01/25/07 — Local winery honored for community efforts

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Local winery honored for community efforts

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 25, 2007 1:49 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Monday's legislative and business appreciation breakfast at James Sprunt Community College was more than just a chance for local business and government leaders to get together, it also was an opportunity to honor Duplin Wine Cellars with the 2007 President's Award for Distinguished Leadership in Business and Education Partnerships.

"They have been very supportive in our efforts to establish the viticulture and enology programs here at James Sprunt," college President Dr. Lawrence Rouse said. "They're very supportive and they've been a very good corporate neighbor and partner in Duplin county and, of course, they are very concerned about economic growth."

According to the wording on the plaque presented to the David Fussell family -- the winery's owners and operators -- Duplin Wine Cellars "has demonstrated the vision, creativity and innovation in economic development that promises continued growth for Duplin County" and has a "belief in education and quality of life as important elements of economic development."

Duplin Wine, which opened in the 1970s, is the oldest and largest winery in the Southeast. It's also the largest Muscadine facility in the world.

In 2005, it sold its millionth case.

Also in 2005, with wines described as rich, sweet and easy to drink, the winery won the Muscadine Cup for its Magnolia wine, as well as eight other gold medals in the North Carolina State Fair competition.

Muscadine grapes are known for their high antioxidant content, which adds to their appeal.

Duplin Wine Cellars, located in Rose Hill, was founded by the now-retired David Fussell.

He currently serves as the chairman of the county Board of Commissioners.

"It's a real honor to be a recipient of this award," he said, thanking James Sprunt for its recent efforts to promote North Carolina's growing wine industry.

"It's a rising star," he continued. "At one time, grape growing was North Carolina's second leading industry.

"This is a very, very viable opportunity for us again. We've just scratched the surface."

Already, wine and Muscadine grapes in particular, Fussell said, are an important economic tools in Duplin County.

"We have a good thing going at Duplin Wine," he said.

The company employs 55 direct workers and contracts with 43 farmers who each employ an average of three people. Across the state, there are 61 wineries in 55 counties and 350 vineyards. More than 8,000 people are employed in the industry.

And with the help of James Sprunt, Fussell is hoping to see those numbers continue to increase.

James Sprunt and Surry Community College are the only two entities that offer viticulture and enology programs, but Sprunt's is the only one that focuses on Muscadine grapes and wines -- an emphasis designed with the help of the Fussell family and Duplin Wine Cellars.

Sprunt's program also includes an on-site practice vineyard where the sciences behind grape growing and wine making, as well as the economics and management of the industry are taught. Those courses began in the fall of 2006 and Duplin Wine has committed to sending its employees to at least one course a semester.

"Economic opportunities for the citizens of Duplin County is one of the primary considerations of James Sprunt Community College and I think it is for all of the community as well," Fussell said. "It has been said that the best thing you can do for someone else is to give them a meaningful job. We want to give our young people the chance to come back and work in Duplin County."