Sippin’ On Sweet Success: Inside the Duplin Winery

When it’s running at full capacity, the Duplin Winery in Rose Hill, North Carolina can turn out 8,000 bottles of its sweet Muscadine grape wine in a single hour. These days, they sell every bottle they make. But it wasn’t always that way.

“There were a lot of folks who wanted to give up,” says Dave Fussell, who owns and operates the winery with his brother Jonathan.

Their father, grandfather, and uncle started the business in the 1970s out of necessity; when the grapes they’d been growing for a New York winery plummeted in price, the Fussell family needed some way to make money from their inventory. By 1983, production at the fledgling winery was booming, but changes in tax law devastated the business, leaving it struggling for years.

They didn’t give up. Dave’s mother Ann kept saying, “We make the best Muscadine wines in America. Let’s give it one more day and see what happens.” The family’s perseverance was rewarded in the 1990s as Americans learned about the health benefits of Muscadine and started buying Duplin wine again.

Today, the winery is the largest in the South, with a tank capacity of 1.4 million gallons. And Duplin doesn’t just make the best-selling wine in North Carolina—it also entertains 100,000 visitors per year at its facility, as people from around the country come for a dinner show, a winery tour, or just to do some taste-testing.

It still takes a lot of work, but the job does have its perks, of course. “The best part of the job is the sipping,” says Dave. “We sip a lot around here.”

Dave went to college to play baseball. While he didn’t leave school with a professional contract, he did graduate with a degree in economics. He knows that many aspects of his business are difficult to predict: the weather, grocery story pricing, future consumer tastes. Then there are the challenges common to every business owner, like health insurance, personnel issues, and logistics.

Through it all, Duplin Winery wanted a financial partner who understood their challenges and their community. That’s why they chose First Bank.

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Duplin Winery has been a First Bank customer since the branch opened its doors in Rose Hill 10 years ago. We spoke to Dave and Jonathan about why First Bank continues to be a great partner.

Why did you choose First Bank?

JONATHAN: I was the President of the Chamber of Commerce, and we discovered our members wanted a bank here. So we brought the CEO of First Bank to town. We’re a very small community—800 folks live here. So we were looking for a good family bank, and it looked like First Bank was that kind of bank.

DAVE: It just has a nice, friendly, small-town feel. When you go there, [Branch manager] George Foster is smiling. [Tellers] Lisa Wicklund and Amy Turner know your name, your family, and what you need. They treat us just like family, the way we want to be treated. They do a wonderful job of treating us right.

What First Bank services do you use?

DAVE: Everything we possibly can. They handle all of our checking, our investments, our certificates of deposit. They helped us remake our booking system so we could keep track of our checking and our balances.

How has First Bank helped you grow?

JONATHAN: Ever since we’ve partnered with First Bank, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been growing. We’re now working to build another winery, and First Bank is bending over backwards to help us.

Has there been a time when First Bank has gone the extra mile for you?

DAVE: When we got a new credit card processing system, they spent the day with us making sure the system was set up and working properly.

JONATHAN: A First Bank employee helped us save $20,000 on our credit card processing. Then the very next year, she contacted us and said she figured out a way to save us another $10,000. She already had my business. She didn’t need to do that. That really impressed me.

DAVE: First Bank even goes out its way to help us sponsor some of our fundraisers, like the one we do for the troops.

Any final thoughts about First Bank?

JONATHAN: I’ve had great experiences with First Bank offices from Wilmington to Lillington. First Bank has been a great business partner—they’re like family to us. If there’s anything we ever need we just pick up the phone. And we usually get it.