In between, we looked at the roles played by ancient Egyptians and Romans, and touched on miserable failures by Thomas Jefferson and others in Colonial America. We explored the rise of the American wine industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its subsequent demise during Prohibition in the 1920s.
But we have not discussed the birth of our local wine scene.
When we look for the movers and shakers who brought fine wine to our area, two names emerge: Froydis and Bill Collins of Anniston. For many years, Bill owned Talladega Enterprises and operated numerous convenience stores throughout the region, including Midtown Chevron, at 13th Street and Wilmer Avenue in downtown Anniston.
In 1986, Bill made a bold move, deciding to stock fine wines at Midtown. The fact that Collins could sell wine at his convenience store was made possible by legislation sponsored by former state lawmaker, local attorney and wine aficionado James M. Campbell.
Charlie Yeats, an Indian Springs prep school classmate, assisted Collins in selecting wines for his store. Yeats is a principal in his family’s pioneering Alabama wine distributing business, International Wines of Birmingham.
The Collins knew that potential wine customers needed a venue other than their Midtown service station for tasting and sampling. They approached the Victoria Inn in Anniston, along with a few community wine enthusiasts, about organizing a wine appreciation group. Thus the Chateau Wine Guild was formed. This group remains in existence, and has over the years attracted a diverse membership.
Though the state liquor store sold wine during this period, the selection could never be accused of being fine. For many years, Midtown was the only retail outlet for fine wine in the area. Ownership of Midtown has changed several times since Collins sold Talladega Enterprises, but the store continues to maintain a small wine selection.
Anniston would not have a second retail wine store until 2005, when Deborah McDaniel moved her design and furniture business from downtown Anniston to the old Domino’s Pizza location in Golden Springs, and added a fine wine section.
In 2007, Janet Tyson Prosser bought McDaniel’s store as the new site for her family business, Tyson Art and Frame. She inherited many requests for wines. She and her husband, David Prosser, decided wine might be a good fit with their custom framing and unique gifts. That’s proven to be true.
Helping with the wine selection was a niece, Mary Beth Prosser, who stopped off in Anniston on her way to take a job in Napa with a French cork company. She had also worked for a Chilean winery and for vineyards in France and Spain.
Capitalizing on Mary Beth’s experience, Janet substantially expanded the wine department and introduced regular Thursday-night wine tastings to this neighborhood-gathering place. Tyson said the thing she likes best about the wine business is that it is fun, and she does not like to do anything that is not fun.
The same year that McDaniel opened her wine store, Terry Paschal, a former wine rep for International Wines in Birmingham, opened The Wine Cellar on Quintard Avenue. Paschal said he became interested in wine as a young adult, when he started developing his palate and wine knowledge. As he grew older, he pursued a career in the wine business with the specific intent of opening his own wine store.
His greatest satisfaction, he said, comes from teaching people about wine, especially the Old World styles he tends to favor. Paschal presides over tastings at his store on Saturday afternoons.
Though once bereft of a wine scene, our area has made up for lost time. Learning opportunities abound, not only at local wine stores but also at wine dinners like those hosted by Garfrerick’s Café in Oxford and chef Alan Martin’s restaurant at the Victoria Inn in Anniston.
The Victoria holds themed wine dinners once a month – there’s one tonight, a four-course Seafood Celebration paired with wines. The next wine dinner at Garfrerick’s will be April 19.
While thousands of wines are made around the globe, the process of making them is basically the same. If interested in learning about the process, don’t forget our local winery, White Oak Vineyards, where owner and winemaker Randal Wilson offers novices the opportunity to get up close and personal with viticulture.
Where to sip
The Wine Cellar
Owner Terry Paschal holds wine tastings from 2-6 p.m. Saturday. There is a $5 tasting fee; usually six wines are poured. 309-A Quintard Ave., Anniston, 256-237-5996.
Tyson Art and Frame
Owners Janet Tyson Prosser and Dave Prosser hold wine tastings from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. There is a $5 tasting fee. A wine distributor’s representative or a principal from the wine trade presents the tastings. 3326 Henry Road, Anniston, 256-236-9910.
Victoria wine dinners
Chef Alan Martin holds themed wine dinners the first or second Wednesday of each month. Tonight’s dinner is “Seafood Celebration” and features Kevin Thread and wines from the Hess Collection. Call for reservations, 256-236-0503. 1604 Quintard Ave., Anniston. For more info, including a schedule of wine dinners, visit www.thevictoriarestaurant.com.
Garfrerick’s Café wine dinner
Chef David Garfrerick holds wine dinners at his fine-dining, organic café. The next one is scheduled for April 19 and will feature Mac McDonald, winemaker and owner of Vision Cellars in Sonoma, Calif. Call for reservations, 256-624-9008. 655 Creekside Drive, Oxford.
White Oak Vineyards
White Oak Vineyards, a local winery run by owner and winemaker Randal Wilson, offers tastings and tours from 1-6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Located just off Highway 9 on Dry Hollow Road in Iron City. 256-231-79998, www.whiteoakal.com.