Fall Getaways: East Tennessee slowdown


September 28, 2023

Spend a long weekend at Windy Hill Farm and Preserve to experience cozy, contemporary accommodations and the wondrous bounty of the uplands table.

by Michael J. Solender | photographs courtesy Windy Hill Farm and Preserve

When the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee approached Steven Brewington in 2014 about reintroducing native warm-season grasses to his family’s farm in Loudon, Tenn., it was the beginning of an unanticipated journey.

Brewington, a Knoxville native and UT graduate, had taken over the stewardship of his grandfather’s cattle operation, 650 acres of prime agricultural land surrounded on three sides by the snaking Tennessee River. He was intrigued by the university’s science-based research project exploring more productive and sustainable farming methods and was eager to return native habitat to the property. 

The decision sparked a near decade-long transformation of the land, from raising hundreds of Black Angus cattle to hosting dozens of guests enjoying the wide open spaces and nature conservancy at east Tennessee’s Windy Hill Farm and Preserve.  

In July, Windy Hill celebrated its one-year anniversary as an outdoor retreat and getaway. It’s easy to see the appeal, especially for busy urbanites needing to recharge. 

Photographs by Finch Photo


Guests will find expansive contemporary farmhouse accommodations, a chef-driven seasonal menu inspired by the farm’s vast gardens, and activities from quail hunting (in season), fishing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and paddleboarding along 2 miles of river frontage. Visitors can personalize their stay with experiences such as sporting clays shooting, beekeeping, culinary classes, wine tastings and wine hikes. There are sure to be many unscripted nature encounters — while the deer here are not tame, they are more than plentiful and spied in large numbers.

Despite the array of on-site activities, many guests visit the resort to simply take in the quiet with lazy walks on the well-marked trails or sipping a cold beverage in an Adirondack chair on the porch, watching nearby raptors soar along the ridgetops. Unplugging from the daily stressors of city life doesn’t take long, with views of both the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains providing a soothing balm.

“We gradually converted more land to wildlife habitat and saw the revenue opportunities to shift from agricultural to hospitality,” says Brewington, general manager and proprietor of Windy Hill. Brewington, who grew up working summers on the farm with his siblings and cousins, was taught respect for the land and introduced to responsible hunting as a youngster. 

Photographs by Finch Photo

As he continued to expand the planting of native grasses on the farm, quail, turkey, deer and other wildlife returned. “We first hosted quail hunting in 2018,” Brewington says. “We wanted to deliver a quality experience. Overnight guests stayed at the farmhouse (the original five-bedroom homestead built by his grandfather) and we provided great food and a first-rate hunt unlike most other options.”

Since the upland quail-hunting season is only five months, from October to March, leisure offerings expanded. “We knew we wanted to offer year-round options for guests beyond hunting,” Brewington says. The farm exited the cattle business last year and embarked on a $10 million expansion, adding nine well-appointed cabins, eight lodge rooms and a restaurant.

Mountain biking, yard games and nightly bonfires are included with your stay, along with Friday evening outdoor concerts (think acoustic bluegrass and folk music) and a tricked-out golf cart for exploring. Other activities (fishing, beekeeping, kayaking) are available with an activities pass ($125 per person) or on an a-la-carte basis. 

Photographs by Finch Photo


Breakfast, lunch and dinner are also included — each contemporary Appalachian indulgence is prepared by executive chef Ben Warwick and his team at Windy Hill’s Wilder restaurant. The name is an homage to Brewington’s grandfather, who grew up in a coal camp in Wilder, Va., and experienced the melding of various immigrant cultures bringing traditions and flavors of their homelands to their communal tables. 

“It’s been a dream to create something special here and work alongside Steven, the family and the leadership team here,” says Warwick, whose wife, Marlee Harriss, is Windy Hill’s director of hospitality. “I love the idea behind Wilder, which is bringing different techniques and concepts to local ingredients and taking the guest along with flavors and foods that may be unfamiliar yet deliver on an unexpected and newly appreciated journey.”

Prepare to be wowed as Warwick’s creativity and nuanced approach coupled with clean ingredients make every meal at Wilder a special occasion. Lunch on a recent visit began with a chilled garden-fresh cucumber radish soup, thickened with buttermilk ricotta and finished with fresh mint. The cool gazpacho-esque bisque was flecked with togarashi, the ubiquitous Japanese spice blend making the starter the perfect foil for a hot August afternoon. The next course — a partially deboned quail with a cornmeal/cracker crust — was shallow-fried and served atop a tangy Alabama white barbeque sauce. Accompanied by fried potatoes and a sweet-and-sour citrus slaw, the dish was satisfying and a nod to the preserve. 

Photographs by Finch Photo

At dinner, a seared red snapper crusted with a house-made citrus ash — the chef burns oranges, lemons and limes on the grill, then dehydrates them to make his magical powder — was served atop a white-bean ragu stewed in a vegetable brodo with three plump mussels. Desserts are a journey, such as a simple-yet-elegant apple pavlova, a deep chocolatey layered pot du crème, or a lemon tart with salted caramel sauce.

Sunday brunch is not to be missed, with made-to-order specials like date-butter biscuits, grape toast (almond and roasted grape bruschetta), a chicken sandwich with citrus slaw and white barbecue sauce, and masa cakes with pork belly and peaches, delivering a delightful twist to the standard breakfast fare.

Guests who sign up for an hourlong cooking class with Chef Warwick will learn firsthand how supporting a lower-volume restaurant allows for a special and personalized guest experience. “We take the energy we’re used to putting into 200-300 covers per night into 40 or 50 guests an evening,” Warwick says. “It means a better experience for everyone.” Vegetarians and vegans need not worry — Warwick works wonders with the vast local bounty.

Guests at Windy Hill shouldn’t conflate personalized service and luxe accommodations with anything elite or stuffy. “We’re not a suit-and-tie or stuffy kind of place,” Brewington says. “We want our guests to come, unwind and, above all, feel comfortable and like family. There’s a lot of room here. We want people to come and spread out.”  SP

Windy Hill Farm and Preserve is located on Breck Ellison Rd. in Loudon, Tenn., about an hour west of Knoxville and a 4.5-hour drive from Charlotte. Learn more at windyhilltn.com.

Featured image: Photograph by Finch Photo

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