On May 13th 1961, I married my high school sweetheart, Sandra Mae Pentecost; she is the love of my life and the mother of our four sons, Scott, Greg, John and Tim.
In all of our lives, if we live long enough, tragedy occurs.
On January 1st 1985 our son Greg, a junior at the University of Alabama, had a horrible automobile accident. Greg received a brain stem contusion. The family has cared for Greg at home for the last 34 years until he passed away in 2019. In 2010, we lost our youngest son Tim. His life was taken by a serious liver disease. What can you do but remember the good times and use that positive energy to press on.
From the age of four years I was raised with three sisters and three brothers on a forty acre rock farm. The farm was located in Fords Valley, a small community in North East Alabama. On the farm the family grew cotton, corn, vegetables and a variety of fruits. The farm also seemed to produce a never ending supply of rocks.
My mother was the most knowledgeable person about plant life I have ever known. Her gardens supplied the entire community with fruits and vegetables. I think she was a contributor to the “Farmer’s Almanac”.
One comment that mother made to me that I will never forget, Jimmy (Mother called me Jimmy) “I think grapes are a special gift from God. Humans and animals love grapes. More grapes are grown on this earth than all other fruit combined, and grape vines will grow almost anywhere”.
After an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps in October of 1964, I spent the next 28 years working in the publishing industry, then in the technology business with my sons. In 2004, after a year of steady encouragement from my family, I made the decision to retire.
In the summer of 2004 our sons sent us on vacation to California. Sandra and I spent the entire week in wine country. I think we visited every winery tasting room in Napa and Sonoma. What a beautiful place. Almost overnight I became convinced to start a vineyard and open a winery.
I contacted Bob Herrick, owner of Herrick Grapevines, in early 2005. They are located in St. Helena, CA a few miles north of Napa Valley. I told Bob that I wanted to start a vineyard and grow Cabernet Sauvignon. He picked up on my southern accent and quickly asked where the vineyard would be located. Of course, my response was Alabama. He quickly stated that I could not grow true wine grapes in that climate. It is too hot and humid. I told him that I was going to give it a try.
We purchased 1,750 vines from Herrick Grapevines and put them in the ground on the family farm March 26th 2005.
Bob was wrong! The vines love the soil and the climate. The harvest of September 4th 2012 yielded 8 tons of fabulous fruit resulting in 760 gallons of wine.
I believe if you become involved in the wine business it should be a long lasting endeavor, outlasting the founders and many generations of the family. To encourage that dream I named the winery after my four granddaughters. All four fathered by our oldest son Scott.
Maraella, the winery name;
Starting with the youngest granddaughter I chose to use the first two letters in each ones' middle name. Anna Mae, Bella Rae, Savannah Elise and Jessika Lauren.
Jessika Lauren Lee Miller a 2008 graduate of the University of Alabama and presently teaches at Hokes Bluff Middle School. Jessika is married to a great guy, Justin Miller.
Savannah Elise Lee a 2014 graduate of the University of Alabama and a registered nurse pursuing a masters in nursing to become a nurse.
Bella Rae Lee a 8th grader at Hokes Bluff Middle.
Anna Mae Lee a 7th grader at Hokes Bluff Middle.
Maraella Winery opened for business September 14th 2012. In reaching the goal of opening the winery I have had tremendous support from my family, wife Sandra, sons Scott and John. Scott and John have given their time, advice, labor and finances. Tim’s enthusiasm for the winery will never be forgotten.
Brother John Alonzo Lee can never be repaid for his contributions. He completely remodeled the building we are using for the winery and assisted in ways too numerous to list, all while finishing his second novel and creating our beloved Gourmet Wine Jelly selection, Alonzo's Pantry.
Justin Miller, grandson-in-law, is a very bright, hardworking young man. I envision Justin to be the future vintner for the winery and to take it to very high levels of accomplishments.
Terry Pike is the winery engineer. Don can build and repair anything. We have named two vineyards after him.
Francisco Deleon, is the vineyards manager. Francisco is a hardworking, dedicated asset to the organization.
The varietals we have to offer are growing yearly and while we will always produce and promote wine made from locally grown grapes and fruits, we will continue to introduce traditional viniferous grapes to our brethren in the south. We do have on the shelves for sale our flagship wine “Cabernet Sauvignon” handcrafted, estate grown and bottled.
Our 2010 Vintage has been awarded Gold and Silver medals from Alabama to California. Our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Riesling, 2015 Riesling, 2016 Riesling, Zinfandel, Blueberry, JeLee 2015, and our Carlos (a dry white muscadine) have won Gold and Silver medals in competitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Huntsville.
Year-round Monday - Wednesday 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Thursday - Saturday 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Sunday by appointment only
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