By Anne Braly
Hunters are right on point when they gather in the pastures of East Tennessee to hunt quail at Windy Hill Farm and Preserve. But up until four years ago, that’s about all there was to do.
Now folks, both quail hunters and nonhunters alike, gather in coveys to celebrate the land and all of its bounty, not just the quail, though the upland bird is a large part of an escape into Tennessee’s backcountry at Windy Hill. The boutique resort is spread over 650 acres embraced by the Smokies to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west.
On The Hunt
There are two hunts available every day. Early birds can get out of the fields around 9 AM or sleep in and hit the fields around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. All hunts include professional guides as well as trained bird dogs who are adept at finding quail, hidden deep within the grasses in fields bordering the Tennessee River.
Windy Hill owner Steven Brewington’s family bought the farm back in 2001 and built a beautiful farmhouse overlooking the river. He spent much of his youth hunting and traipsing through the fields and woods of the family property, once a cattle farm.
Those years, he says, gave him a chance to learn more about the intricacies of land management and, after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, worked alongside a team of agriculture specialists from UTK to bring the land back to life, planting the correct grasses to sustain a healthy population of quail.
“We started releasing birds before 2018 and we saw our first hatchlings about three springs ago,” Brewington says. “So now we are reproducing and brooding all the way from birth to survivability now. And people from surrounding farms are telling me they are really appreciating having wild quail back in their fields, as well.”
The fields are stocked with pen-raised quail most every day to supplement the wild population to ensure hunters will have a memorable experience.
In 2018, Brewington began offering guided hunts and, wanting to offer a full experience to hunters, built a lodge with a kitchen, offering overnight accommodations in the home that his grandfather built on the property. Brewington and farm manager Prescott Stone slowly began developing the property to expand the quail preserve into a resort that offered experiences that went beyond hunting.
Cabins were built and opened in 2021, and the lodge was expanded to include Wilder, a restaurant that now feeds not only guests at Windy Hill but also folks from around the area who want a taste of Chef Ben Warwick’s creative take on Southern favorites. The restaurant also offers an unparalleled setting with views of the surrounding Tennessee Valley.
The most recent addition to the resort is an eight-room luxury bunkhouse, bringing the number of overnight accommodations to 17 rooms that include the nine cabins and five more bedrooms in the farmhouse.
Dining at Wilder
Chef Ben Warwick grew up in the Knoxville culinary scene and worked at several cutting-edge restaurants in Knoxville while working his way up the food chain, cutting his teeth on international cuisine at places, including Mango, Cha-Cha, and Stirfry.
He also worked for a spell at Cherokee Country Club before moving on to Blackberry Farm in nearby Walland, Tenn.
“Our goal was to have culinary experiences in the Tennessee Valley with an international player, and Ben has jumped in head first with us,” Brewington says. “He’s really doing some cool international stuff.”
Three meals a day are included in a stay at Windy Hill. For breakfast, the menu features a nice choice of favorites, including a bowl of mouthwatering goat cheese grits. Lunch offers a nice mix of salads and sandwiches and made-from-scratch soups. Dinner is an event to be remembered, particularly if you order the elk chop.
Though the menu changes with the seasons, Warwick says that the elk is a house favorite that stays on the menu year-round and for good reason. It’s seasoned to perfection and fork-tender with each bite. It’s an amazing piece of meat.
In keeping with the quail theme that encompasses this resort, buttermilk fried quail is on the dinner menu each night, as well. Both the elk and the quail are part of a four-course meal served at dinner each night at Wilder.
Beyond The Hunt
For non-hunters or hunters looking to step out of the field for a while, the resort offers a wide range of activities, some, such as hiking, biking, yard games and s-mores around the campfire, are included in a stay at Windy Hill, while others are offered at an added cost.
One of the favorites is a wine hike through the woods.
This is an experience like none other for xenophiles and nature lovers, giving guests a unique opportunity to sample five different wines and learn about the geography and topography of the earth beneath their feet along a mile-long route.
Wine “stations” are set up in strategic places along an easy winding path, and as guests sip and stroll, a guide talks about the wines and the woodlands. Wear sturdy shoes and get ready for an experience like none other. The 90-minute hike with generous pours is $125.
The sport of archery has exploded in popularity in recent years and Windy Hill offers a chance to test your skills under the direction of a trained guide for $45 per one-hour session.
Or, sip and savor your way through a flight of bourbons with an afternoon bourbon tasting under the tutelage of a member of the food and beverage team for $95 per person.
Other add-ons are:
- A beekeeping and honey tasting at the farm’s apiary.
- Sporting clays at the five stand.
- Fishing in the farm ponds for bass and catfish — poles and boat included.
- Kayaking and paddle boarding on the Tennessee River.
- A cooking class led by Chef Ben Warwick.
- Mountain biking.
- In-room massages are especially good after a day at Windy Hill, hiking, biking, hunting, and indulging in an escape from the busyness of everyday life
The staff at Windy Hill will also curate your stay and accommodate guests’ whims and wishes as best they can.
For information or reservations at Windy Hill visit windyhillfarmtn.com.