We're just home from Blackberry Farm, the grand culinary destination on the cusp of the Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee, site of the annual Taste of the South fundraiser for the SFA, as well as the annual gathering of the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs.
This year was our most successful fundraiser. With Sam Beall of Blackberry Farm and Mike "Rathead" Riley of the SFA at the helm, we more than doubled our highest take from previous years.
The Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs fosters camaraderie and mentorship, honoring the bounty of the South and the hands that grow, nurture, and interpret its harvest.
Time spent at Blackberry Farm provides a forum during which the Fellows break bread and share knowledge while reinforcing the sustaining bridge between field and table.
This year, the Fellows welcomed a new member to their self-elected cadre, Julia Van Winkle III, the pioneering Kentucky distiller and marketer. His grandfather, Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. began his career in the late 1800s as a salesman for W.L. Weller & Sons. In 1908 he and another Weller salesman bought the firm. In 1910 they acquired Stitzel Distillery of Louisville, Kentucky.
The Stitzel-Weller opened on Kentucky Derby Day in 1935 and went on to define its own style of bourbon, a wheated whiskey that proved peerless. At the time of his death in 1965, Pappy Van Winkle, age 89, was the oldest active distiller in the nation.
Old Rip Van Winkle Company is now owned and operated by Pappy's grandson, Julian Van Winkle III, our newst Fellow. Over the course of a long career, Julian has redefined premium bourbon.
Some of his innovations are measurable. For example, he introduced hyper-aged bourbon to the marketplace by way of 20- and 23-year-old exemplars of whiskey. But his most important work has been less about the spirits and more about the spiritual. Julian Van Winkle III has taught us to respect bourbon again. He's the South's grand ambassador of brown liquor.