Founded by Lewis D. Peeler in 1917, Cheerwine is a Piedmont-produced and distributed soda based in Salisbury, North Carolina. Famous for its distinct cherry flavor and burgundy color, Cheerwine has enjoyed tremendous popularity among many North Carolinians though its reception and distribution outside the state has been limited. The beverage, named “cheer” for the pleasure it induces and “wine” for its deep red color inspired the company’s first slogan: “For health and pleasure.”
Though Cheerwine was invented 1917, the story of the drink began four years prior. After buying into a Kentucky-based bottling company named Mint-Cola Bottling, Peeler and other investors opened a local franchise of the company near the railroad line of Salisbury, North Carolina. When the Mint-Cola Bottling filed for bankruptcy, Peeler bought the franchise and used it to found the Carolina Beverage Corporation. Soon after, Peeler set out to develop a drink with a unique taste, yet one that required less sugar – a significant concern for other beverage producers during the sugar shortage of the day. According to the Cheerwine Company, a salesman from St. Louis approached Peeler and sold him a formula for a wild cherry beverage that met Peeler’s needs. After some adjustments, Cheerwine was born, and later that year, it was sold to North Carolinians.
As the beverage grew in popularity, so did its geographic distribution. Renamed the Piedmont Cheerwine Bottling Company in 1924 to increase brand recognition, Cheerwine marketers worked to solidify its hold on western North Carolina. Following his death, L.D.’s son, Clifford Peeler, began an aggressive marketing and distributing campaign to expand the Cheerwine product lines beyond the borders of the Carolinas and Virginia to other regions of the country. Through various distributing companies, Clifford introduced the beverage in places as far as Illinois. However, the company chose to forfeit expanding distribution in exchange for higher quality control of their products in the region.
Though it seems Cheerwine will remain primarily a regional beverage, the brand’s solid foothold in North Carolina and neighboring states suggest its continued success as a niche soda in the area. Chief Executive Officer of Carolina Beverage Corporation Mark Ritchie and CEO Clifford Ritchie of Cheerwine Bottling, brothers and descendants of L.D. Peeler, continue the daily operations of the soda today.
William S. Powell, Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2006); “Since 1917.” Cheerwine. 2008. Carolina Beverage Corporation. 23 Feb. 2009 http://www.cheerwine.com/.