< Back to Oral History project: Wine in the South
Bo & Sonya Whitaker, owners
Garden Gate Vineyards
In the hot North Carolina summers of Bo Whitaker’s youth, when the blueberries were ripe and ready for picking, his grandfather would make blueberry wine. For North Carolinians of Bo’s generation, this story is not unusual—except for the fact that his grandfather didn’t just make wine. Charlie Howard, known to most as Uncle Charlie, was one of the best and most respected bootleggers in Davie County. Bo fell in love with his grandfather’s blueberry wine as a teenager, but he didn’t fall into the craft of winemaking until much later. First, he married his high school sweetheart, Sonya, started a family, and put in thirty-four years as a line superintendent for the local power company, EnergyUnited.
When Bo retired in 1999, he took some time to figure out what he would do next. Bo and Sonya started Garden Gate Vineyards in 2000. They planted blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and, of course, blueberries. But they also planted grapes. Bo planted his first vines right next to their house, filling an acre with hard-to-find muscadine and scuppernong varieties: Hunt, James, Triumph, and Magnolia. Today, thirteen different wines are made from the fruit that’s grown at Garden Gate Vineyards.