Multiple times an hour, trolleys and buses stop in front of the sprawling Marathon Village complex north of downtown Nashville to disgorge a passel of tourists, hungry to discover the food and drink options and quaint artisan shops spread around the multiple buildings that make up the former automobile factory from the early part of the 20th century. As the manager of the tasting room at Grinders Switch, a Centerville-based winery, Jodie Chessor Morgan is waiting for them. “We can see a thousand people on a busy Saturday,” she shares.
Grinders Switch is a family affair that Morgan describes as “a hobby that grew out of control.” Jodie’s parents built a log cabin on 110 acres in rural Hickman County in 1982 and began to plant grapes in what is now a 10-acre vineyard. “Dad turned our living room into a tasting room,” she recalls. “Now my dad makes the wine, my brother manages the vineyard, and Mom figures out how to pay for everything.” Jodie runs the tasting rooms at the winery and at their Nashville location and is learning more about the vintner process.
Named after the fictional home of iconic country comedienne Minnie Pearl, Grinders Switch chugged along as a nice little family venture for years until a big change came when the Tennessee legislature passed a law allowing wineries to establish satellite tasting rooms. “The new law really allowed small wineries to branch out, because we are all located in the middle of nowhere,” Jodie explains. “I thought we should consider a second tasting room in Nashville and [we] came to town to look at some locations. We saw this space in Marathon Village and signed a lease that day. It was only three days between when we first had the idea to expand until we suddenly had two businesses. It has really brought in a lot more foot traffic than we ever saw in Centerville.”
Snobby oenophiles sometimes turn their noses up at Tennessee wines, thinking that the state only produces sweet berry wines. To be sure, Grinders Switch does make delicious and popular sweeter wines like Blackberry Express and Razzbury, but that’s not all they concentrate on. They grow varieties like Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Portuguese grape called Touriga Nacional on their estate and produce some exceptional dry wines with these grapes as well as fruit and juice they purchase from vineyards around the Southeast, from the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York and Washington state.
Unlike some other wineries, Grinders Switch does not purchase bulk wine, preferring to ferment and age all of their own wines in tanks and oak barrels at the Centerville facility. “Our production has almost tripled since opening the Nashville tasting room, and we’d need at least 30 acres of vineyard to grow all the fruit needed to make that much wine. Plus we can’t always guarantee how much we’ll harvest in a given year,” Jodie explains. “We’ve lost entire harvests to late frosts, and we are constantly making wines to keep up with demand. We couldn’t do that if we just depended on our own vineyards.”
Most of those tourists showing up at the front door of the Marathon Village tasting room are drawn in by the chance to taste through a variety of Grinders Switch’s wines. A sampling of your choice of four sweet wines costs $4, while a quartet of their dry varieties runs for $5. Real wine fans can taste through eight wines for just $8, and members of the Armed Forces taste for free. If you purchase a few bottles of their wines, Grinders Switch will usually comp your tasting, so that’s a delightful way to discover some new favorites as well. The list of wines offered changes every few weeks, so there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back.
Unfortunately, most of those trolley riders are on a tight schedule and only have a few minutes to experience the hospitality and winemaking talents of Grinders Switch. They miss out on the most special opportunity at the tasting room, which takes place in a cozy private room hidden in the back of the retail space. Offered by reservation every hour Friday through Sunday from noon until 6 p.m., Grinders Switch treats lucky guests to a “Wine and Cheese Pairing Experience” for just $24.
Morgan enjoys teaching guests about the best ways to match wines with food. “It’s great for parties, girls’ trips or just a fun way to start out an evening out on the town,” Jodie shares. With advance reservations through the Grinders Switch website, you can book your own group up to 12 people or join in with new friends looking to discover how to complement wine with cheeses provided by local cheesemonger The Bloomy Rind and chocolate from East Nashville’s Olive & Sinclair. “We try to get all the cheeses we can from the South,” Jodie promises. “We pair our Magnolia White Gewürztraminer with Herbes de Provence chevre from Noble Springs out of Franklin and our Vidal Blanc with a double-creamed Camembert from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia.”
Each pair of tasters receives a lovely display of cheeses that range from mild, buttery brie to delightfully funky bleus to try with a variety of eight Grinders Switch wines especially chosen to pair with various flavors on the chocolate and cheese board. While there are no real wrong answers when it comes with enjoying wine with cheese, Jodie does offer some excellent guidelines. “The first thing you want to consider is whether the wine is bold or delicate. You want to try to match flavor personalities, so you wouldn’t want to pair a bold cheese with a delicate chardonnay or a soft brie with a giant red wine. Something will get lost, either the wine or the cheese.”
Jodie has other specific suggestions. “A beautiful pairing is bleu cheese with muscadine wine. We have a couple bleus from Kathleen Cotter at The Bloomy Rind that are super funky. Another fun one that goes great with dry red wines is a salty, briny Parmesan and olives. When it comes to white wines, though, you want to think about complementary flavors instead of same to same. A really acidic white grape like vidal goes great with something from the opposite end of the spectrum. I like a really creamy, buttery cheese with that.”
When it comes to pairing sweeter wines, it can be a little more difficult, but Jodie has some hints for you. “We like to pair a really dark chocolate like Olive & Sinclair’s 75% caçao with our sweet wines Razzbury and Honeysuckle Rosé. A lot of people who don’t like sweet wine or really dark chocolate by itself discover that it changes everything when you try them together.”
And her most basic — and potentially useful — bit of pairing knowledge is, “Cheddar goes with everything!”
Jodie offers some final advice: “I generally start by trying the food before the wine, but most of all just practice. Get a lot of wine and a lot of cheese and try them together. Often.” Grinders Switch sells all the wines as well as the cheese and chocolates from the tasting at their Nashville tasting room at 1310 Clinton St., #125. They would be happy to help you build your own tasting for you to do at home, and the prices of their wines and food products are quite affordable. “I often tell the ladies who come in for the pairings that I sell cold bottles of wine. ‘You don’t have to even go out on the town after this. You can just head back to your hotel or Airbnb and have a big time!’ Of course, that goes for us locals as well.”
Whether you enjoy your educational wine and cheese tasting at Grinders Switch or in the comfort of your own home, it’s definitely worth stopping by to experience the warm hospitality of their tasting room. Just don’t get trampled by the line of tourists waiting to buy American Pickers t-shirts at Antique Archaeology next door!
Learn more about Grinders Switch, as well as their wines, wine club, tastings and more, at gswinery.com.
This article is sponsored by Grinders Switch. All photography by Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography.