Tucked away on the edge of western Florence County near Cartersville, grape vines spread over several acres on both sides of the road. The vines and their grapes will someday turn into the wines of Crescent Moon Vineyards.
This isn’t considered by wine country by most, but Thomas Langston, the owner of the newly sprouted vineyard, doesn’t much care about that. He’s always liked farming, and a vineyard is just a slightly different kind of farm.
“Farming was something I wanted to do my whole life,” he said.
He became interested in wine making several years ago while visiting North Carolina and seeing all the vineyards people were starting there. The Tar Heel State has seen an explosion in vineyards and wineries over the last decade. The number of vineyards had quintupled in that time, and wine-making is now a billion dollar-plus industry.
In 1999, Langston bought the 30 acres of land on Lamar Highway with the idea of growing vegetables and other products. But as is always the case with farming, times change, changing lives with them.
Langston knows about that firsthand. He grew up farming, picking tobacco and cotton as well as helping family friends on their dairy farm. Then the tobacco industry changed, ending the run of the area’s big cash crop, and Langston went to work in the convenience store business. That lasted for 30 years.
“Six a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week for 30 years …” said Langston. “This [wine-making] is much better.”
New efforts by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, designed to boost the agritourism industry, opened the door to new types of farming.
Langston started by planting a few “guinea pig” vines of the Carlos variety, a golden and very sweet muscadine grape known for its high, natural sugar content. He also invested in the tools need for wine making: collection baskets, crushers and juicers along with storage facilities to hold the freshly crushed juice.
Langston also consulted with Jody Martin with Palmetto Consulting Solutions, a company that provides advice and support for farmers looking to add value based commodities to their agricultural businesses.
“It’s very important to focus on ambiance when building an agricultural business,” Martin said. “And Thomas has done that, he has an environment that people will want to be in.”
Martin, who has worked with muscadine grapes for years, also helped Langston plant and design his growing operation.
Since planting that first acre, Langston and his son, Tommy, along with a crew of “family” people who have worked for Langston’s other businesses, have spent the past three years growing the vineyard from the one acre to nearly 10 acres of vines, including both red and white grapes.
With help from neighbors like Boone Williams, who has been making wine for years, and friends like Carlos Norton, who doesn’t drink at all but loves the science behind winemaking, Langston has begun bottling trial runs for friends and family last year.
So far the results are good.
“We made a strawberry blend last year,” Norton said, laughing as grapes moved through the crusher. ‘That one was good. So far our friends love it, and that’s a good sign.”
As Langston and his “family” continue planting -- another six acres of vines went in this year, this time featuring the noble variety – they are also busy planning for the future, which include still more land under vitification and facilities aimed at the tourist trade.
Construction on a visitors building is nearly complete. The area features a commercial kitchen, wine tasting bar and plenty of space.
Full scale wine production is still a few years away for Crescent Moon, but in the meantime Langston is moving forward with more immediate ideas.
“We hope to host bus tours and winemaking visits,” Langston said. “Give people the chance to pick grapes, learn the process and be able to take wine home that day.”
The Crescent Moon family also hopes to welcome weddings, private parties as well as bus tours that pass through the area.
More plans for the future include building a small RV park for people traveling to and from Florida.
“We are only five miles from 95, and five miles from I-20,” said Langston, “so the location is perfect. People can stop for a short break or they can stay a while.”