June 1, 30 years ago. Judge Beach and his partner son-in-law, Ed Cooke, and Judge’s daughter (me!), Louisa Cooke, waited anxiously for the ten o’clock hour when Beachaven Vineyards and Winery would officially open its doors for business. We were all a bundle of nerves; hopes, fears, and anxiety filled our hearts and stomachs! For me, it seemed that this event might even be more momentous than giving birth three years earlier!
We had done our homework, alright. Consultants hired, check; Investors secured, check; property purchased on the interstate, check; building built to winery specs, check; grapes harvested the previous fall from our farm in Dickson County, check; wine vented in our new winemaking facility, bottled, labeled, and ready for sale, check; media notified, check. But the biggest question we could not answer… would anyone come to buy our wine?
Beachaven was to be one of the first wineries in middle Tennessee; our state license number was ten. Only nine daring souls had ventured into the wine business in Tennessee before us. We believed in the potential growth of wineries (we had travelled in California and New York where it was already happening), we believed in our product (we had already won numerous prizes as amateurs including a Best of Show on our Champagne), we believed in the name recognition of Judge William O. Beach to be a draw (being a popular and well -respected middle Tennessee politician). BUT, did people here know what to expect from a winery? Did they even want a winery? This was, after all the Bible belt! It was truly a gamble.
June 1 turned out to be a huge success. There was a lot of media attention and an abundance of customers. But June 2, 3, 4, and on and on, after the media left and took with them the customers and the novelty of the winery grand opening, were some slow days! Uh oh! What do we do now? We need to get people coming to Beachaven on a regular basis… enter Jazz on the Lawn!
Well, Jazz on the Lawn was not an immediate success. It started slowly… 50 or so people came to hear CJQ that first summer. But time and word of mouth were our friends and Jazz on the Lawn grew, and grew, and grew! Soon it had become a phenomenon and people were driving here from near and far to attend our concerts on the lawn.
Steadily our business began to blossom; the wine industry in Tennessee was taking off and looked to be bright for others and us. Then Judge Beach was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1988. His death in the fall of 1991 was a blow that we had not counted on. That was not in the long-range plan! Many in Tennessee had nicknamed Judge Beach the “father of the Tennessee Wine Industry” because of his role in statewide politics on behalf of the entire industry. He and several friends had led the move to allow wineries to operate in our state. Beachaven, as well as the entire state, now had to look to new leaders, a new generation, to carry on the dreams of Judge Beach and his friends who had envisioned the growth of vines and wines in Tennessee.
Always, Beachaven has been a leader and role model for Tennessee winemakers. Ed and I have worked hard to keep the high standards of winemaking set by Judge Beach alive in our own winery as well as encouraging those standards for our state. We have both served as presidents of the two Winemaking organizations and well as serving on the Governor’s Viticulture Advisory Board. We have won medals on our wines as well as receiving personal accolades for our efforts in the wine industry. We have guided future winemakers, advised future winery owners, leant equipment, and bought and sold fruit when necessary. We have always had an open door to people who envisioned themselves in the wine business. Many have fondly dubbed Beachaven Winery as Beachaven University! We have made Beachaven the area’s largest tourist attraction as well as a spot for cultural events. We pride ourselves in thinking that our winery has become vital to Clarksville. I hope we are right!
Our lives in the wine business have been about as successful as we could have ever hoped for. After 30 years, we can say that we would do it all again! It is hard work, fun work, and rewarding work. A good life’s work!
“In vino veritas!” Robert Mondavi. In wine there is truth.