2015 | The Winery at Seven Springs Farm
2006 | Seven Springs Farm to Table
2004 | Purchased 370 Acre Farm
The Winery at Seven Springs Farm is located just outside of Maynardville, TN on Seven Springs Farm, a 370-acre working family farm, purchased by Rick and Donna Riddle in 1994. In 2015, The Winery at Seven Springs Farm, run by their daughter / winemaker Nikki Riddle and her fiancé / master winemaker Michael Coombs, is the first winery to be established in Union County, Tennessee. One of the few degreed enologists in Tennessee, Nikki understands that winemaking is both an art and a science. She and Michael combine their educational backgrounds with hands-on experience to expertly craft some of Tennessee’s best wines.
In 1996, two years after they purchased the farm, Rick and Donna moved back home to Tennessee after Rick, a veterinarian by trade, retired from a 20-year military career with the Air Force. Donna had envisioned a place where she could grow fruits and vegetables and sell local produce; Rick, a place to raise a few cows and call home. Working with their local soil conservationist, they charted a course for Seven Springs Farm, named for the abundant artesian springs located on the property.
Donna’s pride are the 18 varieties of northern and southern highbush blueberries which are available for U-Pick in late May and June each year. She built a thriving fruit and vegetable business, growing over five acres of various garden vegetables and selling locally at five farmers markets in Knox and Union Counties. Donna recognized that the farm, if properly developed, had the economic potential to become a supporting family farm and with Rick’s help, drew up a plan to present to their children, Nikki and Jim. Donna wanted her kids to be close, and this was an opportunity to make that happen.
Rick and Donna’s daughter, Nikki Riddle, graduated from Vanderbilt University as a Biomedical Engineer in 2008, and began her career working as a Field Clinical Engineer for a company performing medical device trials. As things happen, due to a corporate downsizing in 2011, Nikki opted to spend the summer at the farm along with helping her Aunt and Uncle in their vineyard located in Grainger County, just 17 miles away. She worked in vineyards on both properties and helped make “homemade” wine. This experience cultivated her interest in grapes and wine and began her career as a winemaker with Ed and Louisa Cooke at Beachaven Vineyards and Winery in Clarksville, Tennessee. It is at Beachaven that she met her fiancé, Michael Coombs, who has worked for Beachaven over the past 10 years.
Recognizing that winemaking is both and art and a science, Nikki enrolled in the Undergraduate Program in Enology at Missouri State University. This program is a partnership of The Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), the Missouri State University system and colleges, and universities, vineyards and wineries across America. These partners share a 21st Century vision for education in grape growing and winemaking. Being convinced that this was indeed a passion she wanted to pursue, Rick also enrolled in VESTA’s program, and they both graduated with degrees in Enology in 2015.
In 2015, The Winery at Seven Springs Farm becomes a reality. The Winery at Seven Springs Farm is housed in a 3200 sq ft timber framed structure designed and built by Rick along with family and friends, using various species of timber harvested and milled on the farm. It shares the space with Donna and their son Jim’s Seven Springs Farm to Table business, finally realizing Donna’s original dream of an on-farm market retail store.
The winemaking facilities were designed by Nikki Riddle and her fiancé Michael Coombs. With a combined 20 years in the wine industry, Nicole and Michael used their knowledge to design and equip a state-of-the-art modern facility and wine laboratory consisting of custom designed stainless steel wine tanks from Vance Metals in New York housed in an ultra-modern temperature-controlled tank room.
As winemakers, Nikki Riddle and Michael Coombs combine their talents and love of wine in crafting the vintages at The Winery at Seven Springs Farm in their own unique style. These wines are made with grape varietals grown in their vineyard and around Tennessee as well as fruit from leading viticultural areas in the United States. Nikki recognizes that quality in the bottle is a direct result of both the quality of the fruit in the vineyard and the capabilities at the winery. Visit The Winery at Seven Springs Farm and experience their unique selection of both dry and sweet wines that will appeal to any wine lover. Our custom timber frame facility and walnut slab tasting bar truly offer a unique venue for weekend outings or daytrips to rural East Tennessee.
Ties to Legal Whiskey Distillery
Rick and Donna Riddle purchased the land from Jim Steiner, but locally, the land was known as the AJ Woods Farm. The original Woods Farm was home to the historic Andrew Jacker (AJ) Woods Distillery on Highway 61 where Jacker manufactured whiskey at his four-story Union County distillery.
The Winery at Seven Springs Farm is located across the street from where the Woods Distillery was. The land is part of the parcel purchased by the Riddles but the distillery is no longer there.
The distillery, one of three major distilleries in Union County in the early 19th century, was a thriving business shipping legal distilled spirits throughout the eastern United States and supporting economic growth in Union and surrounding counties.
Ties to Illegal Moonshine & Thunder Road
The Winery at Seven Springs Farm is located on State Highway 61. Highway 61 is part of American legend; making moonshine was an industry in the American South before and after Prohibition. In the 1950s muscle cars became popular and various roads became known as “Thunder Road” for their use by moonshiners. The business of transporting moonshine, which began in the 1920’s with Prohibition and continued through to the 50’s to avoid paying taxes, was risky. In an effort to avoid the law, fast cars, fearless drivers, and back-woods mountain roads that led to the cities and towns created an American legend – Thunder Road.
State Highway 61 was one of the many moonshine smuggling routes referred to as “Thunder Road.” This route, from Harlan, Kentucky, to Knoxville, Tennessee, was a frequent night time route traveled by illegal whiskey haulers. But to the men who traveled the route, it was much more than legend. It was the road to freedom from economic despair.
Jack Woods, who owned the legal Woods Distillery, mentioned above, was the grandfather to Ed Harvey who dealt in illegal moonshine. He was probably the last of the Thunder Road boys left in East Tennessee. Ed began making moonshine when he was 10 years old. He later got into souping-up engines in cars to increase their horsepower for race drivers on the weekend who turned into moonshine runners during the week. One such runner was his friend Rufe Gunter (more about Rufus later). Read more about Fast Eddie and Rufus Gunter. Update on Ed Harvey.
Closer to home, Rick Riddle’s father, Charlie Riddle, who lived in nearby Fountain City, TN, was an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) agent for the US Government. Charlie Riddle was actively involved in going undercover to infiltrate moonshine operations and stop the illegal activity.
There is a common association of Thunder Road with sour mash whiskey and moonshine and many events throughout the Southeastern United States celebrate this unique Appalachian Heritage.
Get the book “Return to Thunder Road: The Story Behind the Legend” by Alex Gabbard if you want to read a powerful saga of an age gone by when making whiskey grew from a small operation to pass time, to a massive effort to shut down the multi-million dollar trade with a manhunt that put most moonshiners out of business, and many behind bars.