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Learn From My Mistake

FussellFamilyLearn From My Mistake

“Talk, talk, talk, that’s all he does!” – My wife Angie explaining to others what I actually do at Duplin Winery.

In our North Myrtle Beach Winery, just above our cash registers where many excellent people work, including Angie, there’s a big-screen TV. This TV plays repeats of our “Duplin Winery Story” narrated by Jonathan and me. I guess someone had enough of my talk and turned off the volume. Now someone has got to read my lips to enjoy. Who in the world would have done that?!

I’ve got to admit; I do a lot of talking. If I’m around when someone walks into our winery, I’m going to greet them and shake their hand. I know all our visitors had a choice between visiting Duplin or being somewhere else, and it’s important to me to let them know just how much we appreciate them choosing us. That’s the way it has been for three generations. I think my granddad invented the greeter position before Sam Walton ever thought of having a greeter at Walmart. Big D would sit in his rocking chair at our front door, rocking and waiting for someone to walk thru the winery’s door. If a man walked in the door he’d rock forward and exclaim, “Welcome to the winery!” and maybe ask, “Where are you from?” before “Thanks for visiting!” And when a lady walked in, he’d start grinning and jump right out of that chair. It was incredible seeing how fast that old man could stand up for a pretty lady. As his 90 plus year old bones straighten, you would have thought he believed he was George Cooney. Every woman that walked thru our door got a hug from him – Usually too tight and with one hand too low! And if a group of ‘Red Hats’ walked in, he was in heaven because some of those gals would not let go!

Big D not only enjoyed being the Duplin Winery greeter and sharing our wines, he also took pride in the opportunities he helped create for his family, our associates, and his community. When my father and uncle first decided to buy a farm in the early 70’s, Big D helped them find the financing. And in 1974, when the large winery who talked my father and uncle into growing grapes on that farm, failed to pay the $350.00 per ton that was promised, he stepped up again, creating an opportunity by loaning them about $75,000.00 to start and open Duplin Winery.

Many of our wonderful supporters and folks within the NC wine industry consider Big D, the founding father of Duplin Winery. One day in the early 80’s, Big D and dad were invited as special guest to the grand opening of a new winery in western North Carolina. This new winery’s focus was growing and producing dry Vitis Vinifera wines like Chardonnay and Merlot, very different from the sweet Muscadine wines we grow and produce. After touring the new winery, the winemaker gave them and the other special guest a personal tasting of each new wine. After each sip of each wine, Big D would exclaim, “Delicious!” or “Never tasted anything better!” and “Don’t change a thing!” Dad said could believe his ears. On the ride home when asked about his remarks, Big D explained, “Those wines were good, but I wanted him to think they were great because I don’t want them to start making Muscadine wines!”

One day in 2008, Big D walked into to my office and handed me a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, I noticed the letterhead instantly, Ross Powell, our accountant, and below were numbers added together, totaling a little over 1.2 Million Dollars. I asked, “What’s this?” And Big D replied, “In 1974, I loaned your daddy and uncle $75,000.00, and they haven’t made one payment yet. With interest, that’s what Ross says you now owe me!” and “I want my money now!” I didn’t know what to say so I told him he’d needed to see dad because we don’t have that kind of money. He quickly replied, “I already did, and he sent me to see you!” For the next few days I was on the look-out, if I heard Big D coming up the stairs to my office, I quickly hide in the bathroom. Soon he found my hiding spot and grabbed my arm saying, “Listen here! You don’t have to pay me if you promise me you’ll learn from my mistake, ‘Never, Ever Loan Your Family Any Money If You Expect to Be Paid Back!’”

Thanks to all who choose to walk thru our door. You’re the reason we’re still in business and building memories. We sincerely appreciate your support!

May God bless you and your family,

Firing Number Five

Dave_FiredFiring Number Five

Rumor has it that there were several more.

But to the best of my memory, my mom only hired me eight times. And just in case you’re one that has heard we Southerners are prone to exaggeration, this means my dad and/or my granddad has literally fired me SEVEN times! But, number FIVE, now that was an epic ‘Uh-Oh’! I can still hear his words today as he walked through the winery, “Boys, do not forget to vent the tanks. Remember, we have to vent the tanks before pumping.” And again he emphasized, “Vent, Vent, Vent!” Dad never shied away from persistently and doggedly reminding us to, “Vent!”

