|Shelby Co.’s Morgan Creek Vineyards Sees Steady Growth|
Decade Old Family Operation Producing Around 15,000 Cases Per Year
Charlie Brammer has always enjoyed the taste of a good wine, but it wasn’t until he retired from being an insurance salesman did he decide to take his long-time love for wine and turn it into a business by opening his own winery.
"I started out drinking wine when I was 18 years old," Brammer said. "I was always fascinated with it."
In 2000, Brammer founded Morgan Creek Vineyards in his hometown of Harpersville. In just nine years, Morgan Creek Vineyards had quickly established itself as one of the South’s finest wineries.
Brammer, who has been visiting various wineries for most of his life, first looked into the idea of opening a winery in 1990.
"I talked to a man and he told me it would cost $100,000 to start a winery. He said, ‘If you don’t have $100,000, then forget it,’" Brammer recalled. "I forgot it, because I didn’t have $100,000."
Brammer continued to work as an insurance salesman and was making a little bit of wine on the side, about five gallons at a time. When it came time for him to retire, the idea of opening his own winery was back on his mind again.
"I told my wife I wanted to do it," Brammer said. "A friend of mine was making wine at the time, so I talked to him about it too.
"I bought all the books about making wine and thought I could do it, so I went ahead and put in a winery."
That was the beginning of Morgan Creek Vineyards.
When Morgan Creek Vineyards opened in 2000, it was only the third winery in Alabama; now there are ten wineries.
"We are really going to be a wine producing state before you know it," Brammer said about the increasing popularity of wine in Alabama.
Morgan Creek Vineyards produces 12 varieties of wines. The wines range from sweet and dry muscadine wines to locally grown fruit wines; blueberry, apple and, their newest, peach.
Although the Brammers do grow their own muscadines and blueberries, the vineyards at the farm do not produce enough fruit for all the wine they make. Instead they get fruit from five different, local growers. Morgan Creek Vineyard uses 300 tons of muscadines, 40 tons of peaches and 21 tons of blueberries each year to produce their wines.
"So far we have been very successful," Brammer said about his winery.
Morgan Creek Vineyards sells wine to 400 stores throughout Alabama. They also distribute to Mississippi and ship wines to other states where they are licensed.
"We ship more wine to California than any other state," Brammer laughed as he talked about the state widely-known for its production of wines. "It’s real strange. There’s no muscadine wine out there, so they get it from us."
In their first year of wine-making, Morgan Creek Vineyards produced 600 cases of wine. Last year the family-owned and operated winery produced somewhere around 15,000 cases of wine.
"It’s a family thing," Brammer remarked about his winery. "My son, Charles, is my distributor."
Charles owns Town and Country Distributors and daily delivers Morgan Creek’s wine to ten to 15 stores.
At Morgan Creek Vineyards, it’s not just all about making and selling wine. It’s also a popular tourist attraction for anyone wanting to know more about wine or just get a taste of Alabama. The winery is open daily for free tours and wine tastings. Visitors also can see first-hand the art of winemaking at Morgan Creek’s state-of-the-art facility.
"We have people from all over the world come visit our winery," said Brammer, who estimates nearly 25,000 people visit his winery each year.
Morgan Creek Vineyard hosts the Grapestomp and "Lucy Lookalike" contest, which draws more than 2,000 visitors to the 115-acre farm in Shelby County each year. The "big event" at the winery is held on the third Saturday in September and is a favorite event for people of all ages. Visitors can take part in the age-old tradition by jumping into a barrel and stomping grapes.
Through the spring and summer months, Morgan Creek Vineyards hosts an outdoor concert series where visitors can come hear local bands play one night a month. There is a fireworks display after each show for guests to enjoy.
"We have ‘u-pick it’ blueberries from the middle of June through July," Brammer mentioned. "From late-August to September, we pick muscadines."
Another big event for the Brammers and Morgan Creek Vineyards is the 4th of July celebration with fireworks and live music. More than 1,500 attend this celebration each year.
"People come by and visit every day," Brammer stated. "Typically we will have 200-300 stop by every Saturday."
Most people hear about the winery through word of mouth or find them online at their website, www.morgancreekwinery.com, others just see the sign on the road and pull in for a visit. That was the case with visitors, Janice Swenson and Annette Bartolic, both of Meadowbrook.
"We saw the sign and had heard about it before," Swenson said "So we thought we would stop by."
"Being from the South, we just wanted to see what they did with the grapes to make wine," Bartolic added. "We love anything locally-grown."
Morgan Creek Vineyards has a gift shop for guests to visit and purchase wines, wine accessories and other unique gifts, like custom gift baskets.
"They have great gifts here," said Bartolic, who purchased a birthday gift basket for a friend from the gift shop. "The Alabama baskets are great," she added about the baskets shaped like the state.
The gift shop at the winery is beautifully decorated and awards for their wines are displayed throughout. A slide show plays on the television in the gift shop, so visitors can see photos from past events at Morgan Creek Vineyards as they shop.
"Probably one of the most unusual things we handle here is the grape seed oil," Brammer said. "We import it from Spain and bottle it ourselves. It’s the best quality grape seed oil we can get, we haven’t found any better. It’s the finest salad oil you can get, it’s lighter than olive oil and tastes better." We sell a lot of it."
Visitors to the winery can purchase bottles of Morgan Creek wines in the gift shop.
"Here in Alabama we are in the land of sweet tea and Coca-Cola," Brammer said. "So our sweet wines do real good."
The two best-selling wines at Morgan Creek are the Carlos and Regal Red wine.
"They are both nice, sweet wines," Brammer said. "You don’t have to have a reason to drink it, you can just sit in the swing and have a bottle of it."
Mary-Glenn Smith is a freelance writer from Snead.