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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The push for local products is helping boost awareness about Knoxville's first winery, located in the Old City.
Blue Slip Winery owner Linn Slocum only uses grapes grown in East Tennessee, and says she's determined to prove the Volunteer State can be a real player in the wine industry.
The night we stopped in at 105 W. Jackson Avenue, Slocum was serving some of her wines to a young Florida couple vacationing across Tennessee.
She offers tastings to those 21 and older in her well-appointed store, which also doubles as a gift shop, complete with local art.
Blue Slip opened in 2009 after Slocum saw the opportunity to turn her eight-year wine making hobby into a business.
"A co-worker of mine was starting a vineyard so one thing you have to have before you have a winery is a resource for grapes," Slocum explained.
Slocum, who still works full time for the Public Building Authority, signed her first grape contract with Richlands Vineyard in Grainger County.
She also buys grapes grown in Knox County and keeps her entire product local. "It's a challenge to grow grapes in our environment," she admitted, "but it is being done and it is being done well so I am just happy to be a part of it."
The grapes used in Blue Slip's wines grow in a tighter cluster and have seeds, making them a bit different than the ones typically available in a grocery store.
Slocum adds that the humidity here is one of the big challenges for growers, and a lot of the grapes she uses are some sort of hybrids.
Still despite the challenge, she says Tennessee can make great wines, and she's committed to do it all on a local level.
"I was born and raised right here, worked downtown most of my life. I have just a really strong connection with this area and community," Slocum said.
Outside the typical struggles opening a new business, Slocum says she faced additional roadblocks because this is Knoxville's first winery.
"Being Knoxville's first winery, no one really knew what to do with me. They did not know how to classify me. There is a lot involved in that." In all, it took about four and a half years to go from an idea to a reality.
Now, Slocum makes nearly 400 to 500 bottles of wine a month.
She showed us the process using yeast, and in most cases sugar, to begin fermentation. We also learned that for red wines, Slocum leaves the skins on the grapes during the first step because the skins add to the wines' rich colors.
After fermenting for about a week, the pulp is treated again and poured in oak barrels where the wine ages anywhere from a year to 18 months.
Slocum says they're still experimenting with the aging process, but she passed a big test when a certain group came to her shop and made a purchase.
"When UT played UCLA last year, we had some folks in from Napa. That was quite frightening to me," she admitted.
While Slocum is still relatively new to the wine business, she knows she has something that really stands out. "We are small. We are urban located. We don't have a lot of expensive equipment. It's all home grown, hand crafted."
You can have a tasting at Blue Slip Wednesday through Sunday and contact them to have private tastings. Call 865-249-7808 or email email@example.com.
The winery makes more than 25 kinds of wine, and you'll find a few familiar blends like Syrah and Chardonnay, along with some unique new ones.
In case you were wondering about the name, Slocum says a "blue slip" is kind of like a free pass to do what you want, and the name is open to interpretation.