Dahlem Vineyard was started in April of 1996, I had lived on the north side of St. Mary’s Mountain all my life and have lived among the vineyards during my years of growing up, riding my bicycle to the various growers through the years cutting grapes to earn some money to one day buy my 1st. truck, at that time little did I know that one day I would also be one of the growers atop this beautiful plateau in Franklin county Arkansas.
My maternal grandfather Herman J. Leding JR. raised grapes and had a bonded winery (#136) back years before I came along, There were a lot of people back in the day that grew grapes and some that had wineries, the one’s that didn’t have wineries sold their grapes to the different wineries around making this area known as wine country, good sandy loam soil with gentle breezes made sure you were going to produce a good crop with mother nature’s help of course.
Now back to how I got started; my wife and I had gotten married in 1985 and had bought 2 acres off my grandmother but before we settled there we rented a small trailer house for 1 ½ years about 2 miles from my home place where I grew up but it was still on the mountain, during the time we rented we got the 2 acres cleaned up and ready to make this our new home, after living there for a few years I was ready to try something but wasn’t sure what.
40 acres came up for sale that had approximately 8 acres of table grapes growing on it and 300 peach trees that bordered my grandmothers property, after going from bank to bank and getting turned down because they didn’t want to take a chance on me since they had nothing to compare a grape growing operation to we finally got a break, after a long ordeal we finally purchased the little farm.
I worked continuously trying to get things done just to make sure we would make it. They always say if you can hang in there for the 1st. year as a business you usually got it whipped, well that may be true for some but when you have mother nature to contend with, be ready for any and all surprises and that’s just what happened to us,.
In 1997 we got a frost in early spring that wiped out about 80% of the crop! Now imagine how a person might have felt being the new kid on the block and having a big payment to make! Luckily though we had saved some money back and had just enough to make that year's payment.
In 1997 the same thing happened so it seems that we may have a pattern here; I am wondering if 2017 may bring another freeze. In the beginning we would travel to Oklahoma, Missouri and of course Arkansas selling grapes to the different grocery store chains, I would call ahead and get the orders then load up my 1 ton reefer truck and head out early in the morning usually bringing 1 of my children with me for company but that usually ended up being nap time for whoever I took since they both were young but we had some good memories out on the road.
After some changes the stores had made as far as buying local produce and the cost of liability insurance etc. I decided to cut back on table grapes and took all the peaches out since they were frost prone and more work than they were worth so I put some wine grapes in as to cut back on road trips and open a new avenue for other sales as far as local wineries and home wine makers which has worked out very good.
Each year now I have worked to reduce the table grape operation and now only sell the majority here in Arkansas and a few to some produce stands in Oklahoma, I have since opened my vineyard up 3 years ago to the U-Pick operation and that has drastically reduced my traveling and has been a fun experience to say the least, this brings people out to see how grapes are grown and makes for family fun in being able to pick your own product right off the vine. If you’re in the area around July 20th. Thru August 20th. Give or take a week either way give us a call to see when you could come by for a visit and get your own home grown grapes! We may be small but big on pride !
Thanks for reading,
James M. Dahlem