Marcus Rich | Art Factory Wine Bar
Marcus Rich, Art Factory Wine Bar:
“I’m really encouraging people to come get acquainted with the other – not sweet – wines that are available in North Carolina. “
In the beginning, with the art: a little jazz, a little wine
For years, every fourth Friday, the gallery would have wine. The whole formula had been jazz, art, and wine. We have live jazz. The art of course: the featured artist. And then the wine.
We didn’t have a license, so we would give the wine away. We couldn’t sell it. After a while of doing special events, where I would drive to Raleigh to get a one-day permit, it made sense that we pay the amount you are charged for an annual permit, and set up a wine cellar.
An inspired trip to Yadkin Valley
I started at the south end of the valley and just worked my way up. I visited and tasted at all the wineries, and I really like RayLen Vineyards.
Mike Hasselbeck had something to do with the Art Factory Wine Bar concept, and connecting me to the Yadkin Valley wineries. He is an artist who moved to Wilmington after many years away. He was a protege of Bob Timberlake. Mike came in and introduced himself, and asked to be a featured artist. He asked me if I had ever thought of doing wine; he had a gallery Childress Vineyards. It’s a complex that includes a gallery and a wine tasting cellar. He knew he couldn’t live off of just the gallery, and that selling wine added a profit center. He helped me; he is very familiar with all the wineries in Yadkin Valley. He suggested the wineries that I should visit on my first trip.
Connecting with RayLen and the rest is history
I met Steve Shepard, the vitner at RayLen, liked the wines, and liked the fact that they are solar powered – how may wineries are solar powered! The answer is three. Three in North Carolina, I don’t know how many nationwide. Shepard produces enough electricity that he puts it back into the grid. He has one hundred and fifty acres that are under vine now. He grows and sells grapes to other vineyards. Biltmore makes their brut from RayLen grapes. Steve and I just hit it off, right from the beginning. Erin, the sommelier, walked me through the whole operation. We have a great rapport.
On a later visit, I went up because I had heard about Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. In the northern part of the valley, it’s an incredible place. It looks like a little bit of Tuscany. It’s right in the foothills. When you pull off the road into the estate, you are looking at a Tuscan estate with terracotta tile roofs, the whole thing. On the backside is a demilune patio overlooking a valley that is maybe six or seven miles long, and at the end of the valley are the mountains. It’s quite a spot up there. Jay Raffaldini’s family has been making wine since the 14th century. I reckoned this guy knows what he’s doing. It’s got to be in the genes by now.
Raffaldini did a survey – he’s a pilot too – he did a survey to select the best location for a family winery in America, and they choose the Yadkin Valley, of all possible locations on the East Coast. The terroir is closer to Tuscany than any other place here. Clay-based soil is very close to what is in Tuscany, and it even has the same mineral content.
Don’t expect a sweet wine
Before prohibition, North Carolina was the leading wine-producing state in the country. It was the muscadine, our native grape. The muscadine produces the sweet wine that everyone associates with North Carolina; that’s what I’m battling on a regular basis here. When you say “North Carolina wine,” everyone automatically thinks “sweet wine.” There are 182 wineries in this state. The only ones that product sweet wine are on the coast, and the Piedmont. There’s so much more than sweet wines.
You can’t grow the vinifera grape down here in the sandy soil. But the climate and the soil in the Yadkin Valley is very similar to Tuscany. In the growing season, it can be three digits in the day and cool down by twenty degrees at night. That is very much like Tuscany.
Jerking those grapes around makes them work harder, and it produces a better product.
The Cabernet Franc grape has adapted to North Carolina better than any other varietal. You’ll see that in a lot of the dry wine blends, because it has done so well here.
Expanding the Wine Bar concept
Right now I’m focused on Yadkin Valley wines from Raffaldini and RayLen. We are looking to add some other wineries as we get into this thing. The Wine Bar adds something to the whole gallery experience. And I don’t sell art every day, but I usually sell some wine every day. At least a few glasses.
Being the sole supplier for those wineries down here is a good niche. Keep in mind these are boutique wineries. They are very, very small. You won’t see these wines in the grocery store. These vinyards don’t produce enough to meet the requirements for distribution by the chains. And that’s fine. Those are the only ones I want to deal with. The rejection for me is if I see a wine at Harris Teeter, I’m not going to carry it. I can’t compete with those guys, either.
Because these wineries produce the product themselves, they can ship direct. They don’t have to go through a distributor. There used to be a cap, which has been removed. But these guys are so small that wouldn’t matter to them anyway. Duplin Cellars down here is the biggest wineries in the South. They broke a barrier that no one has yet done. They sold over a half a million bottles of that sweet wine.
The wine I carry at the Wine Bar is the wine I like. I don’t carry any sweet wines, I don’t see any sense in it. Everybody around has sweet wines; why should I do that? If someone’s palate is for a dry wine – white or red – they know they can come here.
Some varietals, I can sell bottles. If I can get cases, I do. Both of these wineries have such a huge wedding and event business that they don’t have much product leftover. I’m competing with their decision to sell wholesale to me by the bottle, or by the glass to wedding parties. The difference is in the margins. There isn’t much margin in selling by the bottle. It’s better for me to sell by the glass, too. I’ll do bottle sales to accommodate regular customers.
More wine in the future
Wine lovers should try some of my favorites from Yadkin Valley. And come see the art, and enjoy the music. I am a wine drinker. I always have been. I used to rep a line of South African wine when I had a permanent showroom in Highpoint – Africa House. Everyday at 4 during market days, we would have a wine tasting. That’s how you get people in. You learn that right away in Highpoint. Put the bar in the back of the showroom.
Most of the permanent showrooms have bars. I’m doing that kind of thing at Art Factory now. I’m not sure where I’m going with this here, but I may end up repping wine again. I really like what’s going in the Yadkin Valley. They have a great attitude and I like to be part of that. Californians are even coming to the Yadkin Valley and ordering wines to be shipped.
And a road trip recommendation
About four hours from Wilmington, with forty wineries, the Yadkin Valley is well worth the drive. The valley runs from the Virginia line to the South Carolina line. It’s long valley.You’re only two hours east of Asheville. Visit RayLen and Raffaldini. Look at the shelves and see the medals they have won. It’s impressive.
Stop by the Art Factory Wine Bar to enjoy a Yadkin Valley North Carolina Wine, and wander through the galleries to peruse the huge selection of world art, African textiles and decor, and regional contemporary artists. Find the Art Factory galleries online, too.