Photos courtesy of J.R. Dill Winery
If you were a banker, you might not be that excited about helping Jeffrey Dill, either.
See, the guy was not even 26 years old. He wanted to build and open a new winery in a region where at least two wineries are for sale and others are struggling. He wanted to do so in a dreadful economic period. And he told the bank he was counting on the local industry – his competitors – to help him get going.
This was not a fat-chance scenario. This was a super-obese-guy-walks-into-a-donut-shop scenario.
"The banks were confused," Jeffrey told me with a laugh. "They couldn't understand how I assumed I'd have help getting started. They would tell me that these guys are the competition, and other industries don't work that way."
The banks were right, but the banks had never met Peter Bell, or Ted Marks, or Vinny Aliperti, or the Whitings, or the Stamps, or Phil Davis, or the folks at Wagner.
"I thought I could get some assistance," Jeffrey said, "but I wasn't ready for just how helpful everyone has been. They literally just stop by and ask if they can do anything for me."
Now, the J.R. Dill Winery is finally ready to open to the public. Jeffrey is waiting for the feds to approve his labels, and he expects to offer tastings within a month. The unofficial launch of J.R. Dill could come at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival.
Located just south of Atwater Estate Vineyards and just north of Finger Lakes Distilling, J.R. Dill will start out small (1,400 cases) and build to about 5,000 cases within five years. Jeffrey, a Watkins Glen native who worked for a commercial mortgage lender outside Philadelphia before the housing crisis, is the owner but not the winemaker. "Right now it's me," he said reluctantly. "But even my first releases will be made or assisted by other winemakers, and I expect to have a full-time winemaker within about a year."
It was Jeffrey's marketing savvy and knowledge of business that convinced the banks he wasn't crazy. Before he's even opened, Jeffrey is making plans for selling wine outside the region. "I see the market far beyond the tasting room," he said. "Seven billion people live on this planet. The market is out there. We just have to go find it."
That puts J.R. Dill ahead of other local wineries that hope to survive on tasting room sales alone. Jeffrey will offer a small but diverse set of wines, including French American hybrids. "Those were some of the first wines I made when I studied enology, and some of the first wines I drank," he explained. "We'll make those wines because I still love them." One of the initial bottlings is a 2007 DeChaunac.
There are still kinks to work out, and Jeffrey acknowledges the challenges of starting and owning a winery. He enjoys free labor from family and friends, but it's difficult to stay on top of each aspect. His website needs updating and greets visitors with photos of snow-covered buildings. Riesling is spelled incorrectly.
But those are relatively minor problems for a new operation that is ambitiously seeking to beat the odds that are long and getting longer. "I love what I'm doing and I'm already having fun," he said. That's a good start, but of the seven billion people on this planet, all but several hundred have no idea who he is or what J.R. Dill is all about. The process of changing that starts now.