Cathy Powell loves the outdoors and grew up on a farm, but she never imagined she would one day run her own vineyard.

Her journey down this road began six years ago when she tried to save an especially cherished grape vine on her family property. One thing led to another, and now she has acres of grapes — red and white muscadines as well as the hybrid Cynthiana/Norton, grown by Thomas Jefferson and known as the “cabernet of the Ozarks.”

Powell’s adventure began in 2004 when she visited a local vineyard on a fact-finding mission. The purpose of her trip was to get advice on how she could save a large grapevine after the tree supporting it had died. She found herself awed by the beauty of the vineyard’s meticulously manicured fields.

The next week, Powell’s husband attended a meeting in Dobson and heard about Surry Community College’s viticulture program. He recognized it as an opportunity his wife would appreciate.

“The following Monday, I was in class, and it was not a beginner class,” Cathy Powell said. “That is what happens when your husband thinks you are superwoman. I was overwhelmed and unfamiliar with the terminology, but I studied hard, got hands-on training working in local vineyards and enjoyed myself thoroughly.”

The Powells began serious preparations for a vineyard in the fall of 2005: clearing land, taking soil samples, and researching varieties, trellises, fertilizers and equipment. By the spring of 2006, they had planted six acres of muscadine grapes — four acres of the red variety Noble and two acres of the white variety Carlos. In addition, Powell planted two acres of the Cynthiana/Norton grapes she had heard about in class. These hybrid grapes of uncertain origin were in cultivation in the eastern United States by the early 1800s.

Powell chose carefully and purposely. She wanted grapes that had minimal pest problems and desirable attributes such as high levels of antioxidants, including the heart-healthy compound resveratrol. She also wanted there to be slight differences in maturity times so she could stagger timing of routine maintenance. Those prerequisites contribute to the efficiency of the operation.

In her determination to do things right, Powell researches each step she takes thoroughly and seeks expert advice. Early in the process, however, one recommendation almost brought her enterprise to a halt. That piece of advice involved application of the fertilizer boron.

Boron is a micronutrient. Grapes need it, but only in very small quantities. The recommendation she received and followed was way too high. Within days, her Noble and Cynthiana/Norton plants shriveled.