At the beginning of each grape-growing season, John Quincy Adams IV thanks his earthly father for having the vision to launch a vineyard on a former tobacco farm, and his heavenly father for helping to make it a viable agricultural enterprise.
“They’re (God’s) vines,” Adams said Sunday before the Rev. Roger Horne conducted a brief blessing ceremony at the vineyard, about 15 miles south of Raleigh. “I tell him that all the time: They’re your vines. Just help me take care of them like I need to.”
Normally held outside in view of the sprawling green vineyard, Sunday’s ceremony was moved to an indoor gathering space adjacent to the winery’s tasting room to get guests out of an unseasonably cool, drizzling rain.
Adams wasn’t complaining. The family’s 15 acres of thick-skinned muscadines are naturally drought-resistant, but it’s been a while since the grapes — and the pears, apples, peaches and blackberries grown on the farm — had a good soaking rain.
That’s how it is with farming, whether it’s row crops, cotton and tobacco, which seven previous generations of Adamses grew on the farm starting in the mid-1700s, or muscadine grapes, which John Quincy Adams III first planted in 2006. The idea of a vineyard was a surprise to his wife, Joyce, and their three children, but Johnny Adams had been thinking about how he could make sure his family’s land would remain a working farm in the aftermath of the tobacco buyout, part of the process that deregulated tobacco production.
Johnny Adams died suddenly in 2010. Of his children, John said he was the only one interested in keeping up the farm, and he had little idea how to grow grapes, harvest them, process them into wine or bottle the finished product. He went looking through the offices and the house, expecting to open a drawer full of everything he would need to take over the operation. He never found one.
“It was all in his head,” John Adams said of his dad’s vineyard wisdom.
Since then, Adams and his mom have taken what Johnny Adams started and expanded it, with Joyce Adams running the tasting room and the marketing side and John Adams nurturing the grapevines and blending the wines. Adams Vineyards now produces at least 18 varieties of red and white wine, from moderately dry to dessert-sweet, and has won gold medals and other ribbons in competitions at the N.C. State Fair.
John Adams finished pruning the vines at the end of March, a laborious process that results in scratched arms and the occasional slap to the face by a tensile branch. When he’s done, the cutting looks so severe that visitors often ask him whether the vines will survive.
Already, the vines have leafed out and bear the tiny promises of futures grapes. Adams said the farm produces 13 to 14 tons of grapes per acre, about twice the state average, he’s been told.
In blessing the vine, Horne read from the 15th chapter in the Book of John, a Biblical lesson in which Jesus teaches his disciples about their relationship to him, where he is the vine, they are the branches, and the work of their lives is the fruit.
Horne said a prayer for the vineyard and told the Adamses, “May it be you’ll have a productive year.”