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11-23-02: A short trip to wine country
VERSAILLES - In a refurbished barn surrounded by acres of country farmland lies a newly opened winery in all its rustic charm.
    The Winery at Versailles opened its doors for business less than a month ago but already has drawn a wide array of curious customers seeking locally-bottled wines and holiday gifts.
    "A lot of people have come here looking for a new experience, something different from what they're used to," said Carol Williams, who co-owns the business with her husband, Mike.
    The Williams family also owns a much larger winery in Wilcox, Pa., the fourth-largest winery in that state. The couple moved to rural Versailles from the neighboring state to be closer to their daughter, Lisa Heidenreich, and her husband and children. A son, Jamie Williams, lives in Baltimore, Md.
    The Williams live next door to their business on Ohio 47, less than one-half mile east of U.S. 127. A former barn now houses a gift shop and processing plant, but not long ago its inhabitants were mainly pigs and chickens, Carol Williams, 54, said with a laugh.
    Tastefully decorated inside and out with Christmas lights and ribbons, the gift shop's authentic wood beams and wide open stairway invite customers to browse.
    Open Mondays through Saturdays, the Williams' entertain wine-tasting patrons with cheese, crackers and other snacks at tables and chairs scattered throughout the three-story building. The shop can be rented out for small private parties and free tours are available most days.
    In the near future, the Versailles winery will handle all the wine-processing steps locally, although currently the grapes are pressed in Pennsylvania, Carol Williams said. The juice, however, is home grown in the Buckeye state.
    "Right now we're getting our juice from Ohio growers," Carol Williams said. "We already have longterm contracts with (Ohio) growers and are getting leads and contracts for more."
    The couple plan to start their own vineyard this spring on the 10 acres they own surrounding the business, and are currently doing soil preparations.
    "It's a very labor intense project," growing and harvesting grapes, Carol Williams said. "The recent drought here would have been perfect. Grapes like it dry near the end of their growing season."
    Carol Williams said an acre of land can yield six to seven tons of grapes a harvest, and the current price per ton is $850.
    "Unfortunately, you don't get a good fruit for three to five years after you plant and you can't get quality grapes if you over-produce," she said.
    To the east of the gift shop, under the same roof, is the processing area where wine is currently fermenting. The behind-the-scenes work of filtering and stabilizing, bottling and corking takes place in the back room, also in an immaculate and sterile environment. Although labeling is automated at the couple's other facility dubbed The Winery at Wilcox, the task is done by hand at Versailles.
    Carol Williams said she and her husband became interested in good wines while he was in the military and stationed in Germany.
    "Almost every other weekend back in the 70s we would go to wine tastings by ourselves or with other couples," she said. "We really enjoyed it."
    The interest in wine-making soon became a hobby, which lasted nearly 17 years, she said. Then her husband lost his job when the powdered metal company he worked for downsized. Three days later, in July 1994, they decided to open a small winery and keep hours only Thursdays through Saturdays, while Mike Williams worked a second-shift job nearby.
    The first year the couple processed 1,100 gallons of wine < now they produce more than 42,000 gallons in 32 different varieties at Wilcox. It wasn't long before their endeavor became a success and a full-time job, Carol Williams said.
    "The community (Wilcox) was so good to us and happy to have us. We've had the same reaction here," she said. "We've been blessed twice."
    The Williams are currently sold out of their best selling wine, Blackberry, a cordial style, heavy and sweet. Other favorites include Rodeo Red, a sweet, spicy "ultimate party wine," and Celebration, a slightly sweet sparkling white wine.
    The price of the 750 ml bottled wines begins at $6.99. Dessert wines such as Olde Fort Port with 19 percent alcohol retail for $14.99, and has won gold medals at international wine-tasting events.
    So far, the Versailles-labeled wine is not available for sale at area stores but is served at the Inn at Versailles restaurant. (The two businesses are not related).
    One of the most sought-after services offered by the Williams is the personalized labeling of wine bottles. Carol Williams has put together an album of creative label ideas for dressing up a gift bottle of wine for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, baby announcements and other occasions, and offers the personalized service for a mere $2 a bottle.
    Off-the-shelf and customized gift baskets also are available at the winery at moderate prices averaging about $25. Wine racks, stemware, corkpulls, T-shirts and sweatshirts, candles and gourmet foods, as well as wine-making accessories also are on sale in the gift shop.
    "Something for everyone," Carol Williams said.
    The Williams are devout Christians and say they are adamant about responsible drinking. Their goal, they said, is to become an intricate part of the community that has welcomed them with open arms.
    "We want everyone here to consider us their winery. We hold high standards and values just like others in the community, and really, our business is all about people," Carol Williams said.
    - For more information, check out their Web site at


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