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JOLO Winery: A Tale of Passion, Persistence, and Acclaimed Wines

Photo for: JOLO Winery: A Tale of Passion, Persistence, and Acclaimed Wines

30/03/2024 Crafting Excellence in North Carolina's Wine Country

Nestled in the picturesque landscapes of North Carolina, JOLO Winery & Vineyards reflects the vision and dedication of its proprietors, JW Ray and Kristen Ray. Creating a portfolio of award-winning wines, JOLO's journey exemplifies the belief that great wine is made in the vineyard with endeavors and learnings built over the years. With a focus on hand-selected grapes and meticulous winemaking practices, JOLO has garnered a reputation for producing exceptional wines that capture the essence of their terroir.

Could you share the story behind the founding of JOLO Winery & Vineyards? What inspired you to venture into winemaking?

I was inspired by the romance of creating a multi-generational legacy where my great, great, grandchildren will make wine from the vines we planted; that their great, great, grandchildren can consume. 

Originally from Boston and then Fort Lauderdale, Florida  Kristen and I moved to Pilot Mountain, North Carolina in  2010 and planted our inaugural vines.  

In 2013, the first JOLO vintage was released and in 2014 JOLO  Winery & Vineyards opened to the public. We are approaching our 10th Anniversary on April 4th, 2024.

Image: JW and Kristen Ray

How has the company evolved since its inception, and what have been some of the key milestones along the way? What are some of the biggest challenges you faced?

We introduced a high-end restaurant from the outset with  French-style, white-glove service, and a 7-course pre-fixe menu with wine pairings. We suffered miserably, the location was not ready, and we lost probably two years of attracting restaurant patrons.  

We morphed into a more eclectic, international comfort food style menu and that’s when things started to take off with our restaurant.  

Our tasting bar also started with 7 different wine tastes, a different glass for each taste, & after about two years the cost and expense of cleaning the glasses and the breakage wasn’t worth the effort. We adapted to 2 glasses for our 7 tastes with zero complaints and the same five-star experience.

A key milestone for us was hitting 3,000 Wine Club  Members in 2023! 

What sets JOLO apart in terms of its team and winemaking philosophy?

The JOLO team is integral to the winemaking process, we are family-owned and operated. The Winery is named after Kristen and I’s two sons Joey and Logan Ray.

Image: JW and his wife Kristen, along with their two sons Joey & Logan (JOLO)

Kristen wears many hats on the business/Wine Club side while  Joey & Logan are focused on winemaking and distribution.  Each member of our close-knit, boutique-style team is extremely devoted and relentless in their pursuit of knowledge.  

I am also the Winemaker and have been since the first vintage in 2013. I promoted my former Executive Chef to the position of  Director of Winemaking Operations after studying under me for two years. Joey & Logan have also graduated from NC State  University and are back home continuing the winemaking legacy.  

The winemaking philosophy is minimal intervention — we try to have the most immaculate fruit coming into the winery and expect nothing more than to be good stewards throughout the  Elévage process. I get to utilize my culinary skills when making  

blends, it gives me a chance to be more artistic versus farm-to-table from single varietals. Moreover, we use oak as a micro-oxygenation vessel versus trying to impart the flavors of the oak, as we want to express the fruit we grow, not the oak from  Missouri, etc.  

How have you approached marketing and expansion, both locally and beyond?

Originally, word of mouth and the success of our wine was our only form of marketing. We have expanded to social media promotion and a few local publications/radio ads. We strive to be organic in our marketing strategy through newsletters,  email lists, event collaborations, and social media.  

We aspire to broaden the distribution of our wines nationwide and amplify our brand in the public eye to emphasize our international accolades and awards. We are also focusing on our Direct to Consumer efforts, we hired a Director of Social &  Digital to spearhead such efforts.  

Locally, as of late November, we have purchased a sister winery  & vineyard with a tasting room, and are currently in the process of building a full-scale restaurant on the property — Rayson  Winery & Vineyards in Mocksville, North Carolina. We aim to have the same JOLO-estque atmosphere and fine wines, but a different experience for those who already love JOLO and want more.  

Could you elaborate on JOLO's range of wines and the unique production methods employed?

We make a wine for every course of a 7-course dinner. Ranging from Brut-style sparkling wine to Port-style as well as Sweet  Vermouth. We’re big fans of European-style wines and the ranges they offer, we want our guests to experience the entire spectrum of wine styles available just by visiting our tasting bar. 

Image: JOLO Winery

What steps have you taken to ensure sustainability and environmental stewardship in your winemaking practices?

That’s a fantastic question! We live on the same property surrounded by the vines that we grow. Our two children Joey & Logan grew up on the property so we employ organic spraying techniques as well; the majority of our plantings are hybrid or American cultivars that require little to no spraying in the first place. This is a big reason we chose to plant these varieties. Our spraying regimen, although few and far between, employs the Bourdeau mix. For varieties that are sensitive to sulfur, we spray our organic essential oil mix, along with hydrogen peroxide and copper — but we try and use very little copper. 

For Japanese beetle prevention, we put Japanese Beetle traps out in the vineyards, works very well, you just need a lot of them and to put them out early in the season.  

In which markets do JOLO currently sell its wines, and are there any plans for further expansion?

We have distribution through American Premium Beverage where we sell to retailers such as local Lowes Foods, Total Wine,  and a variety of upscale dining establishments in North  Carolina. Currently, we are focusing on expanding to more restaurants and wine bars regionally.  

Image: (L-R) Joey & Logan Ray.

What new and exciting things are you experimenting with in terms of winemaking techniques or grape varieties?

We’re experimenting with Rkatsiteli grapes and Tava Amphoras. We’ve moved away from the Delestage Method for our Chambourcin/Crimson Creek and introduced more traditional pump-over techniques, but still introducing micro-oxygenation during pump-overs & fermentation.

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What would you say has been JOLO's biggest achievement or recognition within the industry?

Our Rose JOLO PINK, our Muddy Paws - Port Style wine, our  Pilot Fog (Norton Grape/Cynthiana-based wine), and our  Crimson Creek (Chambourcin-based wine); all have been awarded Best of Show at various international competitions such as The American Fine Wine Society, The American Wine  Society, The International Sommelier Challenge, and The  Jefferson Cup.  

In 2020 TripAdvisor named JOLO Winery 1 of the Top 7 wineries in the United States outside of California.  

For The End Posts Restaurant OpenTable has named us 1 of the  Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants and Top 100 Brunch Spots in the United States.  

As of March 2024, Love FOOD named the most beautiful restaurant in each US State, JOLO End Posts Restaurant clenching North Carolina! 

How does participating in competitions like the Sommelier Choice Awards contribute to JOLO's success and reputation?

Although our Wine Club Members and local patrons enjoy our wine, they love hearing the affirmation that the wines they love are internationally recognized. It also helps with out-of-state attraction to have a notable resume of awards and accomplishments.

Image: Winners of Sommeliers Choice Awards 2023

Conclusion:

As JOLO Winery & Vineyards continues to make remarkable wines, one thing is certain: their commitment to excellence and innovation knows no bounds. With each bottle, they invite wine enthusiasts on a journey of discovery, showcasing the unique flavors and character of North Carolina's Yadkin Valley. As they continue to experiment and push the limits of what's possible in winemaking, JOLO Winery & Vineyards is sure to remain a name that represents quality and passion in winemaking.

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

A unique opportunity to present your wines to America's top sommeliers. The wine scores are benchmarked for on-premise channels by top sommeliers, master sommeliers, wine directors and restaurant wine buyers. Submission deadline is April 24.