Owning a winery might not seem like a common item to mark off the pre-retirement checklist, but it happened to make the queue for one West Virginia couple.
Frank and Elizabeth Dix are the newest owners of Kirkwood Winery in Summersville. Known for its sweet wines and annual grape stomping festival, Kirkwood has become a West Virginia staple since it was founded 25 years ago.
Though the new owners have very limited experience in wine-making — as in, just a few homemade batches — the previous owners Shirley and Brenda Morris are sure they found the right people for the job.
“Shirley and Brenda got the distribution out there and made it the brand that it is,” Frank said. “We hope we can do something that maybe takes the winery to another level.”
The process of taking over the winery began nearly a year ago when the Morris couple decided they’d like to retire and sell the property. They’d acquired it after Shirley’s brother, Rodney Facemire, died of cancer in 2006.
“I was left in a position to run it or sell it, and it wasn’t in any shape to sell at the time,” Shirley said.
Facemire founded the winery in 1992. He worked in the coal mines, but his job was unreliable.
“Coal mining then was just up and down,” Shirley said. “He was working one month, then the next he wasn’t.”
Per his son’s request to learn how to make hard apple cider, he’d planted apple trees in 1971 and added vineyards in 1984, only to lose them in the harsh winter that year and a drought that followed.
He kept at it, though.
After he was laid off in 1991, Facemire decided to make the winery a full-time gig.
Today, Kirkwood Winery consists of a rhubarb patch and blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fields, and six acres of vineyards. It produces about 5,500 gallons of wine annually.
The winery also includes the Isaiah Morgan mini-distillery on the property, named after Facemire’s son. The bourbon at the distillery is aged 10 years in oak barrels and served at The Greenbrier resort.
In his time running it, Shirley says the winery has expanded its sales all over the state, including to major retailers like Kroger.
The winery is known for its fruit and berry wines, as well as its unique ramp wine.
Frank and Elizabeth were not the first couple to try to purchase the winery, but the first offer fell through, and Shirley was waiting for the right buyer.
“We didn’t want to sell it to somebody out of state,” Shirley said. “We wanted to sell it to somebody locally.”
The couples met while Frank was in the process of purchasing rental property from Shirley.
Not only is the Dix couple local, Shirley believes they will be instrumental in the winery’s growth.
“They’re business people to start with, they’re younger, and there’s a lot of room for expansion, and they see that,” he said. “It worked out really well for us. We found the right fix.”
The couple has limited wine-making and distilling experience, but they see an opportunity to grow sales to surrounding states and host more events. However, Frank says they have few tricks up their sleeve at the moment.
“The winery has changed hands, but we’re not changing anything,” Frank said. “As far as operation goes, everything will stay the same.”
The couple officially acquired the winery on July 28, and after only two weeks of ownership, they took Kirkwood Winery to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s Country Store at the State Fair in Lewisburg, where Frank says they met many loyal customers, including a handful from out of state.
The three employees they inherited with the purchase will continue to help operate the business as the couple continues to learn the day-to-day operations.
Both have kept their day jobs, but when they decide to retire, Frank says they will run the winery full-time. He currently works at MonPower and Elizabeth works for Seneca Health Services, and the couple also runs a rental business.
Kirkwood’s 26th annual Grape Stomping Wine Festival will take place Sept. 16 and 17 at the winery. The Festival includes live performances by nine artists, including the Davisson Brothers Band, covered wagon rides, wine and whiskey tastings, grape eating and stomping and distillery tours. Tickets are $15 for those 21 and older, $5 for those 12-20 and free for kids under 12. Admission includes a free glass and tastings.