Owner/Operator Greg Bohlen with grape breeder Jeff Bloodworth on how Union Grove Farm is pioneering thin-skinned, seedless Muscadine grapes. 2.5 minutes.
Union Grove Farm and Vineyard now stands at the site of the former Maple View Dairy Farm.
The story of Union Grove Farm and Vineyard tells a story about the future of farming in Orange County. It also tells a story about the past.
From 1963 to 2021, Union Grove Farm was known as Maple View Farm, established by Robert “Bob” Nutter, a fifth-generation farmer who moved here from Maine. In 1996 the Maple View Farm Milk Company was created, and after 25 years in milk production, the company closed its barn doors. And yes: the cattle all went to good homes.
Greg Bohlen, who moved here from Illinois with his family in 2001, bought the farm in 2021. Greg was the owner and operator of neighboring Union Grove Farm, and, like Nutter, a fifth-generation farmer. He is also a venture capitalist, an early investor in Twitter, Poshmark and dozens of other techs startups. Now Bohlen is investing in regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is a farming process that disturbs the land as little as possible while keeping it covered and planted to improve soil health, allowing you to grow in a sustainable fashion without herbicides or insecticides. But Bohlen’s pursuit of an eco-friendly method for farming grapes should come as no surprise. He was serving on the board of directors for Beyond Meat, a Los Angeles-based maker of plant-based, vegan meat when he began moving in this direction.
He’s now purchased about 1,000 acres – including Maple View Farm – where he’s gradually restoring the land. Traditional farming releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, prevents it, and even sequesters it.
Greg would be the first to tell you that the vineyard has not been an overnight success.
In 2001, when Bohlen first purchased 10 acres of farmland, he and his sons planted fruit trees with a goal of operating a pick-your-own produce business. After three years of disastrous mortality rates, however, it was clear the orchard was a losing battle: the soil was simply too arid. Gradually, Bohlen and his team turned to regenerative agriculture.
Union Grove produced its first grape harvest in the spring of 2019.
Union Grove is planting thinned-skinned, seedless muscadine grapes, a variety Bohlen helped to build and chose because they are native to North Carolina and full of antioxidents. He says it makes a “horrible wine,” but now that he’s hybridized a seedless version with a thinner skin, they make great table grapes. They’re nutritional as well.
“We are now on a journey to create a legacy vineyard here in the Chapel Hill area across the street from Maple View Farm Ice Cream Store (still a separate and operated business) along with cultivating the best possible grapes for our community. We’re on a track and a path to be the largest vineyard east of the Mississippi.” This year he plans to plant almost 10,000 vines; next year, 60,000.
Regenerative farming is at the heart of what Union Grove Farm is doing. Recently, they purchased the Maple View Agricultural Education Center with the goal of educating farmers and the community on the value of regenerative agriculture and how to transition from traditional farming.
And that’s not all. Bohlen hopes to make Union Grove a destination as well. His family has already built a wedding and event venue on Union Grove Church Road, and now Bohlen is currently working with a team to build a beer garden and a distillery on the old Maple View Farm property. They purchased Top of the Hill’s distilling equipment when the Chapel Hill distillery shut down earlier this year.
“I’d be lying if I said that we’re doing this just because we’re altruistic. There’s a substantial profit motive that’s driving what we’re doing. But more importantly, we’re focused on how we’re doing it through regenerative farming. Just like every other frontier opportunity, there’s substantial risk.”
For a venture that began as a few fruit trees at the turn of the century, the progress here is stunning.
Today visitors can tour the working vineyard of seedless Muscadine table grapes.
This tour includes:
Touring their vermicompost lab to meet 40,000 red wiggler worms who create amazing natural fertilizers to build soil and grow crops without chemicals fertilizers
Exploring beautiful green pastures to learn about the value of cover crops, irrigation ponds, beehives, mushroom logs, hügelkultur and more
Visiting with their Katahdin sheep and learning how livestock are foundational to this viable ecosystem.
Maple View Farm is an iconic feature of Orange County’s past, and a provider of its future in Union Grove Farm and Vineyard. It’s another example of the tightrope of time that our patch of North Carolina soil is doing its best to balance on. So far, so good.