Cellar 53 Winery in Brush Creek promotes local agriculture, protects rural landscape

The newest sipping stopover along the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail is a testament to one family’s commitment to farmland preservation and conserving country lifestyle.

Owned and operated by Scott and Rebecca Paschal, with the help of their three boys, Cellar 53 Winery is notched into the western edge of the Highland Rim in Smith County, just south of I-40’s Exit 254 on Alexandria Highway.

Cellar 53 opened to the public as a walk-through vineyard and winery just last year. But it took root more than a decade ago.

In the early 2000s, Scott and Rebecca shared “a dream to keep the family farm.”

Rebecca Paschal and her husband, Scott, put down Cellar 53's roots more than a decade ago.

Rebecca Paschal and her husband, Scott, put down Cellar 53’s roots more than a decade ago.

So they made arrangements to purchase a 100-acre tract that, while it’d been under family ownership for generations, had earlier been platted for future sproutings of suburban-style houses in lieu of raising crops and livestock.

In order to make a profitable long-term reality of their dearly priced dream, they set about sowing the seeds of a wine-growing operation.

Over the ensuing ten years, their vision blossomed into what is today a winsome venue for sipping homegrown vino and lingering about a vintage landscape that exemplifies Middle Tennessee at its bucolic best.

The idyllic parcel that rears the fruiting vines for their assortment of wines does abut up against a cove of contemporary homes. But that’s where the residential development stops.

Beyond the rolling hedges of Cellar 53’s wine grapes rises a wild and sprawling expanse of thickset timber that’s now buffered against exurban homebuilding.

Visitors to Cellar 53 are invited to stroll the grounds or relax in the tasting room or on the patio behind the pole barn that houses a conference room, commercial kitchen and wine-making vats. Typically, Cellar 53 has ten or so wines for oenophiles to sample.

“I make a lot of dry wines,” said Rebecca. She noted that they also grow all the blackberries for their blackberry wine, which tends to be a customer favorite.

The itinerary for touring Cellar 53 is pretty laid back. “You taste wine, you get educated, you walk through and appreciate the vineyards and the agriculture,” explains Rebecca. “And hopefully you buy a bottle and go home and enjoy it.”

To visit Cellar 53 Winer: From Interstate 40, Take Exit 254. Turn South - toward Alexandria. Go approximately 1.5 miles and turn left onto Poplar Drive - there are two stone pillars at front of the drive. Take the first left onto Oak View East. Head to the rear of the residential development - please drive slowly! cellar53winery.com

To visit Cellar 53 Winery: From Interstate 40, Take Exit 254. Turn South – toward Alexandria. Go approximately 1.5 miles and turn left onto Poplar Drive – there are two stone pillars at front of the drive. Take the first left onto Oak View East. Head to the rear of the residential development – please drive slowly! cellar53winery.com

Over time, the Paschals have come to recognize that a key element of their role in the community and the regional economy is in fact instructional, and maybe even inspirational. Their message to locals and tourists alike is that agriculture remains a viable livelihood for people willing both to work hard and think creatively about how to use their land and develop markets for selling locally grown products.

The Paschals believe wine growing has a particularly robust future in the Volunteer State if its full potential is ever uncorked. “Before the Prohibition Era, Tennessee had 19,000 acres of wine grapes,” said Rebecca. “Now we have 900. So we obviously can grow them here.”

The Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance reports that there are currently about 25 wineries in the state.

“During the late 1800s, vineyards were flourishing in Tennessee, mostly in areas that were believed to be unsuitable for other agricultural uses,” according to TFWA. “At the time, it appeared that grape-growing would become one of Tennessee’s most important cash crops. However, Prohibition all but ended this promise in 1919. It is just within the last quarter of the 20th century that grape growing (and winemaking) has seen a remarkable recovery.”

The Upper Cumberland Wine Train includes eight wineries. Visit uppercumberland.org to learn more.

Lake serves up sunlight bite later than people think

When Tennessee’s summer rays are smoldering over Center Hill Lake, a lot of sport fisherman turn nocturnal for the season.

But shunning sunshine to focus all your angling efforts after dark can be a big mistake, says Smithville bass pro Josh Tramel.

If you’re willing to fish deep and keep moving, opportunities to catch pugnacious plumpers will arise, especially in morning shade and along late afternoon shadows.

“People don’t realize that Center Hill is great during the day in July, especially with football jigs, big crankbaits and even worms,” Tramel said.

Deep-diving crankbaits, like the Strike King 6XD and Norman DD22, “are good options” to provoke a Dog Day bass attack, he said.dd22

Tramel, a mild-mannered 37-year-old accountant, knows a thing or two about angling on Center Hill Lake. “It’s where I learned to fish, for sure,” he said.

Center Hill is an excellent lake to acquire diverse fishing expertise, he said.

“You have to learn all kinds of different techniques here,” he said. “It is a really good lake to do what I like to call ‘power fish’ – throw jigs, and topwater and spinnerbaits. In the winter it gets really clear and requires a lot of finesse.”

Tramel has been racking up tournament wins and big-money finishes for more than a decade on Middle Tennessee lakes.

He’s developed into one of the premier bass-baggers to beat over the course of his career, especially on Center Hill Lake.

Of his 25 career FLW Top 10 finishes, six have been on Center Hill. This year, he took third at the FLW Bass Fishing League’s Music City Division tourney. Back in April he won the American Bass Anglers Ram Truck Open Series tournament and floated home with $5,000 in his creel.

His schooling on Center Hill has served him well on other lakes, too – in particular, Old Hickory.

Tramel blew fish-fixated minds in April 2014 when he weighed in at an ABA tournament with a whopping sack of five smallmouths tipping scales at nearly 27 pounds. Old Hickory isn’t really known for giving up prodigious numbers of bronzebacks, but on that day Tramel hooked at least a dozen that were keeper-sized.

On Center Hill, Tramel said he tends to target his summertime casts at shallow-to-deep drops and “transition banks.” Also, bluffs and gravel points. “Look for places where you can cast shallow and retrieve out to deep water,” he said.

Keep in mind that bass are prone to loiter around deep brush piles, he said.

“Smallmouth seem to like a shallower-sloped bank,” noted Tramel. “They still hold in deeper water, but farther off the shore.”

Smallmouth also tend to change holding-places more often than spotted bass and largemouth, he said.

As a general rule, “moving around a lot” increases your odds of catching fish, he said. “Center Hill Lake is not a place where you tend to find large schools of fish congregating,” Tramel said.

If you catch two or three nice bass in one spot, the action’s probably going to cool off in short order.

“It’s not that you can’t catch more if you sit there long enough – but it’ll probably turn into a really slow day,” he said.