Backstory: Making a living, wine from hand-planted grape vines at Rock of Ages Winery

09/01/2014 8:00 PM

09/02/2014 4:54 AM

After a few years of running two small businesses, Kim and Kevin Moore were tired of working long days split between Hard Rock Marble & Tile in Hillsborough and Rock of Ages Winery in Hurdle Mills.

“We felt like we weren’t doing a very good job at either place, and we had to make a decision,” Kim Moore said.

In January 2013, the couple started discussing the merits of keeping each business. Continuing with the 22-year-old Hard Rock included carrying heavy stone and trying to keep up with a demanding schedule of measuring and installing mostly granite counters.

“Tedious,” said Kim Moore, 49.

The winery offered a different kind of living, she said. One that involved tending land in the mornings and opening the tasting room every day from 1 to 5 p.m.

“We knew we were going to retire doing this,” she said. “So at what point do you make that transition?”

The Moores chose to continue being the owners of one of the state’s more than 100 wineries and closed Hard Rock earlier this year.

Rock of Ages grows 17 grape varieties of the state’s native muscadine grapes and European-style vinifera grapes. Wines sell from $11.95 to $18.95, and its most popular ones are various shades of pink, with a sweet that is more muscadine than white zinfandel.

Last year, Gov. Pat McCrory declared September as Wine and Grape Month as a way to recognize wine’s $1.28 billion economic impact on the state.

Like most North Carolina wineries, Rock of Ages cobbles together various streams of revenue to build a viable and sustainable model.

Weddings account for about 35 percent of its revenue and 50 percent is raised from on-premise tastings, bottle and gift sales and wholesale distribution. Events, such as murder-mystery and themed dinners, account for an additional 15 percent.

Looking back, Kim Moore said, she was surprised that the couple, who grew up working in tobacco fields, returned to farming. Kim Moore received an accounting degree from Elon University in 1989 and worked as a financial analyst for Duke University. Kevin Moore graduated from N.C. State University in 1984 with a degree in economics. He worked as a stock broker and opened Hard Rock Marble & Tile in 1991.

But in 2001, Kevin and his brother Herbert Moore were drinking wine at their annual July Fourth family camping trip and hatched a plan to each plant 1 1/2 acres of grapes. Herbert backed out, but Kevin wouldn’t let the idea go.

In April 2002, Kevin and Kim Moore planted 3 acres of young vines by hand, and added 23 acres in 2003.

Kevin enrolled in Surry Community College to study viticulture – the cultivation of grapevines – and oenology, the science of wine and winemaking.

In 2005, Kevin Moore and seven others built the 27,978-square-foot, two-story manor, which includes an entertainment and wine production space.

One of the biggest challenges for the business, which employs the Moores and two part-timers, has centered on building wholesale distribution in an industry dominated by large international companies. In 2008, they hired a salesperson who expanded sales to small, independent shops and convenience stores. Then they turned to a Budweiser distributor to increase sales in those spaces.

In an effort to jump to grocery stores in the region, the Moores worked with Empire Distributors, which distributes mostly wine and some beer in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

At 8, the winery is still young, the Moores said, and they are working on perfecting processes and controlling variables that range from rain to revenue.

“It’s a moving target every year,” Kevin Moore said.

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