Growing West Point winery was started by family investment

River’s Bend Winery and Vineyard sits on 10 acres of land in a remote part of West Point.

In May, owner Donald Hughes wrapped up the final biannual Crafts, Corks and Kegs festival at his venue before announcing the decision to relocate the event in the future to local fairgrounds. More than 800 guests showed up to try his award-winning wines, though Hughes is confident that the move will bring people by the thousands next time.

As its name suggests, the event includes a crafts fair of local artists, as well as wine tasting, hosted by Hughes, and beer tasting, hosted jointly by Chattabrewchee Southern Brewhouse and Omaha Brewing Company. It stands apart from other local festivals for being the only one to bring both crafts and tasting together in this way.

Aside from the festival, Hughes’s winery serves the community year-round at his property. “We’re a family business,” his daughter Amanda Hughes said, “from conception and funding to construction to operation, our family has worked together in doing it all.”

Ten years ago, back in Texas where they met, married and raised children, Hughes and his wife, Lee, frequented a local winery together, where they had the opportunity to try their hand at wine making. In time, they found themselves in talks with the owner about starting a franchise, though the exorbitant startup fees led them to decline.

The couple did, however, further pursue their shared enthusiasm for wine making, researching and teaching themselves the intricacies of the trade. All that was left at that point was getting a venue, for which they needed a considerable amount of investment money.

“Opening a winery is an enterprise best backed by private investment,” Hughes explains, “so going to the bank for a loan wasn’t really an option.”

Instead, they turned to family.

“We called him ‘The Patriarch,’” Hughes said of his cousin James. “He passed away a few years ago. He came up with the money to help us start our business.”

Huges said James is also to thank for the building’s pine interior.

“He did a lot, even built all this,” Huges said, while pointing around the winery

Photos of James fill pages of an album set beside a window in the winery.

The Hughes family has done well in the five years since opening.

“Each of our wines has been awarded a medal from international wine tasting competitions,” Amanda says, “At least bronze. Our riesling and malbec won silver; our pinot noir, two silvers. The Blackberry River [sweet, red] and the Naked Peach [sweet, white] are probably our most popular.”

The family is proud of their impressive repertoire, but each member chimes in to set the record straight on one thing — they don’t serve muscadine. The same is printed clearly on their brochures.

From the menu, guests may choose either a three-wine or a five-wine tasting set, as well as from options for cheese and cracker trays. Soon Hughes may add some local beers as well, for “women who come in with husbands who don’t drink wine,” but here he declines to reveal any more information.

Amanda, however, is excited to announce at least one definite new addition.

“We’re going to offer wine slushies soon. The machines just came in,” Amanda said.

The Hughes family is building a large pavilion on site, where they’ll accommodate large, corporate parties. Sometime around the second week of June, the vineyard will host a “blueberry you pick it.” Admission is free, and each family is given one bucket to handpick fresh berries. An exact date is still to be determined. Those interested should refer to the website for more information, riversbendwineryga.com/, or call the winery at (706) 645-1181.

All River’s Bend wines are vegan. While most wineries use fining agents made of animal bone in producing their wines, Hughes is proud to say that he does not. The wines are now sold at a number of local restaurants, grocery stores and package stores, besides the winery itself.  The winery is open to the public Thursday through Saturday, from noon to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. It is located at 692 Adams Road in West Point.

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