When inheritance hands you land that’s been in your family since 1716, you make a winery. At least, that’s what Kirk Wiles did. “We made our first wine in 2007, and then navigated some political, legal challenges to get open,” says Wiles. “We finally opened the winery in January 2010, and we’ve been going strong ever since.”
The original land grant to the family was 330 acres. When Wiles’ great-aunt passed away in 2005, 36 acres with the old log cabin on it was passed on to Wiles and his mother. At first, they used the land as a party spot for their friends, but due to an incorrect transfer, they almost lost the land to inheritance taxes. Nearly losing a piece of their family history prompted Wiles to start looking at what he could do with the land and put the family farm back to use. “The easy out would be to develop it and collect a paycheck and move on, but what good does that do?” Wiles says. “It ruins it for the future generations and what could have been.” Growing up on the land had been a great childhood, and Wiles wants that passed down to his children and grandchildren. “Something about this place just had magic to it,” he says.
Challenges Along the Way
The wine business is not an easy one, especially in Virginia. Paradise Springs Winery went through a 2-year litigation battle against the county because the county didn’t consider a winery to be agriculture. Being one of the mere handful of farms left in Fairfax county has been difficult from a political standpoint, as well.
In addition to persevering through the battle, they also had to build the winery and infrastructure. The location is also difficult from a growing standpoint. There’s a lot of moisture in the air that they have to combat, and dealing with the variation in Virginia weather is a challenge. “Every year we have to look at it like a blank slate because the methodologies that you use to grow a grape and to make a wine can change year to year based on what we’re given from Mother Nature,” says Wiles. “It’s not this consistent, scientific flow of how to make wine.”
The wine industry has many facets that require success. “You have to farm and grow the grapes successfully. You have to then bring it in and manufacture it and produce it into a great wine successfully,” says Wiles. “You have to get your branding correct, bottle it, bring to market, and then be able to sell it, and all of these have to work in harmony for the whole business to work.”
Learning from Mistakes
It’s important to look back on early mistakes and learn from them. For Paradise Spring Winery’s grand opening day, there was snow on the ground, it was 30 degrees out, they’d rented a tent in the barn, which wasn’t climate controlled, and had even hired a band. What they didn’t have was parking. “All these cars showed up and we had nowhere to park them,” says Wiles. They hadn’t intended to have such a large opening day, but their story is compelling and people wanted to come check it out. “People wanted to come and support that and I underestimated that on our opening. “Learning from those challenges and seeing how we’ve grown today to be able to accommodate so many people and have people come and really enjoy great wine here, it’s been really rewarding,” Wiles says. “You learn from those mistakes.”
Passion for Land, Passion for Wine
Although the winery started from a passion to do something great with the land and preserve the sense of history, wine became Wiles’ passion in its own right. “You have to find what you love to do, and follow what you love to do. If you’re not happy doing what you do, you’re not going to succeed at it,” says Wiles. “If you follow your passion and you’re passionate about what you do, you can succeed at whatever you want to do.”
Paradise Springs Winery has been so successful at what they do thatthey’ve opened a second location in Santa Barbara. Wiles attributes their success to the passion of his team. “There’s so many people that work so hard here. We have an amazing team,” he says. “[They’ve] inspired me to work harder.”
On the Horizon
Wiles is helping write the script of the wine industry in Virginia. “I’m pretty heavily involved in some of our state boards, and I think there’s a real evolution that’s happening,” he says. “We are writing the story right now, and I think that’s an exciting thing to be a part of.” Virginia is an obscure region for a winery, but Wiles is changing that and it’s something special. “Not often can you come into an industry and help define what that industry is going to become,” he says.
Opening a location in Santa Barbara is also special. Taking a wine from an unusual location into the lion’s den of wineries is a gutsy underdog move, but people are taking notice. It’s something different, and the sky’s the limit.
“All I know is that we’re on a great path forward,” says Wiles. “We’ve got to continue that, do the little things right every single day, commit to making quality wine, and sharing wines around the world.”
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