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Sweet Grapes

The Fussell family and sweet wine fans have turned Duplin Winery into the biggest muscadine operation in America. A fleet of Massey Ferguson utility tractors help them get the job done.

David Fussell on one of the family's MF2615s.

David Fussell on one of the family’s MF2615s.

If muscadine grapes could talk, they might sound a little bit like the Fussell brothers of Rose Hill, N.C.

For instance, the native Southern grapes would definitely have an accent. Like the Fussells, they would be honest about hard times. And they might be a little bit defensive. See, the muscadine is the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes. It gets no respect.

Taken on its own merits, it’s hard to imagine why the mighty muscadine—also known as the scuppernong—needs a defense. It’s a tough grape. The fruit itself is twice as big as that of the European varieties more common in wine culture (pinot, cabernet, chardonnay, etc.), and though all grapes contain high levels of resveratrol, the anti-oxidant, in their skins, some studies have shown muscadines to contain 6 to 10 times more than other varieties.

Still, some folks look down their upturned noses at sweet wines. “The industry in California has done a good job of promoting dry wine as the sophisticated thing to drink,” says Jonathan Fussell, who with his older brother David took over the family business, Duplin Winery (www.duplinwinery.com), from their father, David Sr., several years ago. “We sort of use that lack of respect as motivation for what we do,” David says.

Which is sell a lot of wine.

Retailers across the country, including WalMart, Food Lion, and Bi-Lo, sold more than 330,000 cases of Duplin’s sweet vino in 2011. The Fussells also welcome about 100,000 visitors a year to the winery for tours and tastings.

It’s a labor intensive operation that requires expertise on the part of growers and reliability and versatility on the part of equipment. Massey Ferguson fits the bill, says Carlos Munguia, the winery’s vineyard manager, who uses several MF2615s in the operation.

Carlos Munguia between the rows.

Carlos Munguia between the rows.

“We have some Kubotas, and the thing you notice is the MF2615 has a much tighter turning radius,” says Munguia, which is crucial when maneuvering around delicate vines. Getting as close to the vines with the tractor as possible is important both for spraying, to avoid drift, and for mowing, to keep rows tidy for visitors. Munguia says the quick availability of parts, even for the older MF1220, reduces any downtime drastically.

The formula for success at Duplin Winery, the largest muscadine winery in America, is comparable to the formula for Massey Ferguson’s heritage of quality, says David Fussell. “We make great wines and people expect a certain quality from them, and I think that’s the same as anyone who’s out there buying a tractor. We’ve learned to put trust in Massey Ferguson to provide us with a quality tractor.”

Read the full story here.