Well on this spring morning, I forgot. After hooking the wine pump up to one of the two best wine tanks my dad had ever purchased, I hit the pump’s start button and walked away. About 20 or so steps later, it hit me, “Oh no, I forgot to VENT!” As fast as I could run, I made my way around the corner to meet the sounds of a $43,000.00 beautiful stainless steel, double-walled, 3,786-gallon tank crumbling! And the sight of this beautiful, expensive, and half way collapsed tank made me hit my knees and instantly pray, “Oh God, please help me. He’s going to kill me!”

Oh Lord what am I going to do when he gets back from Raleigh? Maybe I should leave town, but there’s no way Angie is going to run with me. I had to figure out some way of fixing this, and fixing this quickly because he’s due back tomorrow. Now I went to East Carolina University for five years for a four-year degree. But somehow in school, I learned that there is 14lbs per square inch keeping us on earth, its gravity. I figured that if I could just fill this 3,786-gallon tank up with air to 15lbs per square inch, it just might pop out and be as good as new, or at least close enough that he’d never know. Sharing my plans with the other boys in the plant produced a lot of blank faces. But they couldn’t come up with any better solutions, so I went out and rented a huge industrial air compressor, capable of making a lot of air. Plus I removed the air gauge off the winery’s small air compressor and managed to secure it to the middle valve of the collapsed tank.

Now here we were with seven walkie-talkies, a large industrial air compressor trailered outside the winery with a long hose running inside, attached to the bottom tank valve of this collapsed wine tank. Somebody’s got to man the air compressor outside, and somebody’s got to watch the air gauge inside. And out of the seven of us, six agreed that they should man the air compressor and I should watch the air gauge. Luckily or unluckily, Felipe decided he’d stay with me as the other five walked outside the back of the winery, towards the air compressor. With the stage set, all the walkie-talkies sounded off ready to roll, and I gave the OK to start sending me air. It takes a while to produce 3,786 gallons of air and while waiting, Felipe and I agreed that the other five were just too plain chicken to be in here with us. Slowly, the air gauge needle began to rise. At about 11lbs per, I heard a little rumble and quickly alerted Rob to stop the air flow. Minutes passed with nothing, nothing at all happening, so I got back on my radio and asked Rob to very carefully and slowly begin air flow again. Felipe and I sat watching and listening as the gauge reached a touch above 14lbs. Per SQ. in., our preplanned stopping point. On my radio, I ordered the stoppage of air flow, and we sat and waited for minutes. Nothing for a while, but then, from the inside of the double wall tank we heard rumbling, then clicking, and some cracking as this favorite tank of my dad started rising and expanding. It was a beautiful site, and I jumped back on the radio, excitedly shouting, “It is working!”

If I could go back in time for a moment, I promise it would not be the moment after I excitedly shouted into my walkie-talkie, “It is working!” Have you ever let the air out of a balloon while pulling the end tight? You know, it squeals. Well, the rumbling and clicking were replaced with that, a slight squeal. I quickly checked by radio that the air flow was stopped and as those chickens outside responded yes, the squeal grew. Multiple that balloon squeal a million times, and that’s what Felipe and I heard as we began running behind and beneath the nearby tank! KABOOMMMMM!!!!!!! The ground shook and the air filled with dust as Felipe pulled me on top of him behind and under this neighboring tank. Dazed, we slowly watched the dust begin to settle. I remember thinking, man its dark in here. With the ringing in my ears, I couldn’t make out the words coming from my radio as we emerged from behind the tank that saved us. As the dust continued slowly settling, it got brighter and brighter. Oh no, I could see and feel the sun from inside the winery! I had not only blown up the $43,000.00 tank, but I had also blown out the back end of the building and part of the roof! As I looked at the five guys standing by the air compressor, with only the winery’s wall lying in the grass between us, they stood immobile, yet slightly shaken. I asked if they were alright and they each slowly nodded yes. We all stood silent for a moment before I whispered, “Dad’s really going to kill me now.”

Mom got Dad to agree to hire me back after a few weeks but at half the pay. He calculated that I cost the winery $86,000.00, and it took me about 5 or 6 years to pay him back. Today, there are still faded foot prints on the concrete where that tank once stood. I used to wish they would fade away, but not so much anymore. They’re part of our story.

-Dave Fussell

Life Is Sweeter With Duplin