Before experiencing the new Duplin Winery tasting facility in North Myrtle Beach, it’s important to see from where it came. The story is one of challenges and successes, family and hard work.
The story begins in the early 1950s when Canandaigua Winery opened a plant in South Carolina. It reached out to farmers in the Carolinas, including the Fussell family, to grow and supply the winery with grapes. Soon after the third growing season, Canandaigua closed and the price of grapes dropped drastically.
“D.J. Fussell, Sr. converted his old construction warehouse and my family started making wine from muscadine grapes in tiny Rose Hill, North Carolina,” grandson Jonathan Fussell, president of Duplin Wine Family, said. “Big D always reminded us that we never paid him back for that warehouse.”
With the help of North Carolina state legislation, a tax break allowed Duplin Winery to enjoy some early success. To encourage the industry, taxes were removed from North Carolina wine bottlers, but kept on out-of-state producers. Duplin Winery prospered. In 1979 Jonathan Fussell’s father bought out an uncle and in 1981 the Rose Hill facility expanded. However, all good things do come to an end. The North Carolina wine industry took a hit when the tax exemption was lifted. Duplin Winery workers went from 28 to 3 with Jonathan’s mother being one of the few remaining employees.
“My mom and dad kept the business going, but Big D was the character,” Fussell said. “His favorite saying was, ‘Making wine that made pretty girls smile.’” Duplin Winery remained small until two significant events in the 1990s occurred. In 1992 it was discovered that drinking wine led to a healthy heart. In 1996 it was discovered that muscadine wine had the most antioxidants.
Today, Duplin Winery is the South’s largest winery and the world’s largest muscadine winery. The Rose Hill facility has a tank capacity of 1.6 million gallons. In 2011, 365,000 cases of Duplin Winery’s more than 36 varieties were produced and sold. Along with their own 1,600 acres of vineyards in North Carolina, Duplin buys grapes from suppliers in six states. Duplin wines have received recognition over the years from countless prestigious organizations. Included are Atlanta Wine Summit, Finger Lakes International, Wines of the South, Impact’s Hot Brand Award, Beverage Information Group’s Fast Track Award and the San Diego National Wine Competition Wine and Roses.
Although Duplin Winery was enjoying success, they saw that their sales were flat. Much of that could be attributed to competition as more bottlers were targeting sweet wine drinkers. However, the Fussell family subscribed to the old equation, success + complacency = failure. They realized changes needed to be made.
The strategy was straightforward. Bring the people to the Duplin Winery facility in Rose Hill and take the Duplin Winery message to the people.
Events and festivals were designed to draw people to the winery for music, fun, food and wine. From the Music in the Courtyard Series and Murder Mystery evenings to exclusive food-and- wine pairings and the extremely popular Annual Grape Stomp Event, there’s plenty happening at the winery. You can dine at The Bistro at Duplin Winery and enjoy a wide menu of local favorites paired with Duplin wines. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restaurant is perfect for groups touring the production facilities and enjoying a tasting. With the new onsite chapel, Duplin Winery is becoming a popular destination for weddings and vow renewal ceremonies. More than 100,000 guests tour the Rose Hill winery every year.
To execute the second part of its strategy, Duplin began attending trade shows in the South, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. In states where their wines were sold they began tastings in supermarkets and grocery stores.
It was through this outreach strategy that Duplin brought its “cool, sweet & easy” style to the new North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina location. Opened in spring 2015, it is the first location outside North Carolina and capitalizes on the Myrtle Beach area’s 15 million annual visitors.
Located on Highway 17 South, Duplin Winery is adjacent to Alligator Adventure and Barefoot Landing, a popular shopping and dining destination and home to Alabama Theatre. The North Myrtle Beach location comfortably seats more than 200 guests at one time in two separate stations for guided wine tastings, which will feature 14 Duplin wines. A margarita-type bar offers a unique tasting venue where Duplin wines are served as the patented Sweetzer frozen drink. There is a non-alcoholic version available, too.
A multipurpose room serves as a waiting area where a video tells the history of Duplin Winery from growing and harvesting to production and bottling. The large lighthouse in the center of the 15,000-square-foot building houses a gourmet sampling station. The Bistro at Duplin Winery award-winning chef, Tabatha Pickett, developed many of the salad dressings, relishes and dips. Duplin also makes the crackers that accompany the tastings and its own brand of homemade fudge. Wines, specialty drinks, gourmet items, accessories and related merchandise are available in the 5,000-square-foot Gift Shop.
The biggest highlight of the new facility is the bottling room. In the screened-in porch setting some of the original bottling equipment will be used. Between the clanging of the bottles and smell of the wine, visitors will be able to interact with the bottlers and ask questions. In the beginning Duplin bottled in mason jars. A pallet of bottles was just too expensive. That tradition will be continued on a regular basis.
An outside deck area has tables, music and space for tastings. The Grape Stomp Festival tradition will continue at the North Myrtle Beach location. Food, wine, and entertainment are all part of the festivities. Yes, you will be stomping some grapes and wiping your purple feet with a T-shirt that’s yours to keep.
“What we have done is brought the best parts of our Rose Hill location to North Myrtle Beach and created a new area attraction that everyone can enjoy,” Fussell stated. The North Myrtle Beach tourism community could not be happier.
“Any successful tourist destination has a sense of balance and regional identity. This is one more great and different reason for visitors to make North Myrtle Beach their first-choice vacation spot,” said George Durant, vice president tourism development, North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau. “North Myrtle Beach and Duplin Winery share a commitment to authentic Southern experiences. We are proud to have them in our unique community.”
Groups are certainly welcome at the new location. Coaches arrive under a covered arch and there’s plenty of parking space. For more information about the Rose Hill and North Myrtle Beach locations, visit duplinwinery.com.