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Yes, Virginia, you can make wine
The Mortlands, like most newbies in the Virginia wine business, have worked with specialists every step of the way. They have a vineyard consultant, who taught them what grapes would grow best at their 1,700-foot altitude. They have a tasting-room consultant who has helped them set up a nice place to sample and sell wine. Also crucial: working with a winemaker who has the right touch.
Then there is the matter of money. The Mortlands won’t say how much they have spent so far, but they will say the operation is primarily self-financed. With no debt other than the mortgage, they expect to show a return on their investment within a few years, Mr. Mortland says.
“This isn’t a ‘retirement job,’ ” he says. “It needs to be a profitable business. But in spite of working with the best professionals, the cost of business is far more than we imagined.”
Chris Pearmund is the managing partner of two Northern Virginia wineries and has served as a consultant for a dozen other local winery owners. Going into the wine business is not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme, he says.
“To have a successful winery in Virginia, you need a million dollars,” he says. “If someone comes to me and tells me they are going into it to make money, I would talk them out of it. If they have a passion for the product and a long-term commitment, then I will help them.
“There are a lot of people in Virginia, though, to whom money is not important,” Mr. Pearmund says. “They have enough to put $5 [million] or $10 million into the winery. They can hire good people and will be competitive. For me, I have a mortgage to pay. For me to compete against these guys makes it harder.”
Still, for most people — the Mortlands and the Heidigs included — it is a business. Ms. Heidig stuck with her operation even while working weekdays at the Pentagon and commuting to Spotsylvania on the weekends. Now, two of the Heidigs’ grown sons help run Lake Anna Winery. Last year they produced 7,000 cases of 10 varieties of wines, including cabernet franc, merlot and chardonnay.
Mr. Pearmund says the wineries dotting the landscape are doing a lot for Virginia tourism and Virginia’s reputation for wine production.
“If I were to have friends and family here for a week, what is a tangible thing to hand them?” he asks rhetorically. “Peanuts? Cigarettes? Or wine? I think it is becoming the signature thing for Virginia. Maryland has crabs. Virginia has certainly come to embrace that wine has boosted the state’s reputation.”
Meanwhile, the Mortlands, as well as their son Bob, who manages the vineyard, have big plans to be part of the growing economy. In the works are an expanded deck, more visits to wine festivals, and a goal of producing 3,500 cases a year. There are vines to prune, bugs to fend off, suppliers to pay and wines to make.
Most important, there is a reputation to build.
By John R. Bolton
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