by Eric Ginsburg
There are already two things, in the few short weeks since he retired to Florida, that Joe Glover misses about Greensboro — the lower North Carolina insurance rates, and the Society of Bacchus.
In more than three decades of operating behind the scenes, the monthly wine club has grown dramatically both in size and scope.
These days, the roster of about 50 members reads like a Who’s Who of powerful men in Greensboro. Normally a list of local power brokers would name Mayor Nancy Vaughan and former US senator Kay Hagan, but the women show up by first name only, under “spouse” to lawyer and former state senator Don Vaughan and Chip Hagan of Hagan Davis respectively.
Far from everyone on the 2014-2015 roster is a household name, but there are several on there, including Cone Health CEO Tim Rice, developer Milton Kern and Steven Tanger, for whom the downtown performing arts center will be named. Notes by other members’ names frequently mention that someone is the owner or president of an organization, like Metal Works of High Point president and owner Cam Hall, Bankers Financial Corp. CEO John Strong, Painted Plate owner Brad Semon and BB&T Managing Director of Debt Capital Markets Albert Newsome, Jr.
Some Society of Bacchus members were reluctant to talk about the organization — several directed questions to current President Ted Tewkesbury, who as politely as possible declined to comment.
“We’re a little flattered by the attention, but we’re going to pass,” Tewkesbury, who works at Tewkesbury Law Offices, wrote via email, adding, “Outside the club, we’re a bunch of pretty regular guys who just like wine with the dinner meal.”
But the Society of Bacchus is much more than that, having remained in tact for more than 30 years and reaching more than 50 members, the maximum that several said the organization could handle for its monthly food and wine dinners at local restaurants.
“I think that over the years, the trend was that the meetings were getting better,” Glover said. He, like several other Bacchus men, described one appeal of the group before even mentioning wine: the camaraderie.
Steven Tanger said he didn’t have much to say as a new member, but he did add: “It’s good fellowship with a lot of men in the community who are just good people, and I enjoy the camaraderie.”
Richard Vanstory, of RL Vanstory Co., brought up fellowship first. He’s been a member for about 30 years, though he took a two-year sabbatical before returning this year, making him one of the first members of the Society of Bacchus. Since his friend Denny Bailey —who has since passed away —started the group, it has grown more sophisticated, Vanstory said.
“So many of our meetings were sitting on the picnic tables at Twin Oaks Golf Course and eating cheese and drinking our wines,” he said. “As we matured, we stepped it up a little bit.”
Bacchus — the name of a white wine grape as well as the Roman god of wine — morphed into a paired dinner, usually held for several hours on the first Monday of the month, Don Vaughan said. Restaurants are generally closed that night, but it makes sense to open for a large group to eat who also bring their own wine and pay a corkage fee. Each gathering is organized by two or three members, who put a great deal of effort and thought into the wine pairings.
“We frequently start with champagne, chardonnay or rosé and then move on in, getting bigger and bolder,” Vanstory said. “The guys are taking a lot of pride in the pairings of the wines, and chefs are taking a lot of interest in participating in that.”
Bill Daisy joined Bacchus because he doesn’t have a big budget to spend on wine: “I very seldom buy bottles that cost more than $20 a bottle,” he said. He attended his very first meeting at Bentley’s, a steakhouse that probably closed before I was born, he said. Even though he hasn’t been that active for the last few years, Daisy was anxious to taste the Burgundy wines accompanying a dinner at B. Christoper’s several months ago, and is glad he showed up.
“The group became almost as much a gourmet club as a wine club,” he said. “I prefer my dues and my monthly meeting fees to go to wine and keep it simple, but on the other hand we’ve had some good meals too, so I’m not complaining.”
Bacchus men will sometimes go on trips together, Vaughan said, adding that there have been treks to western North Carolina as well as Napa Valley. And one event was held at the Angus Barn in Raleigh. But for the most part, Bacchus meets at Greensboro’s esteemed restaurants; members reminisced about meals at 1618 Wine Lounge, Undercurrent, the Painted Plate and several others. Before he left town, Glover attended the April gathering at Osteria.
Several members agreed that the cap on the group’s size is unfortunate but necessary, saying they wish more people who love wine could come but that it would create a logistical problem for the size of the restaurants as well as acquiring enough of the often-rare wine. And as for being only men?
“It’s just a men’s group, that’s all,” Vanstory said. “It’s not intended to be anything else at all. There’s got to be somewhere in the world that women can be women and me can go be men.”
“We do take our wives once a year,” he continued. “We used to do it at Christmas, and now we do it at Valentines.”
This year’s Valentines excursion was held at the Greensboro Country Club, he said, a fantastic meal paired with French wines from a shop in New York, owned by someone that Signature Property Group CEO and Bacchus member Frank Auman met while traveling.
Because the group has reached its capacity, there is a waiting list, Vanstory said. Existing members said they were invited to join — Ken Mayer of Moser Mayer Phoenix invited Vaughan to join, the mayor’s husband said. But guests are occasionally allowed, Vaughan said, and when the meetings resume in September, he offered to try and extend an invitation.
The Society of Bacchus, of course, has no Facebook page or website. Photo above courtesy of Elsewhere, of a Bacchus event there in 2012.