Susan Prokop & James Turpin, Democracy Vineyards, Lovingston
Jim Turpin describes himself as a “recovering lobbyist,” who began to wonder what “life after DC might be like.” While he once toyed with the idea of owning a race car team, he and his wife, Susan Prokop, enjoyed going to wine festivals where they noticed that many of the winery owners had former careers in unrelated fields. The notion of creating their own winery began to take root.
They went about the transition carefully, seeking expert advice along the way. Counseling provided by the Central Virginia SBDC started with help to develop a solid business plan. With the grand opening of their tasting room in September, 2012, one of the major goals was met. According to Jim, another of the vital services the SBDC provided was assistance in assembling a construction loan application package for that building. Their thorough preparation resulted in expeditious approval from two banks. The SBDC also helped to identify key business support professionals such as accountants, insurance agents and a website designer.
Jim took classes in the Piedmont Virginia Community College Enology and Viticulture program. Virginia Tech helped them target Nelson County in the Monticello American Viticultural Area for their vineyard, one of the richest areas of Virginia’s burgeoning wine growing industry. Experienced Virginia vineyard consultant Chris Hill helped establish the vineyards in 2009 in a former apple orchard.
While this new venture is a radical change in lifestyle for Susan and Jim, there is a certain “back to the future” in their move into the winery business. Farming has been in Susan’s family since they went to Nebraska in the mid-1800s from what is now the Czech Republic. Jim’s family has long roots in Central Virginia and he came to attend Virginia Military Institute. But he was still surprised when the realtor first showed him the “upper and lower Turpin” property. The real estate attorney turned out to be Ralph Turpin who bears a strong resemblance to Jim’s father. “Ruby’s Cabin,” home to cousin Ruby Turpin for forty years, was also on the property. A shoe from one of her horses now has a place of honor in the tasting room as a good luck symbol.
Noted winemaker Michael Shaps has been making the wine for Democracy Vineyards, using a blend of their fruit (as the vineyards mature) and grapes sourced from select Monticello appellation growers. Now that the winery is itself maturing, they have hired their first Democracy winemaker and vineyard manager who is helping to select and install the new equipment, and they have brought on a tasting room manager.