VERSAILLES — The Winery at Versailles wears many hats: producer, consumer, manufacturer, retail, restaurant, and gathering place, but the owners, Mike and Carol Williams and their son Jamie believe that if they’re not doing some good for others, they’re not doing good business. The Williams trio owns two wineries, the one outside of Versailles, Ohio, and another in north central Pennsylvania, The Winery at Wilcox.
“We had three goals when we started. One was to do well, one was to do good. If you’re doing well, and you’re not doing some good with what you have, you’re absolutely not giving back,” stated Mike Williams. “The third was to have some fun. And to have some fun, you’ve got to be relaxed.”
According to Williams, the Winery at Versailles donated around $36,000 towards breast cancer awareness, and $2 from every bottle sold of the spin-off of the Winery’s Lucia, Hope Whispers, goes to the Wayne HealthCare Cancer Center, Williams said. The Winery has also donated to causes such as the Fisher and Nightingale House for the military, and canned goods for meals at the Grace Resurrection Christian Church at Easter time and for their Winee Women event. Two dollars for every bottle sold of Bullseye goes to the Garst Museum and Versailles Area Historical Society, $2 for each bottle of Shawnee Prairie wine goes to the Friends of Darke County Parks.
Williams described the atmosphere of the Winery at Versailles as “rustic elegant,” a little upscale, but not so much that people are intimidated by it. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Winery at Versailles, though the family has been in the wine making business for 18 years with their Winery at Wilcox. In celebration, there will be an open house held Oct. 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with free hors d’oeuvres at the Winery at Versailles, located at 6572 State Route 47 outside of Versailles, Ohio.
“People always think that swirling wine is some frou-frou thing, but what you’re actually doing is aerating the wine,” stated Williams. “When you mix it with oxygen, the compounds of the wine are given off.”
Part of the aesthetic of drinking wine is the glass. Wine glasses are shaped like chimneys, explained Williams, which enhances the flavor, because 85 percent of taste comes from the nose and sinuses. The chimney shape allows wine to aerate, getting oxygen into the wine to create a stronger aroma. The smaller the chimney, the more concentrated the aroma, he commented. Some of their wines don’t have much of an aroma, so to make up for that, they aerate before bottling, as part of the process, which gives the wine a stronger aroma when the bottle is opened.
Wine making is a growing trend, Williams reported. When the Williams family began the Winery at Wilcox, there were only 2,856 wineries in the United States, three years ago, there were over 14,000. According to Williams, the average size of wineries has increased, and there’s now a winery in every state. The Winery at Versailles sells bulk wine in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma, said Williams.
“We created a business with very few resources, just a lot of hard work,” Williams commented. “We’ve got a lot of people who work hard.”
And their hard work has paid off, with nearly $4 million in revenue as of August, with 50 percent coming from the Ohio location. It’s the eighth month of the year, but they still have 47 percent of their year left, said Williams, and the first eight months are the tougher months.
The biggest appeal of their wine? Affordability, Williams asserted.
“One of our goals is to make wine that people can have every day and not break the bank, because let’s face it, money is hard to come by,” Williams said. “We have wines that are tailor made for where we’re at, where we live. There are wines that people in this area really enjoy. We can respond to that, but it takes a year or two.”
They also make a wide range of wines, including the currently trendy fruity white wines, and the sweet red wines, with a moscato in the works, Williams said. Their best selling wine is the Rodeo Red, he said, because it’s sweet, light, and not intimidating.
“Primarily, we get great customers, loyal customers, but the fact that we kind of tailor our wines to our local clientele is really key to our success,” Williams commented. “Americans are not terribly well-educated when it comes to wine…But Rodeo Red is a refreshing red, it’s sweet and, y’know, it’s a type of wine that’s not scary. It’s easy to know, it’s easy to remember the name. It’s a simple, straight-forward wine.”
The Winery at Versailles sold around 50,000 gallons of Rodeo Red in 2011, Williams stated. In the spring of 2011, the Winery also began to serve food, with items such as soups, sandwiches, and calzones, Williams said. They offer private wine tastings, events like Wine, Wine West and Thrill of the Grill, as well as flights of five wines to taste.
“We try to teach people about wine,” said Williams. “I recommend going to a winery, not because we’re a winery, but because you can taste anything there before you buy it. And they have people that are knowledgeable and can explain their wine.”
Williams stated that one of the most difficult things is to go to a grocery store and choose a wine based on the description, because while it is accurate, it is also not in a language that most people understand. Visiting a winery gives beginning wine drinkers a chance to get educated, and ask questions.
“When you don’t know anything about it, some people are so intimidated they never even try,” stated Williams. “And it’s no terrible protocol or any big deal, come on in, try it – taste all of it – and figure out what you like. That’s the main thing, you should drink to enjoy.”