Nestled at the foot of the Nantahala National Forest, Shooting Creek Vines is a small, family-owned winery founded in 2017. Thanks to a partnership between the vineyard and UGArden Club, an organization of student volunteers who work at the University of Georgia’s student community garden, club members have the opportunity to stay and work on the land at Shooting Creek Vines every year, said UGArden Club president Hayley Hunter.
UGArden, part of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, offers opportunities for learning, engagement, service and experimentation on UGA’s Athens campus. Former UGArden president Lily Dabbs helped to establish the partnership between UGArden and Shooting Creek Vines.
“We always plan to go to the vineyard in the fall, when they need people to harvest grapes, and in the spring, when they need help with vine maintenance,” said Margaret Timberlake, vice president of UGArden Club. “The UGArden Club loves going to the vineyard. It allows students in the club to grow tighter in their relationships with one another while simultaneously helping out a newer vineyard that is so grateful for our hands.”
Relying solely on family and volunteers, the partnership greatly benefits the vineyard. “Kerry and Margaret, the couple that owns the vineyard, really appreciate our hard work,” said Timberlake.
Kerry Darnell, co-owner of Shooting Creek Vines, reinforced the mutual benefit of the vineyard's collaboration with UGArden Club.
“We try our best to make each visit a learning experience. The groups always come in motivated and ready to help with any task at hand and have been instrumental in everything from backfill planting to trellis installation," Darnell said. "We provide a real-world opportunity to gain hands-on experience and develop long-lasting relationships with the students as they progress toward their chosen career paths.”
Volunteers helped harvest the vineyard’s Vitis vinifera crop. These grapes, also referred to as Old World or European grapes, are known for their superior quality and traditional flavor.
UGArden Club executive board member Smera Dhal said that “this trip helps us build a beautifully strong sense of community — not just with the vineyard owners, but with other UGArden members as well.”
Summing up the experience, Dhal described the trip as “absolutely amazing. It was such a joy to spend time with other UGArdeners, bonding over grape harvesting and avoiding yellow jackets. The vineyard was incredibly beautiful. I will never forget the soft sounds of the creek as we slept under the stars and the view of the fog creeping down the mountains at sunrise. I cannot wait to go again.”