Jay and Joanna Bell are living the dream at Bella Terra Vineyards. The couple lives on 17 acres of beautiful land that they’ve transformed into a winery and weddings/events venue. Currently they are renovating the winery/tasting room and will have their grand opening on September 17, 2016. I was privileged enough to sit down with the Bells and talk to them about their experiences opening up their own business. As we started the conversation it was easy to see that the couple loves wine and honestly has a blast working every day on Bella Terra. My first question for the couple was about their motivation to be entrepreneurs and work for themselves. “The opportunity fell in our lap when we bought the property,” Joanna explains. Jay and Joanna bought their 17 acres with the idea that they wanted to capitalize on the amount of land they had. Jay has a strong background in horticulture so they knew that they wanted to do something with farming the land. As they were deciding what industry to go into they started noticing a strong demand for wine in the area and loved wine themselves. At first they were just going to have the vineyard as an added benefit to the wedding/event venue, but as they started to experiment with making their own wines they knew they had to open the winery. It was the perfect venture for them and it’s something they love doing. In regards to the wedding/event venue, currently it is an outdoor venue only, but will be expanding into a building in the next 2 years or so. The wedding/event venue was something they decided to launch because they realized that there was a shortage of places like this in the area. “The difference between getting married in a ballroom at a hotel and a barn is huge. We wanted to have something that was in between,” Joanna said.
I asked Jay and Joanna if they had faced any challenges in starting Bella Terra Vineyards. Jay smiled and started telling me about their contractor. “We had everything set up with our loan for building the wedding/event venue, redoing everything and had the contractor ready to go. Then he called us to tell us he was going out of business.” Jay said that they had to try to find a new contractor and started getting a flood of phone calls wanting the business. As they met with different contractors they started to hear a lot of new ideas about the building and different plans they could be implementing. Jay says that it turned out to be a great thing as they decided to hold off on the building for a few years and take those ideas into consideration. This way they will get a building they love right from the start. Joanna sums up the situation perfectly, “these were terrible things that made us pull out our hair… but they turned into this is what we should be doing. All of those challenges have led us to where we need to be. We don’t even see them as challenges anymore.”
As we continued our conversation I grew more and more curious about the wines themselves. All of these wines I will describe will be available to sample and purchase at their grand opening. Bella Terra has 3 dry wines for the 2015 year, the Reserve, Raspberry Cabernet, and Peridot. Their Reserve Cabernet is described as a smooth oak flavor with a peppery bite and a lingering black cherry finish. Make sure to swirl the Reserve to release all of the flavors. Their Raspberry Cabernet is a surprisingly dry fruity cab that has raspberry and blackberry flavors. Jay and Joanna say that the Raspberry Cabernet has been a surprise hit. The Peridot is a dry Riesling with zesty grapefruit and pear that is described as a mellow drink.
Bella Terra has one semi-sweet wine and 3 sweet wines for the 2015 year as well. The semi-sweet wine is called Riesling which has notes of honeydew and vanilla and is more of a classic Riesling. The sweet wines are Sunday Afternoon, Duvall, and Sweet Finley. Sunday Afternoon is sweet with notes of berry and peach and is known for its beautiful color. Duvall is slightly tart with hints of lemon and plum, and has medium notes of black cherry for balance. The last sweet wine is Sweet Finley and is their most popular wine to date. Sweet Finley has deep, rich flavors of Concord and the subtle, earthy notes of Niagara that gives a sassy and sweet all-around flavor.
Through all of this discussion I also became very curious as to how the Bells found Enterprise Bank. Jay describes that we were referred to him through the 504 Company, who they initially started working with on the loan. Jay gave the impression that the loan process was very quick and thorough. “The experience has been easy… they’re easy to get ahold of and easy to get stuff done.” Jay and Joanna have been working closely with their relationship manager, Jay Murgi, for any of their needs. Jay and Joanna have only nice things to say about Jay Murgi and their experience with him specifically. “We like him!”
My last question for the Bells was if they had any advice for those looking to start their business. “Make sure your business plan is completely bulletproof and looked at by many, many people.” Jay and Joanna strongly hit on the fact that you have to have people look at the business plan that will be completely honest with you. Constructive criticism will only help you. Their last piece of advice from Joanna was, “as cliché as it sounds, make sure you do something that you love.” A lot of hard, tiresome work goes into starting your own business so you have to make sure that you love what you’re doing. That’s what makes it all worth it.
After my discussion with Jay and Joanna Bell, I went off to have a discussion with their relationship manager Jay Murgi to talk about his experience with the Bells. The first thing I wanted to know was his first impression of the Bells. “It was positive. They were very motivated… they’re good people and hard workers, they go after what they want.” Jay Murgi speaks very highly of Jay and Joanna Bell, and after speaking with them myself it is all too obvious that he speaks honestly. The most important opinion that Jay Murgi can have is, of course, of the wine itself. I asked him of his first impression right after his first tasting so that his thoughts were fresh in his mind. “I was surprised, I thought it was very good and they had a wide selection.” Jay Murgi specifically brought up the uniqueness of the different wines available and that he was incredibly impressed with the variety. As we continued to discuss Bella Terra we started talking about how Jay helped them with their loan needs to get them where they are today. Jay Murgi echoes Jay and Joanna’s earlier discussion about how they had to change their business plan completely and that he helped them transition from the larger loan to the smaller one. “They had to change their plan and instead of giving up they just said we can make this work.” The overall experience so far has been very positive and it is obvious that Jay Murgi works well with the Bells. Jay said that he can’t wait to see how Bella Terra grows in the next few years and is excited for the event center to open up. You can tell that he has a lot of pride in his work with Bella Terra and genuinely cares for the business and the people behind it.
The grand opening is on September 17, 2016 from 11am-6pm. There will be food, drinks, and a beautiful day of fun. There will be an acoustic band playing from 1pm-4pm, and the event is completely open to the public. If you are interested in attending, or just would like more information about the winery, you can call Jay Bell at (724) 331-7210 or visit Bella Terra at http://www.bellaterravineyards.com.