In 2001, Lee took the equity out of her home and purchased 20 acres in the Yorkville Highlands, beginning the intensive process of establishing her vineyard with soil digs, land clearing, and analysis to ensure the land was suitable for grape growing. Two years later she finally planted her five-acre vineyard with Petite Sirah, adopted her Greek name (from pledging Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at Spelman College), and established Theopolis Vineyards. Her dream of being a grape farmer had become a reality.
For almost a decade, Lee was content being a grape farmer—plowing the land, pruning the vines, fertilizing the vineyard, mowing, chopping, weed-eating, controlling erosion, tying the shoots up to T-posts, fruit-thinning, and picking the grapes during harvest. “As any winemaker will tell you, great wine starts in the vineyard,” Lee says. “That’s why vineyard management is essential to growing premium wine grapes. As a grower, I—along with my vineyard manager—are intricately involved in all seasonal activities associated with the vineyard.”
Initially, she sold her Petite Sirah to such esteemed clients as Carlisle Winery and Halcyon Vineyards. For her first harvest in 2006, critic Robert Parker bestowed stellar ratings of 94-96 points upon wines made from Theopolis Vineyards grapes, a spectacular showing that helped build her reputation as a grower.
Farming is fickle, though. In 2012, an ill-timed rain compromised the growing season, forcing a client to reject this contracted fruit; finding herself in a pinch, Lee decided to custom-crush these grapes under her own label. When her resulting 2012 Petite Sirah received a gold medal from Sunset Magazine, Theopolis Vineyards was officially underway.
Since then, the winery has consistently produced 90 + point, Best in Class, Double Gold and Gold Medal wines. “I love serving pleasure in the bottle,” Lee says with a smile. “When the consumer enjoys our wines, that’s a fantastic experience that I really enjoy.”