- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Jerry Pegram hugs his cousin, Judi Rose, as she arrives to help with the harvest.

The sun rises over the treetops on a late-summer morning, warming the dark-purple clumps of fruit hanging from trellises atop a knoll in southern Forsyth County.

As cars pull to the side of the road, Avalene Pegram greets each visitor with a hug and offers of ham biscuits, glazed doughnuts, juice and soda. A digital camera is draped around her neck for documenting the day.

Her husband, Jerry, buzzes around the vineyard like the bees that are attracted to the fruit, carrying corrugated boxes, removing deer netting from the trellises and orchestrating the harvest. The land on Hopewell Church Road in Winston-Salem has been in his family since the mid-19th century.

A veteran winemaker, Jerry Pegram, 73, has grown wine grapes for more than 40 years. He began making wine as a hobby in the early 1970s while working in the quality assurance laboratory for what was then the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. His love of viticulture led to the founding of the Piedmont Growers Association along with several other wine enthusiasts.

Members of that group formed Germanton Winery in 1981, and Pegram,, along with the five other stockholders, sold his grapes to the winery.

Pegram then was experimenting with about 20 varieties of grapes on land he owned in Stokes County to see what grew best in the region. He would later cultivate a vineyard on his father’s homeplace in Clemmons and at the Pegrams’ current residence, where they moved in 1986.

But in 2004, an illness to Pegram threatened the harvest. He and his wife had lost their jobs and they needed any income the vineyard could provide.

“I came down with a cold that developed into pneumonia, and it wasn’t the walking-type pneumonia. It was bad,” Jerry Pegram said. “The doctor told me to get in bed for two to three weeks.”

Kenneth Pruitt, a member of Pegram’s Sunday school class at Calvary Baptist Church, called to check on him. After inquiring about his health, Pruitt asked, “Well Jerry, what are you going to do about your grapes?”

Pegram recalls saying: “I don’t know that I can hire anyone, I guess I’m just going to take a loss.”

Pruitt said he knew Jerry had a lot invested in the vineyard so he made phone calls to members of the Sunday school class. The next Saturday, 19 cars were parked in front of the vineyard and the class picked 3½ tons of grapes in three hours.

“Jerry was moved to tears,” Pruitt said.

Pegram said he was touched by their kindness.

“Aside from family, that’s the most love that anyone has shown me,” he said, still choked up by the memory.

The following year Pegram invited the group to pick again, but not because he was sick. This time it was for celebration, prayer and meditation.

Wayne Von Seggen, a member of the Sunday school class, said the Bible fellowship class was studying the book of Joshua.

“When Joshua crossed the river Jordan, he told the people to pick up 12 big stones and build an altar to remind them that God got them through to the Promised Land,” Von Seggen said. “So I asked that everyone bring a rock from their home, and we built an altar so Jerry could remind his family of what God brought him through.”

“That was a real spiritual milestone for that class, one of the most memorable moments that I have had spiritually.”

Pegram said the class was close, but it seemed to bring the members even closer.

“They helped a brother out as I was going through a storm of my life,” Pegram said.

The Pegrams’ daughter, Christy, had the idea to name the vineyard Glad Heart Vineyard based on the scripture Psalm 104:15, that God provides food of the earth and “wine that gladdens the heart of man.”

“Some of those people that were here (this year) were there that year I had pneumonia,” Pegram said.

Pruitt, Von Seggen and others have returned for the harvest every year, jokingly referring to themselves as the grape-pickers union.

“That year I did it out of necessity,” Pruitt said. “Now I do it for fun.”

Pegram no longer produces wine commercially. He has since sold his share of the Germanton Winery, choosing to produce wine more for fun than for economic reasons.

And the vineyard is smaller today than it was in 2004, yielding about 1,250 pounds of Chambourcin grapes from the 1-acre plot.

“It’s a lot more fun not worrying about the bottom line - doing it for the fellowship and friendship,” Pegram said. “I’m sure that my great-grandparents would be pleased that their land would be a blessing on so many people.”

___

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com

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