Dover family looks to expand farm, vineyard

Concord native Elizabeth Dover traded her first career choice as a diplomat for something closer to home and more in line with her family's history.

The 26-year-old is the only child of Audy and Margaret Dover, and Dover is a Cabarrus County family name long associated with food entrepreneurs.

Her great-grandfather, Aud, started Dover Supermarket on Cabarrus Avenue, and the family still has check stubs from as early as 1913. Her grandfather, Leonard, took over the business in the late 1930s before her dad ran it from 1987 to 1998.

Elizabeth Dover earned a degree in medieval studies from Davidson College before getting her bachelor's degree in horticulture from N.C. State University. She also studied wine-making through New Zealand's Lincoln University.

About three years ago, she opened and began operating The Farm at Dover Vineyards on Concord Parkway, near Pitts School Road in Concord. The property has a 1.5-acre uncertified organic garden and a four-acre vineyard - one of only two in Cabarrus County but among more than 100 in the state.

This year marked the Dover family's first grape harvest. Samples of the first "experimental" batch of wine will make their debut in December. Its first official vintage varieties won't be for sale, however, until at least 2012, said Dover.

While Dover's parents are retired, they both help with numerous tasks around the farm as well as provide financing. Long-term plans include turning the property into a wine village that could include a bed and breakfast and a building where crops and other goods, like homemade wine, could be sold year-round.

Jim Morrison, 69, a Concord native and a long-time family friend, said Dover has the drive and ability to make this business a success.

"She is intelligent, educated and hard-working," said Morrison. "And this is a viable and profitable venture. It's not just hobby for her."

Once the family perfects the grape-growing process, they will focus on perfecting the wine-making process. Elizabeth Dover said they expect to yield about 15,000 bottles of wine next year. This year, the Dovers' yield was about 200 gallons, or 1,000 bottles of wine.

The farm will offer two varieties: chambourcin, a red wine, and vidal blanc, a white.

Dover said she feels a lot of pressure to keep the family name alive, adding the whole endeavor has been one of patience and faith.

"Farming is nothing but," she said. "You put a seed in the ground and wait."

Hard work is next on the list, along with troubleshooting and perseverance.

Dover credits the growth of the farm and vineyard to her workers, two of which are originally from Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe with a well-established reputation in the wine industry.

Nicholae Nirean and Luiba Cocuig live in Matthews but have worked on the farm the past two years. Their ingenuity and ability to farm multiple acres without machinery have helped Dover most, she said. Last year, the Cocuigs tilled the four-acre vineyard with hoes.

"They're the most hard-working people I've ever met," Dover said. "They worked 10 hours a day, June through August, simply because they knew it needed to be done. I would never ask anyone to do that, especially during the hottest months of the year. They just did it."

Dover also blogs about her life on the farm. Throughout the past five months, she has expanded her offerings from just produce to cheese, butter, eggs, honey, turkeys and other meat.

The farm has a private vegetable club through a Community Supported Agriculture program. It went from being offered for 17 weeks last year to 36 weeks this year.

In April, it opened to the public via a roadside stand, offering seasonal vegetables and other locally made items, such as honey and root beer.

"We hope to have a building so that we can be the convenient, one-stop-shop for local foods and wine in Concord," Dover said. "With the addition of some high tunnels, we hope to have more extensive offerings in the spring so that people can continue to eat locally for more months of the year. And, in the future, we would like to be able to incorporate other artisanal shops on the property centered around wine making, such as a bakery, cheese shop, butcher shop, etc."

Volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome: Email for your own on-the-farm experience.