Up Front: April 2006

Rise and shine

Growing up, my only exposure to wine was the empty “short dogs” we’d sometimes find behind the well house at my grand-parents’ place. Grandpa Kinney was known to imbibe a bit — which, since he’d been a cabinetmaker, probably explained why he had just one eye and only seven fingers — and the shed was where he’d retreat to avoid Grandma’s vigilance.

Back then, at least in my milieu, there was nothing sophisticated about wine and those who drank it. Most of what you’d find on store shelves was the fortified kind, packing more punch per penny than beer and lots less expensive than the marked-up whiskey the bootleggers brought in from nearby counties that had liquor stores. The prejudice against wine was widespread, so it was no surprise to read about the flak the Fussell family faced when neighbors caught wind of plans to open a winery in Rose Hill more than 30 years ago.

What’s surprising about this month’s cover story is how frankly David Fussell and his kin talk about his bout with depression and its effect on Duplin Wine Cellars. After all, the prejudice against alcohol — or, for that matter, alcoholism — pales against the one many people have about anything that smacks of mental illness.

“It’s hard for business owners, maybe more so than most people, to admit weakness or what can be perceived as a weakness,” notes Senior Editor Frank Maley, who wrote the article. “They’re supposed to be strong leaders who can hide their fear or at least turn it to their advantage by anticipating the pitfalls that can swallow a company. It’s not often that one opens up about a part of their life so gloomy — even more so, one willing to talk about it to a stranger planning to share it with tens of thousands of the businessman’s peers.”

Fussell didn’t volunteer the information about his depression — after all, this was something that happened nearly 20 years ago — but he didn’t flinch when Frank, whose curiosity had been piqued by a few comments other family members had made, asked him about it. Fussell even put his wife on the phone when Frank wanted to know how she had dealt with his illness and its impact on their lives.

What resulted is a piece that has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with pluck, love and pride — about how people pulled together and persevered. “The story of this business is worth putting on our cover not just for what it has accomplished but for what it has endured,” Frank says. “If not for his family pitching in when he needed help and picking him up when he was down, Fussell would have given up, gone back to teaching and maybe stayed there.

“Duplin’s story illustrates the need for people willing to take chances and buck convention constructively, the need for people to step up when others falter and the idea that sometimes, even when prudence seems to dictate otherwise, if you hang in there long enough, your bad luck will turn.”