When a business wants to expand, it seeks new sources of raw materials. That’s not so easy for Virginia wineries. The dramatic growth in the number of wineries over the past eight years, from 118 in 2008 to 252 today, has outpaced the growth in vineyard acreage and grape supply.
So to grow his Paradise Springs brand, Kirk Wiles decided to go west.
He could have bought grapes from other states, blending them into his Virginia wines or labeling the wines as “American.” But Wiles didn’t want to dilute his commitment to all-Virginia wines. Instead, he decided to create a new line in California. Paradise Springs Winery of Clifton is now joined by Paradise Springs of Santa Barbara. Wiles and winemaker Rob Cox work with Doug Margerum, a noted Santa Barbara County winemaker, to produce the new wines.
Wiles is chief executive and co-founder, with his brother, Drew, and their mother, Jane Kincheloe, of the winery they founded in 2007 in southwestern Fairfax County. He and Drew are the ninth generation to farm the land, which was part of a grant from Lord Fairfax to the Kincheloe family in 1716. The Kincheloe name appears on road and park signs and throughout the history of Clifton, a picturesque town delicately balanced on the edge of time and suburbia. The winery, located southwest of the town, has earned acclaim with its red wines and its 2009 chardonnay, which won the Virginia Governor’s Cup. Production has grown from about 1,500 cases of the 2008 vintage to 12,000 cases in 2015.
The decision to expand westward was driven by the scarce availability of high-quality wine grapes in Virginia, Wiles says. “How do we grow the winery brand without relying on Virginia grapes? We wanted to establish roots in other areas.”
There’s irony here, of course. By preserving the integrity of his Virginia wines, Wiles has turned Paradise Springs into a multi-regional brand — perhaps the first bicoastal U.S. wine brand. That goes against the popular image of small, artisanal family wineries and echoes labels such as Layer Cake, which sells wines from California, Australia, Argentina, Italy and Spain.
The new Santa Barbara wines include a delicate pinot noir from the Santa Rita Hills ($55), sourced mostly from the vineyards owned by Hilliard Bruce Wines. There is also a racy sauvignon blanc from Happy Canyon ($35), an area in the eastern part of Santa Barbara County, rich and citrusy with grapefruit and passion-fruit flavors. Both are from the 2014 vintage and are available from the winery, though they will be in limited distribution here. For the 2015 vintage, there will also be a chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills and a pinot noir sourced exclusively from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, the first planted in Santa Barbara County in the early 1970s.
Wiles plans to open a Paradise Springs tasting room in Santa Barbara that will also introduce the Virginia wines to California consumers. “It will open the door on both sides to help us tell our story out there,” he says.
Even with the new emphasis on Santa Barbara, Wiles and Cox say they are not dropping their focus on Virginia and the effort to find new sources of wine grapes there. They now buy grapes from several vineyards, most notably Williams Gap in Loudoun County and Indian Springs in the Shenandoah Valley.
“We’re lucky we got into the business before the real expansion and were able to forge good relationships with growers,” Wiles says. But with fierce competition for existing vineyards, he’s looking for land to develop in the Shenandoah, a region many Virginia winemakers cite for its potential for new vineyards, especially at higher elevations.
The land search is focusing on the quality of the site rather than its accessibility to visitors.
“We have the traffic and tourism here” in the Clifton tasting room, which opened in 2011, Wiles says. “We don’t need tourism out there.”