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Fastest Growing Winery in Virginia?


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Brian and Sharon Roeder opened the doors to their Barrel Oak Winery---BOW---in Delaplane, VA in the spring of 2008. Since then, 120,000 guests have sipped, picnicked and chatted away in their tasting room or on their patio or spacious grounds. Recently Roeder carved out an hour of his 100 hour work week to talk about why so many folks visit---and then return---to his kid and dog friendly winery. In 2010, BOW will produce 8,100 cases of wine, well on its way to a goal of 10,000 cases annually.

So how did you and Sharon end up in the wine business?

We both were leading professional lives far removed from the world of wine. I was involved in small business development focusing on construction, property management, and nonprofit organizations. Sharon worked for a government affairs consulting firm. About four and a half years into our marriage, we realized we both had similar dreams. Sharon wanted to farm a vineyard and make wine and I had always wanted to own a winery. Barrel Oak was born.

Did you name the winery with the dog theme in mind?

Yes. But truthfully, we didn’t think it would resonate with the public as quickly as it did. When our beloved Golden Retriever “Bogart” died of Lyme disease at the age of eight, we called our breeder and purchased a pup just days before we opened the winery. On opening day, Sharon was not letting go of her new baby and carried the puppy all around the winery. Our customers loved it and asked if they could bring their own dogs. But of course! Word began to spread that we embraced kids, dogs and fun. The tasting room business took off.

Dogs and kids alone can’t build the volume of business you’ve generated. What else is in play here?

Think of a target with each widening circle contributing to our growth. First it’s our family and friends, then a network of twenty-six partners, followed by barrel club members, then regular wine club members, and finally, a growing email list that currently has 10,500 addresses. All of these forces are spreading our BOW message of quality wine and fun. In fact, our motto is: Farm, Family, and Fun.

In addition, Sharon and I are actively involved in working the tasting room and cellar each weekend. I personally like to greet our customers at the front door. I circulate throughout the tasting room, patio and grounds asking folks if they are enjoying themselves and what they think of our wine. We also conduct tours in our cellar. Everyone has a dream and we’re showing others they can live theirs; even if it means a lot of hard work.

There are some people---both in and outside the wine industry---that think Barrel Oak is operating a night club or bar type of business. How do you respond to those accusations?

With disappointment. For us, wine has always embodied the good things in life. Our staff works hard to create an environment that is accommodating, clean and safe. Anyone who visits us on a busy weekend can see we are a community. Hard working people and their families need a place in the country with scenic views and a relaxed atmosphere to act as a counterpoint to their hectic working lives. I’m proud we’ve extended our hours to 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. We provide a welcoming atmosphere and it’s the key to our success. It’s also good for the growth of the state’s wine industry. We’ve introduced a lot of people to the world of Virginia wine.

On the other hand, there is a demand for wineries that take a different approach to their business. Some people like a quiet tasting room with the focus primarily on the wine. We understand and appreciate that. At barrel Oak we combine the energy of a fun loving place with quality wine. I think our success shows there is opportunity for both types of establishments.

Finally, we are sensitive to any actual or perceived negative impact in Fauquier County. We have good relationships with all our neighbors and I personally respond to and fix any situation that might be of concern to the local community. We live full-time on our farm. Being a good neighbor comes first.

Why do you hold charity events?

For the first time in our lives we are in a position to help worthy causes. We’ve raised over $120,000 for charitable organizations since we opened two years ago. Each of these events creates new friends and supporters and spreads the word about what’s happening here, so it also makes good business sense. Simply put, raising money for a just cause is the right thing to do.

How do you handle large groups of tasters on busy weekends?

We have seating for up to five hundred people and on some weekends we are full. But, no one should have to wait to enjoy a tasting or purchase wine. At peak times we have forty people on staff working four tasting bars, nine sales registers and serving fare such as cheeses, meats and hummus. We also focus on maintaining clean grounds and keeping an eye out so guests don’t drink too much. People come here to relax, not to get agitated standing in long lines or waiting for service.

Pet Peeves?

Clean restrooms. Every aspect of Barrel Oak should speak quality. A clean and attractive restroom sends a powerful message of quality and commitment to our customers. I push my staff to look at things through the “eyes of the owner.” I know it can be difficult for an employee to take that view but I preach it and reinforce it often.

Biggest misstep when opening the winery?

I’m a guy that tends to speak with authority. In the early months of our operation I shared my formula for success with other Virginia winery owners. Frankly, I don’t think many of them wanted to hear it. I probably ended up offending some folks. I did not intend to tell them how to run their businesses but I think that was the perception. I regret that it.

I also wish I had built the winery twenty percent larger. You always think you are planning correctly but in retrospect that was an element I misjudged.

Closing thoughts?

The future of Virginia wine is unlimited. We need to focus on quality and produce wines that are authentically Virginia. I would love to see Fauquier County join forces with its wineries and attract out-of-state investors to open additional wineries. A national advertising campaign extolling the business advantages of locating a winery in Fauquier County would be a sound way to preserve our scenic countryside. If we don’t develop such strategies, the goal of keeping Fauquier green will be paved over with shopping centers and subdivisions. What we have here is too valuable to let it slip away to commercial rather than agricultural growth.

Visit John Hagarty at: Hagarty-on-Wine.com

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