When a tornado destroyed the Pippin family’s Crenshaw County poultry farm in 2014, Matthew and Tonya chose to take the family farm in a new direction. A very different direction.
These days, the farm is toasting its success to the newly formed Pippin Family Vineyard and Winery LLC. The family owned business now produces wine from fruit grown on the farm. Sold under the name South Ridge Wine, each bottle is handcrafted from start to finish on the farm.
“Having a winery wasn’t something we woke up one morning and jumped into,” said Matthew, a Luverne native. “We thought long and hard before we planted our first muscadine vines nine years ago.”
Pippin Family Vineyards has about 600 vines covering 2 acres. The winery is nestled on a hillside overlooking the family farm in the Live Oak community in north-central Crenshaw County.
Red varieties include Sweet Red Noble Muscadine, Dry Red Noble Muscadine and Black Spanish. South Ridge white wines are Carlos Muscadine and Blanc Du Bois.
In addition to on-farm sales, South Ridge Wine offers private, on-farm tastings for groups of 10 or more by appointment and hopes to host other events such as weddings and receptions in the near future.
Matthew said making wine is rewarding.
“It’s gratifying to take something we grow, process it on our farm and make it into something people enjoy,” he said. “Some farmers never get to experience that.”
But rewards have a price. Much of the cost is in physical labor and sweat equity.
“There’s a lot of physical labor involved in growing grapes,” Matthew said. “We battle insects and fungus, just like a lot of farmers do with their crops, and we mow to control weeds. We do extensive pruning in February. Every vine has to be pruned because the fruit is only made on new growth each year.”
Prime harvest season at Pippin Family Vineyards is late July through August. Grapes and muscadines are picked and crushed to eliminate trash and stems before they’re transferred to a fermentation tank. White wine takes around six months to complete, while red wine takes slightly longer.
South Ridge Wine is a true family business. Matthew works full time as the Luverne High School FFA adviser, and Tonya is an X-ray technician. They recruit their sons Wyatt, 9, and Walker, 3, to help with lawn maintenance and small chores around the farm. Matthew said his dad, David, tends to the farm’s day-to day operations, adding, “None of this would be possible without the help of my parents.”
South Ridge Wine is growing in
popularity and has loyal customers in the region. Luverne native Rhonda Sikes is among the farm’s growing fan base.
“It’s great to see local people being entrepreneurs and starting something different in our community,” she said. “I enjoyed getting to know more about the wine-making process and getting to know the Pippins’ story. My favorite wine is the Sweet Noble Muscadine.”
Community acceptance and customer praise from folks like Sikes pleases the Pippins.
“It’s great to know the community is supporting us and enjoying our product,” Matthew said. “We put our heart into this business.”
Discover more about Pippin Family Vineyard at SouthRidgeWine.com, or follow them on Facebook at South Ridge Wine.