Virginia’s torrid winery growth is cooling off. Twenty years ago there were about 60 wineries statewide. Today, 312 dot the Old Dominion landscape, making Virginia the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the U.S.
But the last few years have seen just a handful of new entrants. Why?
It makes sense that the success of other artisanal libations has taken some of the air out of what was a juggernaut of success.
Craft beer, distilled spirits and now cider and mead are on the ascendency, stalling the wine industry’s growth. Added to the increased competition from other social lubricants are a grape shortage and the dramatic increase in the cost of entry into the business.
There are now fewer couples or families bootstrapping their way to success. Often it takes an investment of $2 million dollars or more to secure a pastoral setting, plant a vineyard, procure the needed equipment and build an attractive winery and tasting room.
And don’t forget the passion and almost nonstop work required to make it all happen.
In short, “working smarter and harder” is the new mantra for success. Magnolia Vineyards embodies both strategies.
Owners Glenn and Tina Marchione are both of Italian descent. In 2006, they journeyed to Italy and visited Glenn’s relatives, toured a winery and became smitten with the idea of opening one of their own.
Fortunately, they are both fiscally conservative and in the ensuing years created a blueprint of how to pursue such a dream on a modest budget. Being employed full-time in Northern Virginia as IT professionals helped bankroll their vision.
"We did everything in stages. We spent one and a half years looking for the property. If the winery didn't work out, it would be our retirement property," said Glenn Marchione. The step-by-step planning process is still the hallmark of their growth strategy.
In 2008, they purchased 25 acres on Viewtown Road, followed by an additional contiguous 25-acre acquisition. The setting met the requirements of a winery while fulfilling their desires for the home they had built.
The couple planted the first vineyard block themselves with help from volunteers. Then an eight-foot-high deer fence encompassing 20 acres, including the seven-acre vineyard, was installed.
The basement of their home doubled as a tasting room until recently, when they opened a new tasting room within view of their home.
“Everything we’ve done has been incremental,” said Glenn Marchione. “In the beginning, we made wine for two years at Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg before we released it in 2013. Then we opened the tasting room in our home the following year. We wanted to see if the public liked our wine.”
Positive social media and on-site customer compliments reinforced their decision to proceed. "At that point, we could have shut the doors and it wouldn’t have financially destroyed us.
“But securing a mortgage and breaking ground on the new tasting room was the point of no return. It now had to be a viable business. We waited five years to establish a record of producing wine that would sell," said Marchione.
Today, Tina Marchione still works full time in Northern Virginia. Glenn balances his workload between the winery and IT consulting. The couple works seven days a week, logging 10 to 12 hours a day.
This year Magnolia Vineyards will produce 1,000 cases of wine. Their goal is 2,500 cases annually, which they envision as sustainable to permit shifting to full-time retirement. "Retirement," of course, meaning working full time at the winery. The goal is five years out.
Vineyard and wines
Currently, there are seven acres of grapes under vine on the property. An additional two acres are cultivated at a nearby winery. Plans are to establish an additional five acres of vines on site that will enable the Marchiones to reach their ultimate production goals.
Increasing success has also permitted the wine couple to hire a staff of three who help pour at the tasting bar during their operating hours of 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
“It allows us to greet and welcome our customers. We’ve found guests like to talk with the owners and are often surprised we are also the winemakers. Otherwise, we'd be stuck behind the bar,” said Tina Marchione.
The winery produces eight selections including their popular Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Like many wineries, Magnolia Vineyards has a quarterly wine club of two bottles each. Due to production constraints, they’ve had to cap club membership until more wine is available to new members.
This might be deemed a “good problem” but the owners are eager to expand membership once availability can meet demand. There is a waiting list that interested wine lovers can be placed on.
Club members quickly become family and known by their first names. Dropping by the winery might be viewed as a visit to a country club where management knows your name, the members of your family and wine tastes.
In reflecting on the investment in time and money, Glenn Marchione says laughing, “On occasion after a rough week I tell Tina, ‘We could have had a heck of a wine cellar and vacations for all the time and money we’ve invested.’”
Tina Marchione echoes the sentiments but quickly adds, “We really love what we’re doing. We’re happy to be doing it."
For the full success story, drop by the digital winery at http://www.magnoliavineyards.com/