Preston Williams Jr. doesn’t stop working his vineyard in North Carolina, even for an interview. “I’m going to multitask alongside you,” he says, continuing to tend to the farm and vineyard while he talks, his son Jamal by his side. After all, daylight hours are precious at Seven Springs Farm and Vineyard in Warren County, North Carolina—particularly during the cooler months, when it’s a race against the clock to wrap up the day before it gets dark.
Williams came into the industry from a varied background. He served in the military, which took him all over the East coast and to Raleigh, North Carolina, before he settled about ninety miles north in his native county. That was back in 1987, when he and his wife Clara purchased a 140-acre tract of land, complete with seven naturally occurring springs, to become the family homestead.
Drive along US Highway 158 through North Carolina’s Piedmont and you may miss Warren County if you blink. The unassuming region, home to around 20,000 people, borders the Virginia state line. The area thrives on agriculture, and Williams grew up on his family’s farm where he assisted with cotton, tobacco, corn, and cucumber production.
Returning to his home community with an entrepreneurial spirit, Williams used his property to raise feeder calves and also for forestry management. He cultivated the land with the help of his supportive family, including his wife, three sons, and, now, grandchildren. “We’ve enjoyed the land immensely,” Williams says. “It’s been a place of freedom, relaxation, enjoyment.”
That type of atmosphere caught Williams’ attention beyond his home—family outings to vineyards and wineries revealed places that channeled a similar ability to lull visitors into a sense of ease, and, for Williams, seeing the vines blowing in the breeze inspired a sense of freedom.
“We fell in love with the vines. With the experience of visiting a vineyard. With tasting and having a glass of wine. With having a relaxing conversation with someone you don’t even know,” he says.
The family knew they could open up their land to give others the same experience. They lived in a fertile area for growing muscadine grapes—a sweeter, larger variety than the grapes found at the grocery store. Vineyard visits soon became research as they developed their understanding for grape growing and the winemaking process.
The family planted their first muscadine, merlot, cabernet, and chardonnay vines in 2017—making them one of the first Black-owned wineries in the region—as well as the seeds for a five-year plan. “This is still a newborn baby,” Williams says of his vineyard. For perspective, grape vines typically reach their maturity anywhere between twelve and twenty-five years.
They spent the next two years honing their winemaking process. During this, they also built a tasting room and converted a multi-purpose building into an Airbnb that now hosts wine enthusiasts seeking getaways. Next came a pond and veranda, then a closed-in event center. Then, finally, the groundwork for a physical winery.
Within four years, Seven Springs has evolved into an idyllic retreat for weddings, reunions, gatherings, and special events, hosting private dinners to DJs.
“Any good business plan is multi-faceted,” Williams says. He wants to paint the full picture of the relaxation, social connections, and awe that occurs when sharing a bottle with friends against a backdrop of lush, open land.
Seven Springs completed the state and federal licensing processes that will allow them to commercially produce wine from their own grapes in late 2021. In the meantime, they partnered with nearby Rock of Ages Winery & Vineyards near Roxboro, North Carolina, to source the chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and muscadine they currently bottle. The wines pay homage to the Williams family and their home county: The Buck Springs blush wine, for example, commemorates Williams’ maternal grandfather, and the Fishin’ Creek Red (named after the township) is the family’s reminder to always remember where one comes from.
Operating as the only winery the county is far from what sets Seven Springs Farm and Vineyard apart. They are one of only twenty-eight Black-owned wineries in the country and one of two in North Carolina. Creating a space in a historically white-led industry makes Seven Springs a destination within their community and well beyond.
“We’ve had an excellent response,” Williams says since opening their doors in 2020. About 95 percent of their visitors travel in from surrounding areas, usually within a 120-mile radius; others fly in from across the country.
This year marks the culmination of the family’s five-year plan. When asked about what’s next, Williams mentions he’d like to see a recliner and mini fridge about every fifteen to twenty feet or so, offering a place to kick back during walks around the property. Jokes aside, he has no intention of easing up on the hands-on role he plays in the family business: “In order for what we desire to be successful, we have to work and see it through to the end,” he says.
- by Amber Chase
- by Emily Havener
- by Amber Chase