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March 22, 2014

Paulk Vineyards is an Irwin County institution

IRWIN COUNTY — Paulk Vineyards was started by Jacob Paulk in the 1950s and continues to grow and thrive in Irwin County.

It continues as a family business as Jacob, his sons, Gary and J.W.; along with grandson, Chris, are all involved in the day-to-day running of the operation.

Out of the offices in Wray, "We operate two businesses from this location. Muscadine Products Corporation is located here and we also manage the offices of Jacob W. Paulk Farms, Inc. doing business as Paulk Vineyards," said Chris Paulk.

While Wray may not be a featured part of any Georgia map, the Paulk family's muscadines have went gone all over the nation and the globe.

"During our harvest, Paulk Vineyards ships fresh muscadines to wholesale markets as far north as Brooklyn, N.Y., and west into Dallas, Texas. We cover up the southeastern US with muscadines at numerous supermarkets, also. My dad, Gary, coordinates all of the fresh muscadine sales," Paulk said.

He added, "Muscadine Products Corporation produces muscadine juices, concentrates and ingredients that are shipped globally. We supply retailers throughout the southeastern United States with our bottled products, while domestic and international customers purchase our ingredients for food, juice and dietary supplement development."

With that much ground to cover, the Vineyards are a big part of the Irwin County economy.

"Paulk Vineyards and Muscadine Products Corporation add tremendous value to the Irwin County economy. I'm not sure how to quantify the value. But, as a group of family operations  we employ almost 30 people year round and over 300 seasonal team members during the harvest. We grow over 600 acres of muscadines," said Paulk. "And, I plan on processing over 2,000 tons of muscadines and other raw materials this year into juices, concentrates, and powders improving life for consumers throughout our region and around the globe."

As far as the actual growing season for muscadines, Paulk said, "The muscadine harvest season begins around the end of July and lasts until late September. Most of our varieties are grown for fresh fruit consumption, so the fruit is hand harvested. We pick each vine 3-5 times on a weekly basis in order to pick the freshest muscadines. And, there are early, mid, and late-season varieties. So, this stretches the season out for 8-10 weeks. All of our processing varieties are mechanically  harvested, and we pick those over the course of a couple of weeks," said Paulk.

Work continues in the fields, even when no grapes are being produced.

"Throughout the winter, we prune the vineyard. Muscadines grow on new vines. So, we mechanically cut and hand prune each vine. This process takes a couple of months to complete. Coming into the spring, we start applying lime, fertilizer, fungicides and herbicides," said Paulk.

"And, then into summer, the vines bloom and set the fruit for the upcoming harvest.  This entire process requires lots of attention, love and prayer for beneficial weather. Like anything in agriculture, we realize that we are ultimately not in control."

Those dietary supplements, Paulk mentioned earlier, as well as the other muscadine products are one of the specialities of the operation.

"Muscadines contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any other fruits in the world. They also contain very unique phytochemicals. So, when you consume the supplements these antioxidants manifest themselves in very beneficial ways. Most of the muscadine research has focused on anti-inflammatory benefits,"  Paulk said. "Muscadines have the potential of relieving inflammation in the cardiovascular and digestive systems. The National Cancer Institute also conducted a very powerful prostate cancer study 6 years ago. I am very excited about the many opportunities muscadine products may encounter in benefitting human health in the future."

Paulk has simple wishe for the future of the family business.

"Our hopes for Paulk Vineyards is that we can continue providing the best muscadines to consumers who grew up with them in the South and to new consumers who are falling in love with the fruit for the unique benefits and flavor," said Paulk. "My hopes for Muscadine Products Corporation is that we can continue what we started 10 years ago... producing regionally grown fruit products for people around the world desiring a healthy, natural life."

And he also hopes that uses for the muscadine continue to grow.

"Muscadines have a very unique story. One story that is very rich with southern history and nostalgia. Now, a new story is being written based on research and health. I believe we are just starting to realize the many benefits muscadines have to offer human health," Paulk said.

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