Exploring Lebanon’s Vibrant Wine Scene

by | Apr 2024

LEBANON BOASTS many attractions, including Working Man Winery, which is run by the husband-and-wife team of Will and Connie Johnston. Like many proprietors of small businesses, the Johnstons came to the wine business in a roundabout way — they simply loved wineries and enjoyed visiting them. Then Will, according to Connie, started studying winemaking. Around six years ago, he started producing wine in one of their spare bedrooms. And then from there, the endeavor spread to their bonus room. 

Connie, originally from Ohio, is also a real estate agent. When the couple moved to Lebanon, she was struck by an imposing building that dated back to 1933 and was right in the middle of two streets. To Connie, the building had the potential to make a great winery. They ended up buying the building, and with the building also came a little white house. 

“I didn’t know what to do with the white house,” Connie remembers. “We turned it into an antiques store. And we rent space.” 

Will said he sources all the juices and grapes from different states. 

“People ask, ‘Where is your vineyard? Where do you grow the grapes?’ If we waited for the grapes to grow, we’d be dead!” 

This is true with a lot of wineries. In specific states, only a certain type of grape is grown. Tennessee has very sweet grapes, so you’d only have a lot of sweet wines. Some of Working Man Winery’s grapes are from Tennessee, but the majority of its grapes and juices come from Washington and California. Working Man Winery has 10 varieties of wine, from dry to sweet. The sweets really aren’t heavy. As the Johnstons described it, “They’re kind of crisp.” 

Running the winery has also led to a full-fledged immersion into the Lebanon community. 

“Lebanon’s a really cool small town. They have a square and so many new restaurants. Things are really new and fast here. We get a variety of people — it’s so fun. That’s why we love doing it — because we love meeting people and the stories! People come in here and they’ll talk for hours and tell us their stories, and where they came from and what they’re doing. It’s a variety of young and old — 21 and older, of course.” 

Connie and Will are also members of the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce and part of the Historical District Society. There was a historical tour at Christmastime, and the winery had around 150 people who came through. 

Working Man is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but it manages to fit in a varied schedule. There is a large outdoor court yard and yard area, which is also dog-friendly. Local bands and musicians perform on a weekly basis, and the Johnstons are hoping to build a stage for summertime outdoor concerts. 

“Keith Urban hasn’t come by yet,” joked Connie, “but I expect him sometime soon!” 

The winery doesn’t serve dinner but does have charcuterie boards and serves pretzel bites and finger foods. Working Man also has wine tastings, called “wine flights,” and is just starting bingo. The winery has utilized local businesses to sponsor the bingo so that the community can become involved with the winery, and local businesses benefit as well. Another attraction is “Sip and Paint.” People will come in and have a flight of wine while there is an artist who teaches them how to paint. 

“Distilleries and breweries are popping up everywhere,” Connie notes. 

This is a nationwide phenomenon, and the winery is part of this trend as well. One explanation for this newfound popularity is that younger people are looking for something that they can experience instead of just buying. 

It’s easy to see why that experience is such an attractive option for so many people. Working Man Winery offers outdoor space, wine and food, music, and the chance to meet interesting people. Your dog is warmly invited to stay and hang out at the winery with you. 

The winery is a good starting point for those who wish to experience more of Lebanon. And it is fair to say Keith Urban is always welcome. GN

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