by Eric Ginsburg
People easily wrote off Chris Megginson’s vision for a wine bar, a place that would also serve beer, meat and cheese, all exclusively sourced from North Carolina. And they were probably right to do so.
After all, when Megginson started laying the groundwork for such a place, he’d never run a business like it. As a social worker based in Winston-Salem, Megginson covered several surrounding counties for Stop Child Abuse Now, a non-profit agency. He’d duck into places as he traveled, noticing vineyards and breweries popping up.
But this happened before North Carolina’s craft-beer boom, when vineyards were replacing tobacco operations but still suffered from a strong stigma as an inferior — and usually overly sweet — product compared to the rest of the market. Some people in the industry thought he must be out of touch.
Nobody in the state was running an operation like the one Megginson envisioned, according to his research. And that was just another barrier to overcome. Megginson, who is black, was also stepping into industries with a startling lack of racial diversity.
But Megginson isn’t the kind of person who shies away from a challenge; he actually seems to thrive on it, and prides himself on the quiet, long-term hustle that’s brought him to where he is. Now, in 2016, his dream of a standout venue is a four-year-old reality.
Several breweries and vineyards broke into the Winston-Salem or Triad market by way of Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops, Megginson’s labor of love near Old Salem south of downtown and between UNC School of the Arts and Salem College. Megginson successfully established his beachhead and from there, carved out a corner of the market that allowed others to do the same.
He jokes that while it’s been four years since Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops opened its doors, his time could more accurately be represented in dog years. That’s what it feels like when you’re building a business from nothing, he said, but all these 28 dog years later, there’s still nothing Megginson would rather be doing.
And he would know. Megginson’s tried his hand at an assortment of things, from the family business running Crown Trophy to racing cars, and he’s lived in Long Island and Atlanta, too. But sitting on the couch at Carolina Vineyards & Hops with him, it’s clear that he’s fiercely proud of this place, and loyal to it as well.
If anything, he’ll add to what he’s built here. The business has released some wines of its own — a highly unusual and bold move — and plans to release two more this month, bringing the total to five.
Customers can already buy the Nouveau Rouge red blend, pinot grigio or Two Triangles effervescent, “all-occasion wine” by the glass on site, and a few will snag a bottle. This trio too is a North Carolina product, sourcing grapes from the Yadkin Valley, Megginson said. And it’s only available here or at the Steven’s Center, where Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops has already expanded.
Megginson knows chef Lori Russell, who assembled the menu that includes a signature panini and smoked salmon bites, from their social-work days together. Along with help from business partner Michael Robinson and a strong team, Megginson and Russell have turned the wine and beer bar into a destination.
When I first strolled into Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops, without identifying myself as press, one of the servers welcomed me warmly at the bar. Without asking, she pulled me into a small wine tasting she’d set up for the two women sitting near me, letting us try several of the house wines and explaining them as she went. It’s a brand of proactive hospitality this area frequently lacks, and instantly made me feel like a longtime regular.
I remember liking several, but the house sangria served with melon stood out effortlessly. I figured I’d come back with my girlfriend on a Saturday, when the server said the venue features live jazz each week, and knock a couple back, but for the time being, I immersed myself in the MexiCali stout from Birdsong Brewing in Charlotte.
Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops offers four beers (right now including the same stout and the Annabel black saison from Mystery Brewing) and eight wines on self-serve taps, with more of course available at the bar by the glass, pint or bottle. The blends and medium-bodied wines are most popular here, Megginson said, while the beers sort of run the gamut with IPAs as king.
Megginson’s dream doesn’t seem so absurd now. It’s not just that it appears he’s pulled it off, but that others are tapping into what he’s fostered. And that’s just fine with him — Megginson welcomes it actually, saying competition will only keep him on his game. Plus, he likes a challenge.
Visit Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops at 1111 S. Marshall St., Suite 184 (W-S) or at carolinasvineyardsandhops.com.