Vanessa English bringing vineyard and winery to Blythewood countryside

Vanessa English, right, with her niece, Victoria Coleman – owner of a Napa Valley winery – and Vanessa’s son James, who works closely with her in developing the vineyard in Blythewood. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Vanessa English’s dream of planting a vineyard in Blythewood has been 10 years in the making, for an unusual reason: She was waiting on science.

A decade is about how long it has taken researchers at the University of California, Davis to develop a traditional wine grape that could be grown successfully in South Carolina.

“The problem we ran into is… it’s very hot, very humid, and the nights don’t really cool off. A real wine grape just won’t make it here,” says English, a Seattle native who made her home in Blythewood 30 years ago after meeting and marrying basketball great Alex English while she was working in Denver and he was playing for the Denver Nuggets. “Here in South Carolina, the grape develops a disease known as Pierce’s disease, and Pierce’s disease is a type of mold.”

That biological reality put a damper on English’s plans for a while, but with the help of family connections – her niece, Victoria Coleman has a vineyard in Napa Valley, California – she was able to encourage the effort to develop a hybrid grape that would tolerate growing conditions in the South.

“So last year, late spring, we planted the vineyard. We started with about 1600 vines,” she says, “and next spring we’ll plant another 1600.”

Her son James is also studying wine making and works with his cousin at a Napa Valley winery that serves independent winemakers.

A vineyard was the use English ultimately settled on for her property in Blythewood after looking into other agricultural options and realizing that wine – a love of hers that seems to run in the family – was what she’s most passionate about.

In preparation for the undertaking, she says she and her niece visited some of the top wineries in France.

They also traveled around Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas to visit vineyards and taste their wine. There, she says, she realized the wines being made there were not what she was looking for; she wanted to produce a wine similar to what is made from the vineyards in California.

The new hybrid white grape, she says, is a cross between sauvignon blanc and chardonnay – a beautiful vine with tiny clusters.

Her future plans include development of a winery and tasting room on her sprawling property next to the vineyard – and a vibe that, despite the fine pedigree of the grapes, is uniquely Southern.

“We’re in the South; I don’t want to look like France. I don’t want to look like Spain or Italy with that traditional look of the winery and the estate,” she says. “They’re very fine, but I want us to be uniquely Southern in the feel and the look and the style of the vineyard and the winery.”

That style includes touches like her Massey Ferguson tractor, painted bright pink, which she currently uses to tend the land but will eventually adorn the entrance to the winery and serve as the basis of the logo for her wine brand, Vantoria James (a combination of Vanessa, Victoria and James).

She says her niece, son and a vineyard manager friend were the ones who designed the layout for her vineyard – a process that was more involved than she initially realized.

“It was just fascinating,” she says. “Before planting the vines, we had a measuring tape and measured every single line post, every single bamboo stake, every single end post. The spacing in between the plants and lines is exact; it is not off by even one inch.”

The process took weeks to complete, she says – but she loves the resulting perfection. For a vineyard, she says, uniformity matters – just like the soil, the sunlight, and the terrain.

“It’s definitely a project,” she says. “It’ll probably be about three years before the grapes will be mature enough to make wine, so any grapes that appear on the plants in the next couple of years we’ll just pick and turn them back into the soil until the vines grow and become mature enough that the flavors that you look for in the grapes will be perfect for making the wine.”

When that time comes, she jokes, her niece and son will be in charge of making the wine – and she will be in charge of tasting it.

“It’s a very exciting venture for me. This is my dream, my baby,” she says. “I’m out in the vineyard daily…. You have to walk the rows every single day, walking or on the tractor. You have to check your vines; you’ve got to make sure that all is well with them. Initially it was a little overwhelming – there’s so much more work involved – very labor-intensive, so it’s required me to be kind of creative in terms of how to keep the weeds back, keep the grasses down and just tend to the crop.”

An aesthetician by trade, English says her other four adult children may help out a little bit, but they’re scattered across the country – and now, as an empty-nester, she views a new business venture as a good alternative to retirement.

“I don’t believe in retirement,” she says. “I personally don’t think that’s good for you. I think it’s better to just cut back a little bit and enjoy life, travel, and have fun.”

Vanessa English spends hours every week on her tractor in the vineyard.

For her, fun includes the love of caring for a vineyard – working outside, riding the tractor, grooming the land. And thinking about the details – from bottles to wine corks – that will make her final product something that she and her eventual customers will really enjoy.

“I’ve been waiting for this a long time, but this is very exciting for me, and it’s fun and a lot of work. But it’s work I love. My friends and family are excited as well,” she says.

“I am so fortunate to be able to really develop and live my dream… I’m extremely grateful. I’m just honored to be able to have had the support from my family and friends to make this thing happen,” she said as she stepped up on the tractor, wiped the sweat from her forehead and surveyed the as-yet tiny grapevines covering four acres.

“It’ll be a while, but we’ll get there,” she said with a smile.


  1. Linda LaRose says

    I hope the Southern vibe will include local art because there are many fine artists in that area. I love all your ideas by the way. Be proud of where and who you are and don’t try to imitate. They will imitate YOU some day. This is very exciting news.

  2. kathy collibs says

    awesome! best wishes! i can’t wait to visit . Kuddos for living out your dream!

  3. DeLoris Washington (Keith) says

    Congratulations on living your dream! I can hardly wait until your vineyard is up & running!
    I’m overdue for a visit to South Carolina.

  4. Nicole Willoughby says

    Congratulations and much success to you! 🍇🍷

  5. Jamal Bradley says

    I hope it’s available to host events. Congratulations!

  6. Khalilah Fortune says

    Congrats Vanessa! So proud of you and all you’ve accomplished. Keep living your dream.

  7. PROSPERITY robin via says

    Great insight and a true blessing .ITS your time Double portion is coming your way this is just the beginnings of what GODAlmighty has for you and your Loveones PROSPERITY OVERFLOWED TRIPLED IN EVERYTHING YOU ALL TOUCH IS PROSPERITY

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