Local couple hopes to open new winery

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford County could get a new winery if James and Sandra Ramaker have their way.
    The Ramakers currently have five acres of wine grapevines on Hendricks Store Road, in the Smith Mountain Lake area of the county.  Their entire 101-acre parcel is currently zoned residential, and the Ramakers want it rezoned agricultural village. This will allow them to make wine and have a wine tasting room.

    For James Ramaker, this will be a part-time venture. For his day job, he works as CEO of Virginia Candle in Lynchburg. That’s the job that originally brought him to this area. A Wisconsin native, he’s lived  all over. This includes three years in Hong Kong when he worked for a candle company called Blyth.
    “I ran their global sourcing,” he said.
    He and his wife bought the property on Hendricks Store Road in 1998 and  started  growing  grapes several years ago.
    “We started growing grapes just to grow grapes,” he said.
    The grape vines established, they began selling grapes to wineries and the idea of having their own winery grew out of that.
    Ramaker said that the vineyard is primarily a weekend project. He has his day job in Lynchburg. His son, Mitch, who has studied viticulture—the science of grape growing—works in Roanoke.
    “My wife is the one who spends all the time there,” Ramaker said.
    Sandra Ramaker has studied wine making in California.
    The couple has not settled on the type of wine they will make — Ramaker said that they are waiting until they get the property rezoned along with the necessary special use permit.
    “We’ll do some sweet wines because people like sweet wines, at least in this area,” he said.
    An informational meeting, which Ramaker described as “pretty positive,” was held at the Moneta Public Library last week. Ramaker said that the primary concern people had was that they don’t want to see residential development on the property. He notes, however, that the current zoning would allow it to be developed as a moderately dense subdivision. But, he said, a winery is not a permitted use in its current zoning.
    Ramaker’s request goes to the Planning Commission at its Feb. 21 meeting for a recommendation on the request. The supervisors have final say on the issue.
    The current vineyard is called Ramulose Ridge Vineyards. Ramulose. according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, means “having many small branches.” Ramaker said that his son came up with the name.