During my hosted travel to Clarksville, Tennessee, we stopped at the wonderful Beachaven Winery and I had the chance to meet the owner, Louisa Beach Cooke. We took a tour of the winery and Louisa shared the family history that started this wonderful place! “My father Judge William O. Beach was the Montgomery County Mayor,” Louisa explained.
Interested in wine, during the 1960’s and 70’s, Judge Beach went to France and was entranced by what he saw. “He said I can do this,” Louisa explained. “A friend gave him a kit to make wine with and for a couple years he made some really bad wine.”
The bad wine didn’t last though, through trial and error, the wines improved. Judge Beach planted grapes on his farm. “He planted eight varieties on 20 acres,” Louisa said.
Over time, the family learned which grapes were suited for the Tennessee climate. “My favorite wines are vinifera, they make Chardonnay and Cabernet, but they don’t grow good in Tennessee. The Tennessee climate is too unpredictable for vinifera, so we stick with American native vines like Concord, Catawba and Delaware. We also grow French hybrids that are grafted onto American root stock.”
Growing grapes in Tennessee was not a new phenomenon. Back in the early 1900’s, Tennessee, had many small vineyards producing thousands of gallons of wine, but in 1919, Prohibition put an end to commercial winemaking in Tennessee for many years to come. Judge Beach had pioneered legislation that changed that reviving Tennessee’s wine industry.
Working together with his son-in-law Ed Cooke together, he and the Judge opened a commercial winery on the edge of Clarksville. “We got married in 1980,” Louisa said, “and bought this farm here (where the winery now sits). We broke ground and planted three varieties to make champagne with. It was our premier product for a while.”
In 1986, Judge Beach, Ed and Louisa Cooke founded Beachaven Vineyards & Winery LTD. When they opened on the edge of town Louisa said there was nothing out that direction but tobacco fields. The highway access though proved to be the perfect place for their winery to thrive.
On their website, the rest of the winery’s history unfolds, “When Judge Beach passed away in 1991 he left a fully functional and rapidly expanding winery to his daughter’s family. By 2009, their production and storage capacity had more than tripled from where it was in 1991, and over the decades Beachaven wines have won more than 500 awards at regional, national or international competitions. As the winery has grown in stature, its yearly festival Jazz on the Lawn has grown from a hundred attendees in 1987 to thousands of picnicking guests today. Open up a bottle and try some of the best wine in Tennessee grown at one of its oldest vineyards.”
In 2016, Beachaven wines celebrated 30 years in the business. Still family owned and operated, Beachaven Winery is a Tennessee staple.
During our tour of the winery, Louisa talked about the harvest. The grapes are ripe in August and that’s when they are harvested. While they first harvested by hand, Louisa said it was hot, hard work. These days they have purchased a 1980’s model grape picker and have modernized. They have huge tanks that Ed, who Louisa calls “the king of good deals” found. The Braud, German grape harvester changed everything time wise. “Life is good; it will pick everything in three mornings. That used to take a week per variety.”
When harvests were big Louisa said she has made about everything you can imagine with grapes. “I have made grape jelly, and from the vines about everything you can think of!”
Louisa said her favorite wine that they produce is the Classic White. When customers come back for their favorite bottle she always warns that the wine can be a bit different from bottling to bottling. “This is a farm and the wine will taste different from year to year. I advise that customers taste it before they take it home.”
Our tour continued and workers Jordan and Cody explained what happened to the grapes once the harvest was complete. We went from picking to the bins where the grapes are crushed and de-stemmed and pumped into a press. Wine maker Josh, and the assistant wine maker Kelly finished the tour explaining the maceration process, to blending and bottling. At Beachaven besides their own bottling and wine making process, they also have their own laboratory and they are able to test the sugar and acidity of their wines. “This is a natural process,” Louisa said. “We just want to make the production something drinkable and good.”
In the blending room there are barrels with beautifully carved tops on them. “The barrels were carved by hand by Klaus Mann. His nickname was Dutch, he died this past year,” Louisa added.
The barrels he completed, the tops have been saved and those tops are on display in the bottling and shipping area. “We are bottling wine six weeks of the year. We distribute mostly here, but we will ship!” Louisa said.
The winery is a great place to visit and tour. Enjoy events like Jazz on the Lawn, which takes place from May to October. “We average 3,000 people a night,” Louisa said.
Tours are available anytime and Louisa encourages visitors to stop and see them. I loved this visit and was taken with the wonderful Cumberland White wine. There are a lot of varieties to choose from and some of the wines are made special for veteran celebrations in the area. Beachaven is a family business with roots both in the state and community. To learn more about this great stop, log onto their website.