What began as a garage hobby for Earl Hodges has ripened into a charming Camp Hill, Alabama, destination and event center – Hodges Vineyard and Winery. Located fewer than 5 miles off U.S. Highway 280 between Dadeville and Auburn, the venue offers beautiful views of the vineyard, a small lake and excellent options for both indoor and outdoor events.
“We bought the property in 2008 and planted our first vines. I grew up on a farm, so I know how to plant something in the dirt and pray it grows, and our vineyard has grown,” said owner Earl Hodges.
The venue has several options from which to choose when selecting the vineyard and winery for an event. Around 100 chairs will fit comfortably under a pergola designed with a raised platform – perfect to set apart the marriage ceremony, a guest speaker or a small band. The pergola and surrounding wrought iron fences are strung with white lights for evening ambience.
A serene lake just down the hill is another event location on the property. Couples often get married near the pond and hold the reception under the pergola.
Gina Long has managed the winery for four years and has seen big changes in the number of wine tastings and events.
“The first year there were two or three events. Last year, we had over 30,” she said.
Just last year, Hodges added a 6,000 square-foot ballroom-type facility, featuring a high tin ceiling with three, tiered iron chandeliers. Large restrooms, dressing rooms for both bride and groom, plus a fully equipped catering kitchen make the facility perfect for any large event. An upstairs loft with a wrought iron railing that overlooks the entire building will soon have a spiral staircase leading to the main floor.
Besides weddings and other functions, Hodges’ Vineyard and Winery hosts individual and group wine tastings daily (be sure to reserve). Some groups have selected the vineyard for a tasting; and then, arranged a catered lunch to be brought to them there.
“We have hosted a local Red Hat Society and some senior citizen groups. We also had a wine tasting for 78 people, and the same day we had a wedding in the evening. We can handle it all. We have even hosted a wine tasting during a wedding for the guests to enjoy,” Long said.
David Long, one of Hodges’ employees, works in all aspects of the business.
“This is a true team, lots of family working together. We take care of the property, ferment the juice, bottle, label, whatever it takes,” David said.
The entrance to the property, through iron gates with the vineyard logo, leads guests through rows of grape vines to a parking area, two large buildings and a barn. The main building houses a store and the winery, where fermenting, bottling and labeling take place.
The vineyard boasts 33 acres of lush grapevines that produce several varieties of grapes, including both red and white muscadine, Black Spanish, Catawba, Norton and Blanc du Bois. The Hodges’ wine is made from these, plus other Alabama fruits.
“Our strawberries and peaches come from Greenville, Alabama. Our blueberries and blackberries are from Dothan,” said Long.
The fermenting process is ongoing with different fruits throughout the year, resulting in more than 10,000 bottles of wine per year.
“In the batch we have right now, we used 3,700 pounds of strawberries; and then, added enzymes and 300 pounds of sugar to begin the fermentation process that takes about a week. The solid pieces begin to sink to the bottom, and the batch is racked several times to remove sediment. After racking, it is put into a chill tank where the acids in the fruit are removed. By the end of the process, the wine has been filtered 12 times,” Hodges said.
Even with the help of technology, filling, labeling and packing the bottles takes quite a bit of elbow grease from all the employees. The current batch of strawberries will produce 300 gallons of wine, which will fill 1,500 bottles. The bottling process will take nine hours.
The wine tastings take place in the store, the front area of the main building at the winery. The store holds hundreds of bottles of wine, available for a purchase price between $8 and $11 per bottle and wine-related gift items also are available. They are open seven days a week.
For more information on Hodges’ Vineyard and Winery, or to book an event, contact Long at 256-896-4036.