‘The Judge’: 1901 on Main honors PWF traditions with launch of new wine

Judge Perry Wells (center) poses with "The Judge," a watermelon wine crafted by Steve Ayers (left) and Tammy Ayers (right) of 1901 Winery to honor the traditions of the Panhandle Watermelon Festival. [CAROL KENT | The News]

What began in 1956 as a small gathering at Ross Deal’s watermelon and loading shed in Chipley to celebrate and recognize the impact of watermelon as a local cash crop has grown into to the county’s largest – and arguably most iconic – event: the Panhandle Watermelon Festival. Now in its 68th year, the festival and two of its most prolific leaders are being honored by a local winery with the launch of a watermelon wine.

Steve and Tammy Ayers, owners of 1901 on Main in Chipley, crafted the wine and named it “The Judge,” a nod to both Judge Perry E. Wells, who chaired the festival from 1976 to 2006 and Judge Colby Peel, who picked up the task in 2006 and continues to grow the event each year.

“Judge Perry Wells, a luminary in Chipley’s history, spearheaded the inception of the beloved Watermelon Festival, celebrating the region’s rich agricultural heritage,” said Tammy Ayers. “With The Judge, 1901 on Main pays tribute to his legacy, infusing each sip with the spirit of community and celebration. Today, under the guidance of Judge Colby Peel, the festival continues to thrive, captivating visitors with its vibrant atmosphere and delectable offerings. Judge Peel’s dedication to preserving its essence echoes in every pour of The Judge.”

Judge Wells and Judge Peel – who each took a moment to autograph a few bottles of the wine to commemorate its release – called the homage “an honor.”

“It’s humbling to say the least,” said Judge Wells, now 96. “[The festival] was my life, and when Colby came in, he told me he wanted me to feel free to do whatever I wanted in this festival, and that if I didn’t want to do anything, that was fine, too. Last year was the first time I didn’t do anything, not even attend, because I didn’t feel like I could make it, but a lot of people still recognize me for the Watermelon Festival. It is still part of my life, and this is truly an honor.”

Judge Peel points to the gesture as an illustration of the community’s continued support for its signature event.

“It is certainly an honor and another example of how our local businesses and this community have embraced and supported the Panhandle Watermelon Festival for more than six decades,” he said.

The Ayers family invites the community to stop in and try The Judge, which is also available as a wine slushie. 

“These refreshing concoctions serve as perfect escapes from the sweltering heat, promising a delightful respite for locals and tourists alike,” said Tammy Ayers. “Step into 1901 On Main and raise a glass to Chipley’s rich heritage with The Judge, a tribute to the past and a celebration of the present.”

1901 on Main is located at 803 Main Street in Chipley.

The 2024 Panhandle Watermelon Festival will take place this weekend, June 21 and 22, kicking off with the concert in Jim Trawick Park in Chipley. Gates open at 5 p.m. for children’s activities, and the music begins at 5 p.m. with Grace and Grit, followed by Exile at 7 p.m. and Clay Walker at 8:30 p.m. For a complete schedule, visit panhandlewatermelon.com