Many of us slide eagerly down Wednesday’s hump toward Friday. When the last day of our workweek finally arrives, we breathe in deep as if the air is suddenly sweeter and more soothing than whatever else we’ve been breathing. We follow up our posts with TGIF hashtags. And best of all, we feel a sense of solidarity with our fellow man because, regardless of race, gender, religion, or creed, we are all thanking God that it’s Friday.
If on a Friday evening you find yourself driving north on the bypass into Humboldt, you’ll pass some crops, the grounds of the Humboldt Golf and Country Club, the Humboldt Municipal Airport, and eventually, if you’re looking, rows of Sangiovese grapevines. Then if you turn right on East Mitchell Street and drive just a quarter of a mile down the way, you’ll find Crown Winery. Sitting up on a hill at the corner of a twenty-three acre vineyard is the Italian-style villa with terracotta roofing and bignonia vines climbing up its stucco walls and wrapping around the building’s balconies. Many come here to savor their Friday at the winery’s Wine Down & Beer Up, a weekly event that’s free and open to the public. Tables and seating are provided, and people often bring picnics to enjoy while they listen to live music and sip on Crown’s wines as well as craft beers from Memphis’s High Cotton Brewing Co.
On a recent Friday night trip to Crown Winery, as my friends and I turn the corner of East Mitchell and see the villa emerging to our right, nostalgia begins to swell in my stomach. Partly because I worked at Crown for a year and a half after college, but also because it’s simply the kind of place that provokes that feeling in you.
Rita Howard, co-owner of Crown, later shares with me why she thinks that’s so. “Because I lived in Florence, and I love Italian architecture,” she tells me, “I wanted the villa to look like it had been here for hundreds of years, and I think we’ve managed to create that to a certain extent. I wanted people to feel like they weren’t in Humboldt, Tennessee. . . . I wanted people to feel some of the excitement I felt when I first went to Italy or went to England or went to Greece—to feel that they’re in a different world.”
nd indeed, as my friends and I choose our wine and settle at a table on the patio before the music begins, I start churning through memories that feel like they’re from a different world. Memories of sitting in the shade of jasmine and chocolate vines and lunching on cheese and sausage and a baguette. Memories of sampling new wines, a muscadine, maybe a Chambourcin, and extending my arms and legs into the sun and feeling the warmth of the place.
Crown’s owners Peter and Rita Howard have seen much of the world. Both travelers, Rita, Miss Tennessee 1961, and Peter, an English gas physicist, met while skiing in Austria. “I spotted this really good looking, tall guy,” Rita says. “This guy had this look about him.” A while later, being a novice skier, Rita found herself stuck at the top of steep slope and unsure of how to get down. At least until she heard the voice of an Englishman asking if she needed help. She looked up, and there he was. The guy she spotted with that “Robert Redford look” offered to pick her up and ski her down the mountain. Playing up her Southern belle accent, she accepted his help. Six months later they were married, and many years later they returned to Rita’s hometown of Humboldt, Tennessee. Now the couple spends much of their time at Crown Winery, where you can see traces of their memories enriching the nostalgia of the place. Rita’s crowns from her pageant days are on display, and the Union Jack flies alongside the American and Tennessee flags as a nod to the Crown of Peter’s homeland.
As we enjoy Wine Down and the sun begins to set and the air to cool, I realize that it’s not just my memories of this place or the Howards’ memories that make it so enchanting, but also those of the many people who visit. Even now, memories are being born around us. A family celebrates a birthday and plays with a newly gifted selfie stick. It’s the anniversary of one beaming couple cozying up to each other. A bride-to-be dances in the arms of the man she will marry the next day here at Crown Winery. Inside the villa you can see photographs of the many weddings that have taken place on the grounds. On Instagram you’ll find pictures of people enjoying wine tastings, tours, or the music on Friday nights. I think of the brides and the Friday night regulars that I still run into around town. Otherwise strangers, we will still stop to say hello and ask how the other is doing, connected by some bond that was formed in the building up of memory and new little worlds. The family celebrating a birthday huddles together, puts their arms around each other, and laughs when someone clumsily extends their selfie stick to capture the moment, catching all of us in the background with them.
Crown Winery is located at 3638 E Mitchell Street in Humboldt, TN. They are open Tuesday through Sunday. You can find a schedule of upcoming Wine Down & Beer Ups at their website or call 731.784.8100 to make reservations and inquire about tours and tastings.
Josh Garcia is a commercial photographer who landed in Jackson in 2008. With a B.A. in English from Union University in his back pocket, he’s abandoned other adjectives for “home” when describing this city. He enjoys reading, writing, photography, and cultivating community around the dinner table. #INFJ
Photography by Josh Garcia.