Friends and Customers, every year, since we planted the vineyard in 2009, we have expanded our operation. I am happy to say that this year, we are not taking any more acres into production! I am grateful for the rapid (in farming terms) expansion, but the learning curves each year have pushed me to my limits. It's time for a break and just fine tune our operation at our current size, approx. 13 acres. I first wrote the business plan for this project back during the financial crisis in 2009 at Appalachian State. If you had told me that in 2017 I'd be running a 13 acre farm and attending up to 7 farmers markets, I would have told you that you were flat out wrong. At that point, I had only worked and studied on smaller scale farms: 1-2 acres. We started out that size, but I soon saw that that scale of farming was not going to produce what we needed, and what the Charlotte area demanded.
As we have grown, each year, I have found myself developing a new skill set. During the first few years, I learned what I needed in order to be able to work long hours in the field and go home and follow up with office work. Then I had to learn how to manage the farm as I took on another job at Raylen. Next, I had to learn all about the whole Farmers Market scene and how to move the majority of our sales to a Saturday-based business model. Then, and most recently, I have had to learn how to mechanize (tractorize) as much as possible and how to delegate and manage staff. We now offer food from up to 10 local farmers at our Farm Stand, so I'm getting lots of on the job experience with inventory control and purchasing! I still get out in the field, but gladly, we are past the days when I would have to put in extra hours before and after the employees were at the farm.
Nevertheless, we are not successful quite yet. I still anticipate about two more years until profitability, but it's so nice to finally see the hard work paying off. I cannot tell you how many gallons of sweat or tears of frustration I have shed to get us to the point where we, at Dover Vineyards, are working humane hours.
We are trying some new things this coming year at Dover Vineyards: ginger, turmeric, and sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes. We are also going to try our hand at doing our own eggs and will start using fertigation. But none of these new undertakings involve installing new farm-wide infrastructure, clearing of land, establishing new markets, or massive plantings. We will keep you up to date with our successes and failures as we try these new things.
This past December, thanks to a very successful holiday sales season and the Christmas Village at Romare Bearden Park, we sold more wine that I could have imagined. We have found ourselves in a strange position. We will need to supplement our harvest this year with grapes from other local vineyards. I know some people will think this is heretical. How could we ever dare to produce non-estate grown wine? Well, honestly, quite easily. My favorite human, Pancho, happens to work for about 3 NC vineyards. He has access to and knowledge of the best grapes in the state and is helping me find what we need to grow the Dover Vineyards brand. We will be working closely with the people who will be growing our grapes and will always stay transparent about who is growing what and what is going in every bottle of our beloved wine.
We thank you so much, customers and friends, for your patience as we get our business off the ground. Yes, we started 8 years ago, however, in farm years, we haven't even gotten through the first three months of a normal business. We still plan on doing a tasting room on our property (and are seeking investors), however, we will have to replenish our inventory of wine first, and that will be at least another year. Hope to see you this coming season at the Farm Stand, Plaza Midwood, or at an area wine tasting.