The 72 students in Buford’s graduating class of 1996 were a tightly clustered bunch. They saw the world come to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics when, just two years prior, many of them boarded the first airplane they had ever been on to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“Remember, that was the first Buford group we took to sing at the GMEA conference (in Savannah),” recounted Dr. Chris Fowler, who was the choral director at BHS from 1992-2020. “They were smart, talented and motivated. They were scholars, athletes and artists who were fiercely loyal to each other and the Buford way of doing things.”
And I well remember. They embodied triple-A excellence before it was branded, and they are still out there doing “sweet” things.
One such ’96 alumnus is Sean Wilborn.
Sean is a self-described “wine farmer” and is the owner of the newly opened Cloudland Vineyards & Winery in Buford. A true kindergarten-through-12th-grade “lifetimer” of Buford City Schools, Sean is the youngest of three sons of Paula and the late Rymon Wilborn. A little over a decade ago, Sean gained a stepdad in widower Robert Perkins, who had lost his wife, Judy (another beloved figure in our community for whom the Judy Perkins Memorial Scholarship is named).
While in high school, Sean was an integral part of the Buford Choral Music Department where he was a Variety Show soloist and member of the District Honor Chorus, All State Chorus and the State Champion Men’s Quartet. Equally comfortable in the spotlight or the sunlight, he was also a member of the golf team and loved surfing and spending time outdoors. Some of his fondest high school memories include chorus, as well as his small engines, welding and typing classes. He cites Chris Fowler as being his favorite teacher in high school.
“Amazing human,” Sean said. “He gave us an identity as adults in society, was inspiring, fun and instilled discipline in us.
“Music in high school sent the message that I could follow my dreams and supported my passion of playing music,” Sean said.
Along with a few other local high school friends, Sean formed the band “Bandolé,” with whom he wrote and recorded an EP as the group’s guitar playing front man.
“Chorus changed and formed my life for the better,” he said; but when asked if he could go back to any one high school class, Sean quickly answered, “Welding. So many times I’ve needed to weld something, but I didn’t get enough experience with MIG and TIG welding,” explaining how this training from high school is a skill that has served him well in his work.
After graduation, Sean attended college before putting academics on hold to pursue his musical passion. He later completed a degree in business from Daytona State University in 2001. Sean, who was flying planes and in real estate development after college until 2012, said he has always been an entrepreneur at heart.
“After my dad’s plane crash in 2001, that kind of ended flying for me and put a lot of things in perspective,” Sean said. “I always wanted to do something big in my life; not just go through life with offices and bills, and I always loved being outside, growing things and giving life to something.”
He cites the quote from St. Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is in man fully alive,” adding, “And I wanted to live life to the fullest and pursue my dreams and eventually come back home and give life to something big in Buford.”
In 2012, Sean left his job in real estate and professionally entered the world of grapes and wine making, which he’d been dabbling in for the previous decade. Finally, in 2020, he opened Cloudland Vineyards & Winery, which has quickly become a “hidden gem” favorite on North Bogan Road in Buford.
Sean has interwoven two of his passions as guests to the vineyard can sip on his creations and listen to live music from local artists on Friday and Saturday nights. And … I heard it through the grapevine (sorry, I couldn’t resist) that every once in a while, Sean might pick up a guitar and grab a mic, too.
“My dream of music never really died; it’s just that I’m able to help other artists now and live their dream of possibly being discovered.” He continued, “We mostly focus on original singer/songwriter artists, but we are excited to have recently booked Bruce Hornsby for the spring of 2022.”
Professionally, Sean is affiliated with the Buford Business Alliance, the Rotary Club and the Gwinnett and Hall County Chambers of Commerce. He still enjoys surfing, music and his family — and, of course, viticulture.
Sean has an exclusive contract on an eight-acre vineyard in Virginia and sources other Georgia fruit. Cloudland is situated on 10-and-a-half acres near Friendship and Bogan Roads, and there, they grow Lomanto grapes, which produce an award winning dry, red wine. Sean interjected, “The Lomanto is our most popular wine … Of all the grapes we bring in, our most popular is grown right here in Buford, Georgia!”
Sophistication and kindness are met with an aw, shucks humility as he says, “We are farmers. We work hard to grow meticulous fruit to ensure we produce amazing wine.”
You can be the judge of that. Cloudland is open for public wine tastings every day and will participate in the Suwanee Wine Fest on Saturday, Nov. 6, and the Chateau Elan Vineyard Fest on Sunday, Nov. 7.
To stay connected and find out more, follow @CloudlandWines on Facebook and Instagram.
The Buford High School alumni spotlights are made possible by the generosity of the City of Buford.