Tim Walker didn’t plan on becoming a farmer when he sought to expand his Grand Strand wine-making enterprises.
But a glitch in zoning regulations has the entrepreneur brainstorming with Clemson University officials to determine what vine fruits will grow on the 25-acre farm he owns off S.C. 905 along Bear Grass Road, so he can open a new winery and vineyard.
If Walker wants to make fruit wines, Horry County says he needs to grow some of the produce on the same property.
Agritourism is still fairly new in Horry County, and there is no allowance for Walker’s manufacturing business in rural land zoned for agriculture. The compromise means that Walker can make the wine and sell it on a retail basis, but not wholesale.
Walker makes wine and sells it at Carolina Vineyards Winery, his North Myrtle Beach store at Barefoot Landing, and he crafts the wine for another store owned by his family at Broadway at the Beach called Boardwalk Winery.
“This has never been addressed in the history of Horry County,” Walker said. “There was no allowance for it except for manufacturers — there was no allowance for a farm winery at all.”
The intention of current zoning regulations is to detour major wineries or large breweries from claiming farm land and the low taxes that go with it, then constructing a small tasting room out front with a large manufacturing plant sprouting from behind – mass-producing products and shipping it out the backdoor for national wholesale, said Horry County Councilman Al Allen.
“We want to avoid that,” Allen said. “Having a vineyard and growing grapes, or something that is directly connected with agriculture, is different from installing an industrial site with a brewery under that guise.”
Having a vineyard and growing grapes, or something that is directly connected with agriculture, is different from installing an industrial site with a brewery under that guise.
Horry County Councilman Al Allen
Under the proposed zoning change, language would be added allowing wineries, breweries and distilleries as a permitted use in areas designated as highway commercial, convenience and auto-related services and high-bulk retail. That would allow for beer, wine and spirit production, tasting and retail sales of related merchandise.
Walker specializes in fruit wines that are popular with locals and tourists, particularly the mango wine that is sold internationally.
But mangos don’t grow in Horry County’s sandy soil, and neither do the pomegranates or cranberries that are the basic ingredients in some of Walker’s popular wines. He also creates fruit wines made with strawberries, raspberries, peaches, red plums, blackberries or blueberries.
“We pretty much want to build a little winery in the country and some orchard vineyards,” Walker said.
“My next step is to find out what grows down here, because I don’t know,” Walker said. “I know you can grow any grape here on a hybrid vine, but that’s not my goal — my goal is to grow a little bit of everything.”
But first, Horry County Council must approve the rezoning. Several councilmen who reviewed the new guidelines Thursday at a committee hearing approved of the plan.
Before Walker can begin construction, he has to clear some trees and plant orchard vines such as blackberries, and perhaps raspberries as well as some grapes. If all goes smoothly, he hopes to be in business by next year.
The county said if you’re going to bring a winery in here, at least grow some fruit. And that’s not a bad thing, because it does promote agritourism.
Tim Walker, wine maker
But even after his own vines start producing, Walker will still have fruit delivered to the winery. The crops will be more for aesthetic purposes, he said.
“The county said if you’re going to bring a winery in here, at least grow some fruit,” Walker said. “And that’s not a bad thing, because it does promote agritourism.”