So, We Bought a…Winery
After a four-year long-distance relationship, which included some great trips to far away vineyards, semi-retirement, a cross-country excursion cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, hibernating in a two-bedroom apartment with the dog and two college kids, and—oh yeah, two foster pups—it was time for a change of scenery. A change of scenery that ended with us buying a farm winery!
In 2021, we set out to find a place for ourselves, maybe downsize. But we wanted a “cool” place, unlike any place we had lived before. We had notes on what we desired in a home. Living withing walking distance to the coffee shop, grocery store, and restaurants were top of mind. I imagined after we got settled, I could walk into a local bar and hear, “Eeeeeeedge!” But country life with plenty of space near a cute town also appealed. We came across a picture of a house for sale in Waterford, Virginia and, after a little research on the area, we called the listing agent.
Not Just a House
Sydney answered the call and we asked for more information, especially pictures, as the listing had only one. We were surprised at her response that we would have to sign an NDA. A non-disclosure agreement for a house? Intriguing! We signed, of course, and what we received in response set us on this crazy path.
The house wasn’t just a house. It came with a winery, a vineyard, a business. We can’t say we hadn’t thought about how amazing it would be to find ourselves living among one of the vineyards like we had experienced in Italy, France, or California. And although we never REALLY thought we would live on one one beyond an extended VRBO experience, we often discussed this dream. It was especially compelling when we visited establishments that boasted the winemaker’s residence on the property. Likewise, when we watched a vineyard-based romance on the Hallmark Channel.
Buying a Farm Winery—Vineyard Visions
The fact that the winery we were considering as our new home was 8 Chains North only spurred our enthusiasm to explore this possible venture of buying a farm winery. It turns our first real escape from quarantine just a few months earlier was to meet friends from nearby Winchester at this very winery. We had a great COVID-era tasting. The weather was beautiful, and we were thankful for some face-to-face time with good friends.
Also, early in our dating life, we went on a Virginia winery tour with nine other couples. 8 Chains North was first on the itinerary. We reminisced about having an excellent time, particularly about how much we enjoyed the wines. We hunted through our photos and found some great pics of one of our first dates. (Along with a sloppier one after I spilled some of that wine on my white shirt!)
Home Sweet Home
So we found a property with a home we both loved (with a few obligatory home improvements), as well as a new business we agreed to embrace and run together. Although we each have relevant experience important to running a business—team management, operations, accounting, finance, and even hospitality—we had zero knowledge of viticulture and winemaking. Other than imbibing, of course!
“The way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.”Author Unknown
We sought advice from attorneys, bankers, and accountants. They helped us determine the viability of buying an existing business in the competitive Loudoun County market. Most of the advice was very helpful and positive. 8 Chains North opened in 2010 and has a great following, a great winemaker, great wine, and a great staff. So what could we add to the equation? How could we be part of this enchanting story, and also do something relevant to improve and enhance an already successful winemaking business?
Ice, Ice Baby
The answer may be our love of planning and projects! After we took the plunge, there was serious planning to do. We decided to divide and conquer. Cis would take on the home renovation and I would tackle the winery and vineyard plans. We made a budget (sort of). Once a decision is made, I tend to want to get things done “yesterday.” It’s a personal problem I have to live with (as does Cis, unfortunately). We hit the gas, the list kept growing, and the budget flew out the window for a while. When the dust settled, my side was significantly more expensive than Cissi’s. I had to bring her back in to add a dose of reality to my plans.
A major priority was to complete projects that would improve the lives of our team members. Investments were needed for our Tasting Room and Wedding Venue. We added glassware, new refrigeration, more bar space, indoor and outdoor furniture—all the things you would expect in a hospitality establishment.
Of all the improvements, however, the most popular was the ice machine. Doing away with the chore of lugging bagged ice from the local gas station and the anxiety of running out during a busy, hot day, seemed to go a long way for the staff’s peace of mind. When they were first introduced to our new toy, I think I saw tears of joy! Staff was showing off ice cubes for weeks on end, especially to our long-time Wine Club members.
The list of projects continues to grow. We must prioritize, but based on what? Certainly financially, but how do we weigh the importance of some projects compared to others? This battle will continue for some time. We have projects large and small, both using contractors and our own muscle. Vineyard improvements, increasing our wine production, Tasting Room improvements, process improvements, expanded Wine Club events, and more. Not to mention our own whims—and time. After all, we did not go into this to have a new full-time career. While it may have felt like that for the last year, it was necessary. We have learned so much. Our ultimate goal is to enjoy time with each other in an atmosphere we both love. And to have a passion we can nurture together.
But most importantly, we aim to bring a fantastic wine product to Virginia consumers and beyond—to be an exemplary host to our visitors, Wine Club members, wedding couples, and dog park pups, and to show that Virginia deserves to be a prominent pin on the world map of great viticulture and winemaking.
Along with our successes in year one, there were some dropped projects, changes in priorities and, of course, the blooper reel. Keep your eyes and ears open to see and hear the ongoing blooper saga in the coming weeks. Buying a farm winery has been a wild ride so far and we are loving it!