BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. — White Hall Vineyards is still in its first generation of grape growers, but it’s so ingrained in the Barber family, it’s like it’s been around for centuries. George and Sonya Barber started the vineyard 20 years ago and have grown the operation from the ground up to where it stands now at over 80 acres of grape vines.
“We thought ‘well, maybe the grapes will help with college, and it’ll help maybe retirement, just a few acres’ and a few became a few more, and a few more and a few more,” George Barber said.
What You Need To Know
White Hall Vineyards was established by the Barbers in 2001
The vineyard encompasses over 80 acres of grapes
Grape harvest occurs at the same time as the peak of hurricane season
In two decades, they’ve learned a lot by trial and error, but say the best way to ensure a good crop is to be hands on with it. Sonya Barber plants every last acre of grapes, carefully tending them and trimming back the cordons until the vines are mature enough to harvest. George Barber and their three sons tackle the rest of the work – mowing, spraying and maintaining the crop.
“You find yourself constantly finding ways to improve and constantly finding mistakes that you made in the past that you’re trying not to make in the future,” Sonya Barber said.
Their vineyards look gorgeous from the road and the grapes make an amazing glass of wine, but Barber says most people have no idea the hours that go into raising these grapes from shoots into a crop that can be harvested and sent to a winery.
“When I’m going through it spraying and mowing, I’m looking and saying ‘she planted every one of these grapes, I pulled every mile of this wire and put in every post,’” George Barber said.
Growing grapes has the same risks farming any crop does, but as harvest rolls around each year, so does hurricane season on the coast. Barber shared that grapes are native to the area and naturally thrive here, but a hurricane can absolutely destroy a good crop and majorly set them back.
“Hurricanes are terrible,” Sonya Barber said. “Rows and rows of grapes on the ground, not harvested. We were out there everyday in the heat and humidity getting the poles back up, getting those vines back on the wire and harvested.”
Even with an extremely large operation, they keep their crew small – just themselves and their three boys. Something about it all being in the family makes it that much more special to the Barbers.
“It means a lot more than an employee going out there and training the vines,” Sonya Barber said. “We could hire help, but because it’s mine, I put a little bit more care into it. And I think that it just gives you the better appreciation of the work that you’re doing.”
There’s no end of work on a farm and the same is true of White Hall Vineyards, but they always make sure there’s time for family. White Hall could be much bigger than it currently is, but business was never the top priority – after all, as Barber said, “Why do it if you don’t love it?”
“We could’ve made the bed and breakfast, we could’ve made the wedding venues and we could’ve put in the RV parks to go with all this, but we would’ve missed all the ballgames,” George Barber said. “We wanted to make a good living as best we could for our children but have enough time to spend time with our children.”