Plans for the 335-acre, multimillion-dollar development in Salem, S.C., include 40 acres devoted to a vineyard and a fully functional state-of-the-art winery. The owner is seeking potential equity members at a cost of $28,500 each, and once 500 members are signed, land will be purchased and construction will begin.
Russ Gardiner, a former CEO of a wine-centric California ad agency, is the driving force behind the proposed Equus Club at Lake Keowee, intended to be a private, member-owned country club that will focus on wine, food and equestrian activities, the Greenville (S.C.) News reported.
In that role, Gardiner walked through vineyards, participated in harvests, met winemakers and spent time in cold, dimly lit wine cellars. Now, he wants to bring those experiences to wine lovers in Salem, S.C., the News reported.
“I realized that the public very seldom ever gets to experience walking in vineyards or being involved in the crush,” Gardiner said. “I was given such access into the vineyards and the cellars. That whole experience of being with the founder of a winery and the winemakers was so interesting and rewarding. It gave me a much greater appreciation of fine wine.”
Plans call for the multimillion-dollar development to encompass 335 acres—40 of which will be devoted to a vineyard. A fully functional state-of-the-art winery will be located on site, Gardiner said, and he has already assembled a team to lead winemaking efforts, the News reported.
George Bursick, a consultant with 30-plus years of winemaking experience, has been named director of winemaking. Bursick’s resume includes stints at J Vineyards & Winery, Ferrari-Carano and McDowell Valley Vineyards. Tom Cottrell, founder of Cuvaison Winery and Cornell University’s first associate professor of enology, has been named consulting winemaker, the News reported.
“Our master game plan is to have George Bursick spend the majority of his time in California sourcing the best grapes from the best vineyards,” Gardiner said. “We will purchase those grapes and crush them, and we will put the juice in stainless steel tanker trucks and ship it across the country. We will then barrel age and blend the juice here.”
Wine will only be sold to club members, Gardiner said, and not to the general public, though future plans call for a separate public winery, Lake Keowee Winery, to cater to area tourism, the News reported.
Gardiner’s goal for the winemaking team is to create wines comparable to those selling for $40 – $60 on the retail market. Each member will receive two cases of wine per month for roughly $10 per bottle, part of a $495 monthly all-inclusive membership fee, the News reported.
“Every time they eat at the club, they eat for free,” Gardiner said. “When they take cooking classes in the culinary school, those are free. When they take one of the club’s boats out on Lake Keowee, it’s free. When they stay in the lakeside cottages, those accommodations are free. It’s all-inclusive.”
Long term, Gardiner plans to plant grapes—primarily cabernet franc—on the property. More popular grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, don’t grow well in the South, Gardiner said. Cabernet franc was selected from 17 varietals deemed compatible with the local climate, the News reported.
“It will take us realistically four years to get our first vintage out of our land in South Carolina,” Gardiner said. “Several years down the road, we hope the cabernet franc we grow will be superior enough to blend with juice we bring in from California.”
The main impetus for the project, Gardiner said, is to offer wine lovers the opportunity to own a winery and get a taste of the behind-the-scenes operation. Members will even have opportunities to visit the cellar and blend and bottle their own wines, the News reported.
“They will be virtually an equity owner in a winery,” Gardiner said. “They would each take a small financial risk and we would create the structure of a world-class winery with an all-star winemaking team to make sure we never make any mistakes. The individuals who join the club will be able to participate at any level they want. If they never want to go into the vineyards or cellars, that’s OK, but if they want to experience the whole decision-making process, then they will have that opportunity.”
Currently, Gardiner is seeking potential equity members at a cost of $28,500 per member. Once 500 members are signed, land will be purchased and construction will begin, he said. The club will have a maximum membership of 650. Gardiner hopes the project is fully funded with no debt early next year, the News reported.
“In a perfect storm scenario, we’d be fully funded in January and have a New Year’s Eve party in 2016 to open the club,” Gardiner said.