In the small town of Dublin, North Carolina, lies Lu Mil Vineyard--78 acres of heaven. With rows of grapevines laden with delicious muscadine grapes, a tasting room to sample the vineyard’s wines, and cabins with views of lakes and the expansive vineyard, Lu Mil Vineyard is a place to get away and enjoy a little slice of heaven right in Bladen County. While heaven for the vineyard’s many visitors, it is simply home to those who built it.
Lu Mil Vineyard has not always been what you see today. 50 years ago, you would have found rows of tobacco rather than rows of grapevines on the property. It was the family farm of Lucille and Miller Taylor. In addition to tobacco, the family was also involved with the agricultural equipment manufacturing business (Taylor Manufacturing, Inc.). When the federal tobacco program came to an end, the family knew that things had to change. They began to think of new equipment they could build and sell. In 2001, Ron and Oren Taylor, sons of Lucille and Miller, planted a vineyard of Muscadine grapes to test viticulture equipment on. They created a grape harvester and grape vine pruner that is used by many vineyards today.
The Taylors didn’t stop there with their innovations, though. In 2005, the two brothers opened a winery and invited the public to enjoy their vineyard. While their parents did not live to see the creation of the winery or vineyard, they were still at the forefront of their children’s minds when developing the operation. The family named Lu Mil Vineyard in honor of Lucille and Miller Taylor, and throughout the vineyard are venues and products named after family and memories.
“The Taylor House” is named such because it was the homeplace of Lucille and Miller. Despite being on a pond, the venue “Creekside” received its name from Denise Taylor Bridgers who is Oren’s oldest daughter and now co-owner of the vineyard after her father’s passing in 2007. Denise remembers having to cross the creek to visit Grandma’s when she was a girl. Later the creek would be made into a pond, but the memory of crossing a creek would remain. “Lucille’s Choice” is an alcohol free Muscadine wine named after Lucille who was very much a teetotaler. Denise says they joke that they have to “put a blindfold on Grandma’s picture in the gift shop, so she doesn’t see the alcohol.”
It isn’t just the names of locations and products that honors the family’s matriarch and patriarch. It’s the intentional way that the family has kept the values of Lucille and Miller at the center of the vineyard and everything they do. In fact, they have made it their mission statement:
To continue to embrace the values of the late Lucille and Miller Taylor as we strive to provide quality educational opportunities with an emphasis on providing an exemplary product that promotes good health.
The family is putting those words into action by not just promoting their products but promoting the Muscadine industry as a whole. The family is involved in the NC Agritourism Association, the Muscadine Grape Association, the NC Wine and Grape Council, the NC Specialty Foods Association and many other organizations. They want to educate the public about the many benefits of Muscadine grapes and show off North Carolina agriculture to the tens of thousands of annual visitors.
Diversification is important to the family. It is, after all, how Lu Mil Vineyard was born. In addition to producing grapes and wine, the Taylor family wanted to provide jams, jellies and pasteurized juice to their customers. However, there wasn’t a local company that would process their fruit and put their private label on it. Realizing that other farmers wanted the same service, the family decided to create D’Vine Foods, a Lu Mil Vineyard sister company.
The passion that the Taylor family has for what they do is obvious. They are innovative and forever looking for new opportunities.
“The reason I get up in the morning is because I look forward to providing opportunities for my family, friends and employees,” said Ron Taylor, “I do what I do because I want to make my parents proud and I enjoy it. I’ve never been made to feel like I have to do it. I do what I do because I love it.”
As with any business, there are challenges, but that doesn’t damper the passion the Taylor’s have for their business. They eat, breathe, and sleep Lu Mil Vineyard and the other businesses.
While thousands visit the property that was once Lucille and Miller Taylor’s farm, it is still home for the family. For Denise, the feeling of home is her favorite part of the business (that and the Muscadine Cider Slushies).
When asked by a visitor how long Denise had worked there, she smiled and said, “I was kind of born into it, so a long time.” The girl asked her if she liked it. Denise replied and said, “I love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Lu Mil Vineyard is no doubt a family-affair. Both Ron and Denise’s spouses and children are involved in the businesses, making this the 4th generation on the property. The entire family is passionate about what they do and is committed to creating quality products and experiences. They have never forgotten their roots but aren’t afraid to try something new too. Perhaps Lu Mil Vineyard can be best summed up with the words from a sign posted on the property:
Our vineyard site is the family farm of the late Lucille and Miller Taylor. Our family friendly atmosphere is a testament to the “important things” we learned from them—religion, family, tradition, honesty and hard work.
Those “important things” can be found in every glass of wine, in a cup of Muscadine slushie, at the annual Festival of Lights, fishing by the pond, or in a night at a cabin. At Lu Mil Vineyard, you’ll find heaven, home, and the important things.