Jacob Willis Paulk met Judy (Gladys Juliette) Handley when she was sweeping the school auditorium. He was impressed with this smart and industrious girl who would take on such a chore. Later he found out that her work was punishment for chewing gum in class! They became high school sweethearts, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jacob graduated from the University of Georgia with an agricultural engineering degree, then joined the Air Force. He and Judy lived in a camper while he attended Penn State where he received a degree in meteorology. The Air Force sent them to Puerto Rico, where they had Terrence and Gary. They moved their growing family back home to farm and had Larry, then Jacob Willis, Jr. (JW). Their four boys grew up, married, and have children and grandchildren of their own. At the last count, there are 11 grandchildren (plus in-laws!) and 9 great-grandchildren in the Paulk family, who lovingly refer to their grandparents as Papa Jacob and Mama Judy. Most folks around town know exactly who they are talking about, and some even call them Papa Jacob and Mama Judy themselves!
Over the years, Papa Jacob raised even more than his family. He planted and grew traditional row crops to fruit trees and berries, and even tried his hand at some livestock. From figs to pigs, corn to cotton, olives to persimmons, there doesn’t seem to be anything he didn’t try. It’s that innovative spirit that drove Papa Jacob to plant his first muscadine vines in 1970. He knew that muscadines thrive in a hot, humid climate because they are native to the south. That first planting has grown to almost 600 acres of muscadines harvested each year at Paulk Vineyards.
As farmer, Papa Jacob always had an appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy living. However, after having quintuple bypass surgery at the age of 45, Papa Jacob completely changed his diet. No more fried chicken or sweet tea; from then on, it was fruits and veggies, including carrot juice and smoothies. He also began taking natural health supplements and exercising more. Thanks to those modifications, Papa Jacob stayed off all prescription medicines and had no other health problems for decades.
In his constant research of healthy living, Papa Jacob discovered in the late 1990s-early 2000s, that muscadines are not only great-tasting, they are also quite healthy. He worked closely with researchers at UGA and other universities to determine all the health benefits muscadines offer. In 2002, the Food Network show “Food Finds” featured Paulk Vineyards, Papa Jacob, and the muscadine grape seed capsules he manufactured by hand. The phone rang off the hook for days, with Mama Judy taking orders as quickly as she could! After that, Papa Jacob saw the potential for a unique market and invited his grandson, Chris, to come back home to begin a new business venture – Muscadine Products Corporation. Chris still runs that business today, and it has grown in the spirit of healthy living that Papa Jacob started so many years ago.
The Paulk family lost Mama Judy to Parkinson’s disease in 2013. Her memory lives on as the family continues to gather on Sundays and holidays throughout the year. She was like a mother hen, always wanting the family together around her under her wings. Papa Jacob passed away in 2017, leaving behind a legacy to carry forward of dreaming, building, and growing. His sons continue to take care of the farm, and Paulk Vineyards strives to provide our customers with the freshest and sweetest muscadines available!