Lake Norman Magazine

California Grown, Cornelius Made

Joel Lemke, Owner of Lake Norman Winery, uses a hand-operated machine to insert corks into freshly filled wine bottles during the bottling process.
Joel Lemke, Owner of Lake Norman Winery, uses a hand-operated machine to insert corks into freshly filled wine bottles during the bottling process. Grant Baldwin Photography

Who would have guessed that a conversation with a stranger and a love of wine would lead to a second career? Certainly not 59-year-old Cornelius resident and Lake Norman Winery owner, Joel Lemke.Lemke was burned out in the corporate world. His son Jeff, 30, was also burned out on long hours as a chef. The two of them were looking for a new challenge the family could take on together.Then Joel remembered, “I had been told years ago by a guy I met in a bar in Pebble Beach, who had literally that day closed on a winery, that if you ever want to do this, the secret is don’t buy the land.” The reasons were simple. You don’t have to worry about the weather. You can adapt to market tastes rather than be confined to what the soil will allow. You have less overhead and taxes. It was an idea that seemed to make sense.“Jeff loves wine. I love wine. My wife Jayme loves wine,” says Lemke.The Lake Norman Winery is an ‘Urban Winery’, which means the grapes aren’t grown on the property. “We bought frozen grapes from California and had them shipped here,” Joel says. But they do make the wine at the winery located on Bailey Road.Finding the quality of grapes they wanted wasn’t easy. The Lemke’s had been working with a broker who matches buyers to surplus wines. But Joel had a feeling if he could make the connections with wineries himself, he could get a better quality grape. His hunch was right. “The good stuff never gets to a broker market.” The Lemke’s are currently making their first batch. The Cabernet Sauvignon is fermenting in a 40 gallon stainless steel canister. It will be at least another year before the blend is ready. The winery opened in April of this year “and we’ve done something with that wine every day.”In the meantime, the winery has hand-selected 12 different varieties of high-end wine from California that they are selling under their private label. The wines are all named after area streets, or have lake or boat related names. Lemke signed disclosure agreements with the wineries so he can’t say which wineries their wines are from, but he does say that one of the bottles he sells for $29.95 typically retails at closer to $80.The least expensive bottles sell for $12.95, but most are in the $29.95 to $69.95 range.Even when the winery is at full capacity making its own wine, they will continue to offer a variety of others under their label. The only drawback is once a certain wine is sold out, it’s not guaranteed to be back.Several Lake Norman Winery selections are available at area restaurants including Dressler’s, Bacchus Wine and Tapas, The Peninsula Club, The Cork and Cask, The Brickhouse Tavern, and Flatiron. “The challenge now is brand marketing and making sure that people recognize our brand as great wines for a great price,” says Lemke.Lake Norman wine tastings are offered in a small room from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. It’s $10 for six wines and you get to keep the glass. On Dec. 11 the winery will host a special Holiday Tasting event. Space is limited so call 704-840-2116 to reserve your spot.