The Genesis of Rabun County's Newest Winery

The first mention of wine in the Bible is found in Genesis 9:20-25,  “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard”.  Lisa Romanello and Mike Brown have done exactly that.
In 2003 they purchased farm land in a beautiful Rabun County valley just two miles south of the famous Dillard House.   They fell in love with the land, but had never dreamed of planting a vineyard or creating a winery.
Close friends in the winery business encouraged them to plant wine grapes so in 2008 they installed trellises and planted Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Traminette and Tannat.  They planned to sell their grapes to their friends and to North Georgia wineries.
Then life changed.  In 2009, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia asked Mike to become WAG’s first Executive Director.  Having retired at a young age, Mike was restless and agreed.  Being the Winegrowers ED provided a wine education by immersion.  Mike and Lisa were exposed to exciting and different successful vineyard/winery models and they were hooked.  With the encouragement of family and friends they made the commitment and began to plan a winery of their own.
Before retiring to Rabun County, Lisa and Mike lived in Tampa, Florida.  While on a trip to check on their Tampa property, they heard a sermon at their church about the Valley of Eshcol (Eshcol means “cluster” in Hebrew).   Numbers 13:23-24 tells that Moses sent 12 spies to the Promised Land.  They returned with an enormous cluster of grapes.  It was so large that it took two men to carry it on a pole between them.  It was an example of the bountifulness of the land which the Lord had promised for their inheritance.
Lisa and Mike had a “Eureka!” moment.  12 Spies Vineyards and Farm was named.  A label design began to form in Lisa’s mind.  She talked to a high school friend about her idea and the friend designed 12 Spies Vineyards and Farm’s first label showing two men with a cluster of grapes so large that it was carried on a pole between them.
From the beginning, the birth of Lisa’s and Mike’s winery has included support and input from family and friends.  Friends encouraged them to plant grapes and to start a winery.  Their pastor Matthew Hartsfield gave them the winery name and another friend designed their label.  Friends, Betty and Sam and Sue and Tom, were involved every step of the way.
Wanting to keep costs low, Lisa and Mike did most of the winery and tasting room construction themselves with help from family and friends.   Mike’s brother Bob took three weeks of his vacation time to help with the construction.  He and Mike made the tasting room bar.  Their first grapes were harvested in 2011 by Lisa’s parents and Mike’s sister Sue.   Their adult children, Matt, Lara and Lauren, are thrilled and look forward to coming home to help with festivals and events at the winery.
The 12 Spies winery tasting room is scheduled to open in mid July.  Planned hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 o’clock and Sunday from 12:30 to 5 o’clock.  Wine prices will be between $12 and $20.  The first variety bottled is from the Traminette grape harvested in 2011.  A red blend rose is bottled for the opening as well.  A sweet wine, already named “Lordy Mercy Sweet”, will give sweet wine lovers a choice. Because the vineyard is small, grapes from other Georgia growers will be used to provide a larger selection of wines.   American Military Veterans will receive a 10% discount on all wine purchases.
In their previous lives, both Mike and Lisa were involved in sales. Mike was a national sales and operations director for a mortgage and insurance company.  Lisa had 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry, working most recently as the Florida sales manager for Chase Manhattan Bank.  In earlier years she was a national buyer for Federated Department Stores and is already using this experience to make selections for the tasting room gift shop.
Both are happy to have escaped the corporate world and to have found their own promised land here in Rabun County — no offices, no cubicles and no deadlines.  They each bring different strengths to their new adventure.  Lisa’s expertise is marketing, Mike’s is analysis and organization.  Both have enjoyed the shared learning experience of planting their own vineyard and creating their own winery.  They look forward to walking out of their front door to work, to enjoying the beautiful view of the mountains from their property and to welcoming people from different places to 12 Spies Vineyards and Farm.
Their vision is to share their experience and beautiful vineyard with all who are interested in wine: from the wine novice to the wine expert.  Visitors are encouraged to explore and enjoy their own palate and taste in a comfortable, casual atmosphere.   Sunset is the perfect time to enjoy a glass of 12 Spies wine while sitting by the creek, overlooking the vineyard, in the gazebo, on the patio, at the tables on the porch or at the tasting room bar.
Lisa and Mike want to support the Rabun community by providing another destination for visitors.
Leckie Stack