ROSE HILL — The largest-wine producing facility on the East Coast is expanding to the Sunshine State in 2022.
Last week, Duplin Winery announced it purchased land in Florida for a second out-of-state facility after its cork-popping success in Myrtle Beach, which opened its doors in 2015.
The Rose Hill winery made what it called a $45 million investment, purchasing 20.6 acres of land in Panama City.
Yet the toast over two states hasn’t kept the 45-year-old company from realizing the impact both expansions have made at its “Mother Ship,” as co-owner Jonathan Fussell called its 70-acre facility where it started its voyage.
“We matched the number of new employees and spent the same amount of dollars in the production facilities in Duplin County as we did in Myrtle Beach,” Fussell said. “And we’ve already started an expansion here in preparation for Panama City.
“We learned a lot putting Myrtle Beach together and we’re very excited about doing the same in Panama City. We feel we understand the demographics and look forward to building relationships. It’s wide open.”
Fussell said the Rose Hill facility added three 40,000-gallon tanks, a $2 million bottle line, built an 8,400-square-foot warehouse and planted its vines on 200 more acres.
“We’ll have 25 or more people in Duplin County if it affects us the way Myrtle Beach did,” Fussell said. “If you take away the cost of the land, we will spend just as much here. And that is fine because this is our Mother Ship.
“But I really feel it’s a news thing here as it is in Panama City.
Fussell said before the Palmetto location opened the winery was producing 341,000 cases annually. It now makes 562,000 cases per year.
Duplin Winery’s two locations are known for their sweet Muscadine wines, homemade cheeses and crackers and a bubbly atmosphere for tastings, weddings and courtyard music.
Fussell, whose brother Dave is the company’s CEO and president, said the Panama City expansion will be in several phases, which he hopes can be finished some time in 2022.
The first involves building a 35,000 winery that will have the same amount of second-story space for offices, apartments and condo suites.
A vineyard, restaurant and boutique/hotel will be goals in Phase 2. A wedding chapel and “plush” hotel are end points in the third phase.
Customers will be able to bottle their own wine, a new feature for the winery.
“We bottle 7,500 bottles per hour and we may be able to do 300 (bottle your own) per day, but people are going to love to participate,” Fussell said. “It’s a fun thing.”
But no sipping will be done on Sundays, as per a pledge left to honor Lib Fussell.
“Mama passed away, but she made us promise not to open on Sunday,” Fussell said.
The Panhandle property is near a 500-home subdivision. Panama City is the largest city between Tallahassee and Pensacola, and is known for its powdery beaches and emerald Gulf Coast waters.
“It’s absolutely amazing and something we would not have dreamed about even three years ago,” Fussell said.
It took about that long to find the property.
“The market is similar to Myrtle Beach,” said Fussell, who said it took four offers and many conversations with landowners who wanted to sell but could not because their strong sentimental value. “I made cash offers at above-market prices. It was frustrating.”
A landowner he met in 2018 called him last October.
“I made an offer on his front piece of property, and ended up buying it all,” Fussell said. “We’ll use 20 acres for nature/beauty, and this is a $15 million investment right now and who knows where it will go from there?
“We’re just real excited about the location. The attractions are there. It’s the beach and beyond.
“All of this has been a whirlwind, but going there to check it out was the best trip ever.”
The vineyard is the 36th largest in the US with its wines sold in 16 states and shipped to 47.
D.J. Fussell Sr. started the company in the 1970s. Dave and Jonathan are third-generation owners.
Duplin wines have won many awards throughout the years, including some that considered it better than West Coast vineyards.
The winery uses its own grapes and also buys from 60 farming families in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.