A family-owned farm in metro Atlanta finds new life as a vineyard
Tucked behind a residential neighborhood near Cobb Parkway in Acworth, this 500-acre farm is an anomaly in an area where builders scoop up available land.
“My grandmother Betty Gilbert bought it back in 1963,” said Emilee Gilbert. “Her father told her to buy the land and put her boys to work. We’ve been farming since then.”
In 2016, the Gilberts decided a vineyard and event space to host wine tastings, weddings and private parties would be more profitable than the commercially cut flowers they were growing, so they planted test vineyards on a few acres. Betty Gilbert’s son Bob, a graduate of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, began working with his alma mater to develop disease-resistant grape varieties that would succeed at their farm’s elevation. Bob’s daughter, Emilee Gilbert, managed the vineyard business while her family farmed it.
Getting funding for the event space was more difficult than planned.
“We were considered a startup even though we had plants in the ground,” Gilbert said. “They wanted to see our ability to make money, but there were no comparable businesses near us.”
They met Matt Pearce, a former faculty member with the UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC), who helped them complete their business plan – including financial forecasts for their loan application – and prepare the package for submission to the bank.
“Bob needed a business plan and projections that would help the bank understand the economics of his business and prove they’d be able to generate adequate cash flow to service the debt,” Pearce said. “Farms tend to have a long lead time between planting and producing income, and a lot of banks have trouble with this.”
“Matt assisted us in putting together out budgets, projections and getting the plan bank-ready,” Gilbert said. “He knew what they wanted to see instead of us just guessing.”
Eventually, Qualusi Vineyards obtained a bank loan to fund the event space and a federal Covid-19 relief loan for operations. After opening in early 2020, the venue closed for some time during the pandemic. It reopened in April 2020 and has since become such a popular spot that sales doubled the first-year projections. In 2021, the Paulding chamber named the vineyard a business of the month.
“Startups struggle most with financial and marketing plans,” Pearce said. “We can help them be realistic about timelines, understand what financing is needed, what banks look for and how to put together a really good marketing plan.”
By Jennifer Giarratano