Wayne and Linda Gay see vines and wines as a way to grow Johnson County economy

6:00 am | April 7, 2013

When Wayne and Linda Gay retired to Butler from Oxford, Fla., all they wanted was to adorn their Italian-style home Photo by Brandon Hickswith a few grapevines to create an authentic Italian look.

“We figured a few grapevines would look nice around the house,” Wayne Gay said. “Then it, literally, got carried away.”
Almost 10 years – and 3,500 grape vines – later, the Gays are close to becoming a household name in Northeast Tennessee.

The Watauga Lake Winery on Thursday officially opened its season, and its winery, for public viewing … and consumption.

“We’re the first farm winery in Johnson County,” Linda Gay said. “We started our vineyard eight years ago, and we have 10 varieties of grapes, five reds and five whites.”

Although the Gays are now the first – and only – wine supplier in Johnson County, this, ultimately, was not their goal.
“We think of it more as an entertainment center,” Linda Gay said. “We host weddings, family reunions, anniversary parties. We also have cooking classes here.”
Photo by Brandon Hicks
Versatility was one of the main features the Gays chose to focus on when they originally decided to build the winery. What may have been their primary motivation, however, is celebrating the community in which they live.

“Having lived here 10 years now, we were constantly going away to go to things like this,” Linda Gay said. “We would go to other wineries that hosted dinners or special events, and we were constantly leaving our area. Our thought was, why not keep tourism dollars in our area?”

Apparently, those tourism dollars can add up. Wayne Gay recalled a study conducted by the Tennessee Winegrowers Association about the positive impact on a local economy from wineries.

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