, combining her and Rodney's interest in wine with their desire to reinvigorate the homestead.
The facility, which AnsonEDP had dubbed "Project Muscadine" has been in the works for more than two years, according to AnsonEDP executive director John Marek. "The Evans first contacted me in the spring of 2017 and told me of their plans for a vineyard/winery/event venue. I was very enthusiastic because I had helped launch a similar project in Troutman, Daveste Vineyards, a few years back and it has been very successful. I had seen first-hand how a business like the one they were proposing could transform a rural community. On my first visit to the site, I was absolutely blown away by the natural beauty of the rolling hills and verdant fields, amd immediately thought, this will work."
Working with the couple to navigate the various permitting, financing and site development hurdles, AnsonEDP was close to announcing the project in November of 2018 when an unexpected twist nearly derailed it. Although wineries are specifically protected by state law and allowed to operate even in "dry" counties, the Evans were still attuned to the results of a fall ballot initiative which would have made the sale of alcoholic beverages legal in all corners of Anson County. A positive vote on alcohol would have allowed the venue to serve a greater array of beverages and potentially paved the way for an onsite brewery; it was not key to the immediate business plan, but would have been a catalyst for future growth. However, the extent to which the initiative failed--by nearly a two-to-one margin--greatly concerned the couple and caused them to wonder whether their business would truly be welcome in the county. To counter the negativity of the vote, Marek facilitated meetings with the Evans and key elected officials and community leaders who convinced the couple that they were not only welcome, but wanted, and the project moved forward.
In addition to capital investment of over half a million dollars, Vineyard at the Old Place will create up to 10 new jobs, including positions in hospitality and production. "We currently have two acres of Carlos and Noble muscadine vines and will eventually expand that to five acres, which will require some hired assistance. And of course we will need staff to help us with events," Rodney said.
The site is near the intersection of Long Pine Church and Austin Roads, roughly a half hour from Monroe, Lancaster and Wadesboro and about an hour from Uptown Charlotte; its rural character being an important part of the allure, or as the Evans put it, "close enough for an easy drive, but far enough to feel like you're getting away from it all." In addition to renting the event space out for weddings, class reunions, bridal showers and other private parties, the couple plan to hold regular public events such as concerts, festivals and dinners.