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This Flowery Branch resident plans to open winery in homage to family roots
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Brad Walton tours his vineyard Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, checking on the netting protecting the grapes from birds and insects. Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at his home on Conner Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

Oenophiles of Flowery Branch could have their very own farm winery come spring.

Five years in the making, the proposed Flowery Branch Winery and its burgeoning 3-acre vineyard sit on former farmland on Conner Road that’s been in owner Brad Walton’s family for generations. 

The site plan for a 2,000-square-foot, two-story tasting room is awaiting the county’s approval. If it receives the green light, Walton said he’ll be ready to break ground, assuming he encounters no supply chain kinks when securing the materials for the metal structure. 

A percolation test was completed on the property last week and Walton is awaiting the results, which he anticipates presenting to the county along with the site plan in the coming weeks. A date has not yet been set, Walton told The Times Sept. 15.

Walton is in the midst of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau application process.

If things go according to plan, Walton anticipates opening the winery to patrons in early spring 2023.

The winery was on track to go before the Hall County Board of Commissioners in 2017, with a proposed zoning change that would allow the winery to also function as an event venue, but Walton pulled the request in the face of likely rejection, he told The Times upon the withdrawal.

At the time, Walton said the withdrawal wouldn’t alter his plans for the winery itself, and he’s continued to forge ahead.

Growing on the 5-acre lot are American-European hybrid wine grapes Lenoir, a red, and Villard blanc, a white. Both are disease-resistant against Pierce’s disease, a bacterial disease of grape caused by a strain of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa that poses harm to vineyards in the Southeast, according to the University of Georgia Extension office.

“It’s not as simple as just buying some cabernet sauvignon and putting them in the ground,” Walton said. “We have to grow hybrids, something that has some American genetics that gives disease resistance. Because in our area, unfortunately, at our altitude and in this region … if you have a vine with 100% European genetics, like a chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, (and) an insect drinks from plants that have that bacteria and bites (one of your vines), it transmits it. There’s no cure for it; it’ll kill your vine.”

The Lenoir grape, according to Walton, produces a dark red wine that, though not authentically European, is a convincing substitute.

“When you drink it, you wouldn’t know that it’s not 100% European — it tastes very European. It will fit right in with anything else that you’re going to drink,” he said.

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Brad Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at his home on Conner Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

Similarly, Villard grapes — named for Victor Villard, who developed the variety with his son-in-law, French horticulturalist Bertille Seyve — yield a high volume of table wine that “could beat out your conventional European varieties,” according to Walton.

Once the tasting room is built, Walton plans to invest in the necessary equipment to make his wine in-house; in the meantime, he’ll partner other local wineries on production and bottling.

A full-time business analyst by day, tending to the vineyard has become a second job for Walton, claiming his attention in the evenings after work and at least one full day each weekend. 

“And even then, I know I’m not keeping up,” he said. “I’m working constantly, doing what I can to eventually beautify the place and do more and more with it.”

It’s been no lighthearted task, he said, having done the bulk of the work single-handedly, Walton feels the return on the investment will be well worth the toil.

“It may be a little over-romanticized, (but) I liked the idea of getting older and getting in touch with my roots and all the agricultural stuff we had going on — there’s a story there, you know?” he said. “I really wanted to see something happening here again … something you could attach a little bit of legacy to. 

“I would like to think that my grandfather, if he were still alive today and saw what I was doing.”

Walton lives on the property with his wife, Irina, and their three young children. The planting of the vineyard’s first rows of vines coincided with the arrival of their firstborn, who’s now 5 years old.

“Kids change everything for you,” Walton said. “You start thinking, ‘What kind of person do I want to be? What kind of dad do I want to be? What kind of role model do I want to be?’ Literally and figuratively, you’re putting roots down, You’re growing a legacy. Hopefully my children grow up and want to be involved in (the winery) — it’d be great to have something to be rooted (in) and build the next story.”

Raised near Augusta, Walton recalls spending a good deal of his childhood visiting his grandparents’ land in Flowery Branch. His parents eventually moved onto the land while he “bounced around a little bit” after college, settling in Douglasville with Irina after they married before Walton’s binding ties to South Hall pulled them home.

“I kind of knew I was always going to end up here, I think,” Walton said. “I’ve always been connected to Flowery Branch. The roots are pretty deep.”

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Brad Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at his home on Conner Road. His grapes are currently ripening, but he hasn't started construction on the structure. - photo by Scott Rogers

When deciding what to name the winery, Walton said he toyed with a few French and Italian monikers — like Dolcezza, which was what the winery was called when it was first proposed — but none of them felt quite right. Instead, he settled on something truer to his roots, a name he feels the community will have no trouble getting behind.

“When you’ve lived here all the time, you kind of take for granted how interesting and unique of a name ‘Flowery Branch’ is,” he said. “These grapes, you could grow them somewhere else, but they won’t taste the same, because all the quality of the air, the earth and the water are unique to this little locale. You could put your stamp on it and say, ‘This is what Flowery Branch tastes like.’ To me, it’s just kind of romantic and beautiful. It’ll be something the community can be proud of, point at and take some pride in.”

When it opens for business, Walton envisions patrons gathering at the winery for picnics, live music and yoga sessions in the vineyard, enjoying fresh air and greenspace amidst an influx of commercial growth and development taking place throughout the city.

“Everything that’s happening now is a warehouse, a subdivision, something commercial — and I get that the city can’t really prevent that from happening, to a large extent — but at some point, you just become an extension of Gwinnett, or it’s just one big suburb that once upon a time used to have this kind of farming community character and things were open and green,” Walton said. “(The winery) is not a big commercial production. You are supporting local families doing local things. I hope to be a fixture of the community.”

For updates on the winery, follow Flowery Branch Winery and Vineyard on Facebook.
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Brad Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at his home on Conner Road. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Brad Walton checks netting on his grapes Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at his Flowery Branch home. Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at the site of his vineyard. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Brad Walton is planning to open Flowery Branch Winery next spring at his home on Conner Road. - photo by Scott Rogers