Just a mile outside of historic downtown Monroe, a family farm has taken on a new and sometimes surprising purpose.
"This property has been in the family at least 200 years," said Dianne Nordan.
Last fall, Dianne and her husband Phil opened Treehouse Vineyards on land that had been in her family for five generations.
"We had one lady walk in a couple of weeks ago and she said, 'I just had to come see for myself and I told people, 'No, there is not a winery and vineyard in Monroe.'" Yes, there is. To understand how this business began, you have to rewind to 2005.
"We planted 50 vines to see what was really involved," Phil said as he gave NewsChannel 36 a tour of the property.
From 50 muscadine vines in the beginning, the family now has more than 1,000.
"We hope to plant about 10 more acres over on the other hill as we expand," Phil said.
The sweet muscadines, which are native to North Carolina and the Southeast, are used to make three white and two blush wines. They have catchy names like Sweet Union, which is a nickname for Union County. Another is named Bailey's Blend after one of the family's two horses that roam the vineyards.
"Bailey happens to be the one who likes to eat the grapes," Phil said.
In addition to the creatively named products, the namesake of this vineyard also sets it apart.
When you drive up, you'll notice a tree house near the parking lot. Phil built it years ago to give him and Dianne a place to get away while caring for an elderly parent.
"I think the interest is because it is a novelty," he said.
That tree house later inspired a second one just down the hill and it is open to customers for nightly rentals. Already, there are solid bookings for 2011.
"You really just have to sit down with a glass of wine and watch the grass grow to appreciate the serenity of the whole thing," Phil said as we stood on the deck.
The family hopes to add more rental tree houses, along with a larger winery and event center as business grows. Phil will soon turn 70 and admits some people, even family members, thought he was crazy.
"They all question why I'm doing this at my age and, of course, the reason we're doing this is, number one, I like to do things and, number two, for our kids, and our kids will really see the benefit," he said.
Dianne added, "I feel like this will keep the property in our family."
So until the word spreads even more, the Nordans, along with their son and daughter, will keep answering the question that yes, there is a winery just over the hill from downtown Monroe.
"Our biggest relief was when we realized that we had a good product and that people liked our product," said Phil.
Treehouse Vineyards is one of 100 wineries now operating in North Carolina. To read more about the operation, visit www.treehousevineyards.net.