NC Wine Country Tour: Duplin Winery

Wine Making is Family Tradition at North Carolina’s Oldest Winery

Armed with a vision and faith in God, the Fussell family of Duplin County has turned a little winemaking business into one of the world’s top wine-producing companies.

Duplin Wine Cellars was founded in the 1970s in Duplin County, North Carolina as a means for two brothers to try and save their family farm in an economic downturn. Prices on the fresh market for Muscadine grapes had dropped and rather than sell their grapes at a loss, the brothers, Dan and David Fussell decided to open a wine-making business.

“Back then we didn’t know a thing about making wine,” says David Fussell, Sr. “I read everything I could get my hands on about winemaking.” They also learned from area winemakers and in 1975, they produced their first vintage, which David says was drinkable.

Muscadine Wine Rise and Fall

In 1976, the brothers produced 3,500 gallons of wine from their ten acres of grapes and sold every drop. Realizing they needed more grapes, they began buying from other local growers. By 1977, production had reached 20,000 gallons and by 1979, that figure had tripled to 60,000 gallons. In 1982, production hit 120,000 gallons; then disaster struck.

In 1983, the Attorney General of North Carolina ruled that preferential laws that had been established by the state to promote grape growing and winemaking were unconstitutional. This meant that North Carolina wines could no longer be given preferred status in distribution. Sales dropped like rotting fruit.

The Comeback Kids

The next ten years were hard. The family lost nearly everything but the winery itself and struggled to keep the business going. It was their strong faith in God and family that served them through those difficult times and slowly they began to build back the business. By 1997, production and sales were back up to 85,000 gallons of wine, and Duplin Winery was one of a handful of North Carolina wineries.

Today Duplin Winery is still family-owned and a second-generation is carrying on the family tradition. David’s three sons David Jr., Patrick, and Jonathan are the primary operating partners in what has become the world’s largest Muscadine winery, producing about 619,000 gallons of wine annually, or roughly 3.12 million bottles.

Duplin Winery Today

The three brothers have divided the jobs their father once shared with his brother. David Jr. is President, head winemaker, and in charge of production. Patrick heads up the vineyard operations and Jonathan is in charge of marketing and retail sales. More than 46 growers in five states supply the winery with grapes from 1200 acres of vines.

The brothers have added 48,000 square feet to the production facility and increased the size of their retail outlet to 5,000 square feet. The little part-time business begun by their father and uncle has grown into a major company, but despite its size, Duplin Winery still has a friend and family feeling.

Wine Theme Park

A visit to Duplin Winery is like visiting a wine theme park. There’s a lot to do here. Visitors can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the production facility and learn about modern methods of winemaking, see old-time winemaking equipment and other artifacts in the museum, and enjoy complimentary wine tastings of Duplin’s award-winning wines at the 40-foot bar in the tasting room.

The extensive wine shop offers Duplin wines, jams and jellies, and a wide array of gift items for sale, including North Carolina college trademark hostess items and other gear for that next “big game” party. The Bistro restaurant serves lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. Executive Chef William B. Fussell creates delicious soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and homemade desserts.

Located about 40 miles north of Wilmington off I-40, Duplin Winery continues to grow and plans are in the works for additional facilities in the next few years. The winery continues to win awards for its red wine, white wine, and sweet Muscadine wines and the Fussell family continues to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Duplin Winery, 505 N. Sycamore Street, Rose Hill, NC 1-800-774-9634

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