Lindsey and Matt Vrahiotes were hard at work on the finishing touches to their bar, and hoping people would show up to their Alto fruit winery.
They had sold everything they had. They had taken out loans. They had moved into the basement of Lindsey’s parents.
“There were many times where I had this overwhelming feeling of ‘what are we doing?’” Lindsey said.
One year later, it looks like whatever they are doing, it’s working.
Sweet Acre Farms Winery is tripling production of its fruit wines, which are sold in more than 10 locations in the state.
And that first event? “The place was packed,” Matt said.
Their concept of using various fruits other than grapes to make their wines is different. And the location on Bill Wilson Road is a bit off the beaten path.
“So is it going to be successful?” Matt asked. “And it was that day, and it has been over the past year.”
The couple source fruits from their farm as well as others in Georgia. They make the wines on site and have a public tasting room.
“I feel like we’ve achieved our dreams, because we always wanted to work together and own our own business,” Lindsey said.
A winery wasn’t always in the plans, though.
“I didn’t grow up as a kid thinking I wanted to own a winery one day,” Matt said. But he saw an opportunity in the market and got to work.
About five years ago, the couple began visiting nearby wineries, asking questions about production, varieties, processes and equipment.
They had bought and cleared land. They applied for the right permits and licenses — a process that turned out to be fairly lengthy.
Fruits were already growing on the farm, and by April 2015, they started construction. A year later, they opened. Now another year has passed, and they’ve surpassed their own expectations.
Matt said advice he got from other wineries was “you’ll be lucky to sell 1,000 cases.”
They produced 1,200 cases and sold out eight months after opening.
Some varieties sold out sooner, like Bramblin’ Sam, which is a blackberry apple wine that Matt said repeat customers request the most. He’s hoping to have it available again in July.
And their lemon wines have been the “best-selling wines hands down,” he said.
Family members and friends were skeptical about that one.
“‘Listen, it’s going to sell, it’s going to do good,’” Matt recalled telling them. “And we did six batches this past year, and we sold out of all of it. So this year, I’m doing nine batches.”
Varieties such as lemon strawberry, lemon peach and lemon blackberry will be back soon if they’re not already. And he’s adding lemon red muscadine and a lemon blueberry pomegranate.
Eric Hiltz, wine manager at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, said Sweet Acre hit a niche market, especially with the lemon wines. Mercier produces hard ciders and wines and helped advise the Vrahiotes as they started their business.
“People really like it,” Lauren Williams, manager at Downtown Drafts growlers in Gainesville, said of Sweet Acre’s wines. “And people from out of town are excited we have a really local winery.”
Williams and Hiltz both mentioned the couple do a good job selling their products.
Both Gainesville growlers shops, Downtown Drafts and Tap It, started carrying the wines as soon as they were available.
Matt said online reviews have been key for them, too, as people Google things to do in the area.
The business won’t be without challenges going forward, though. Matt hopes to avoid running out of his product this year. Though some may call it a good problem to have, he noted he has to reinvest his profits into increasing production.
And like any farmer, there’s weather and pests to contend with when growing crops.
But the Vrahiotes believe they’ve landed on the right business recipe.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that if we can do three things — good wine, great customer service and a really cool place to hang out at — people tend to want to be here,” Matt said.