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As a follow up to my previous post on the continuing trend of new winery openings here in Virginia, I attended the grand opening celebration of Virginia’s newest winery – DuCard Vineyards.  During my visit I took a quick tour of their grounds, tasted great Virginia wines, and had the chance to speak with DuCard owner Scott Elliff…

If you have trouble viewing this video, please try this direct link –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH0kb4FCHtw  (Apologies for the audio, underestimated sound affect of being outside – turn speakers up. Thanks to Scott’s daughter for holding the camera as I rushed out of the house without my tripod.)

In the beginning… Since I sometimes harbor delusions of owning a winery – defined as a momentary lapse of consciousness and good judgment – I am always curious about a person’s ‘why’ for starting a winery and how they settled on the winery name (which is quite important).

When I asked Scott about the story behind the DuCard name, I was, for some reason expecting a story with French undertones.  Instead, the origins of the DuCard name lie in Scotland – years ago, Scott’s grandmother ran a Scotch House named Cardhu.  To arrive at the name DuCard he mixed up a few letters, dropped one, and presto – winery name.

When asked about the origins of DuCard, Scott describes the winery as a “hobby gone wild…”

My particular story starts with a cabin — my family’s Blue Ridge foothills getaway from the stresses of work and big-city Washington life. Fresh air, mountain views, solitude, life as a country gentleman (part time, at least). Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it, too.

We had owned it only about a year when an adjoining property became available.  Once you have land in the country you always want more – in our case to help ensure that our beautiful vistas stayed that way. A neighbor on the other side had just built his own cabin – right in the middle of our own (personal!) mountain views, and we didn’t want to have that happen again. Who cares that it was an old, dead-on-its-feet apple orchard – we bought it.  And then the real fun began.

Although the old ‘dead on-its-feet’ apple orchard was beyond rehabilitating, Scott made good use of the land by planting grapevines – seven acres planted with viognier, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and Norton.  Scott may have had a crystal ball when he planted his vineyard nearly 10 years ago as these varietals are perhaps the best suited for Virginia’s climate (ref.: prior Winemaker Interview Series on Virginia’s ideal grape – Part I, Part II, Part III).

In previous years, DuCard’s grapes have been sold to local wineries who have used them to produce numerous award winning wines – which may have something to do with Scott’s decision to start a commercial winery and bottle more of his own juice.

Fast forward to 2010 – DuCard is now moving from grape grower and wholesaler to commercial winery and retailer.  Although a lot of experience is gained from grape growing and selling grapes to other wineries, starting a commercial winery tasting room with the focus on producing exceptional wines accepted by the marketplace is an entirely different challenge.

“I’m in touch with nature in a way that is impossible working in an office.” ~ Scott Elliff

On the challenges of starting a winery… When I asked Scott about the challenges of starting a winery, he noted that trying to master three distinct businesses is his biggest challenge right now – Agriculture (growing the grapes), Manufacturing (making wine), and Retail (selling wine).

Another challenge facing DuCard, which I had not considered, is forecasting out-year wine production – preparing and planning for how much of the crop to sell versus how much to keep for wine production.  Right now, they are in the process of forecasting production numbers for 2012.  Anyone responsible for developing and managing a budget, especially in the current economic climate, can empathize with this challenge.  Being a new commercial winery with very little retail sales history to leverage for forecasting increases the difficulty of ‘getting it right.’

“It’s been interesting, frustrating, and rewarding – all at the same time.”

I’m glad there are people with the drive and wherewithal to start a winery – the paperwork, red tape, and permits needed to even think about starting a winery would drive most people away.  Thankfully there are some who persist and take viticulture to a higher level through sustainability.

Today, the word sustainability is sometimes used simply as marketing shtick and as a ‘catch all’ for many practices – organic, no/low sprays, biodynamic viticulture, lake friendly, ground water friendly, recycling, composting and a whole host of other practices.

DuCard is one of those wineries that seems to be taking sustainability seriously and using the real application of these practices for differentiation.

On sustainability and differentiation… Of DuCard’s many sustainability initiatives – using lighter weight bottles, using reclaimed wood for construction, etc. – perhaps the most notable is their use of solar panels for all electricity.  I believe this makes DuCard the only Virginia winery to be 100% energy independent (if I’m wrong about this please correct me).

The next time you’re in the Madison County area, I would recommend a visit to DuCard to enjoy the great scenery and wine.  DuCard Vineyards | 40 Gibson Hollow Lane, Etlan, VA 22719 | 540.923.4206

Next up the Virginia winery grand opening line up is 8 Chains North on August 21st.

DuCard Vineyards tasting room.

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