For local winery, a new chapter begins after founder’s death
WEST HALIFAX - Honora Winery has new managers. Following the death of its founder and owner Patty Farrington, the company is being helmed by the two women Farrington wanted to manage it: her daughter Danielle Wade, and Janice Stuart, who joined Honora as an intern and worked her way up to manager, wine maker, and brewer at J’Ville Brewery.
On a Wednesday morning, Wade and Stuart are at Honora and J’Ville’s Dover tasting room. The pair is upbeat, but each of them have moments throughout an hourlong interview that show that that the emotions of Farrington’s death are still raw. To put it plainly, it’s clear that they miss her. It’s also clear that they want to carry on her legacy. The latter is something they each say more than once.
Asked to describe Farrington, Wade says, “She was just awesome.” She describes her mother as a “real people person” who was dedicated to helping small businesses in the valley succeed, and to helping others whenever she could.
“And she was so dedicated to her family, and so strong,” she says. “The amount of strength she had. She was a young mom, left her family at 16. Started her own business at 18. She was just an all-around entrepreneur, and wicked smart. She was just an awesome lady, and literally my best friend.”
Wade says that Farrington was like everyone’s grandma. To that end, she says “everyone” called her Nani (pronounced “non-nee”). Wade catches herself referring to Farrington as Nani several times throughout the interview.
The pair talk about the company’s history. Patty, they say, grew up skiing at Mount Snow and upon retiring from a previous business ownership, decided to move to Halifax, where she and her husband found a piece of land they fell in love with. “They planted a couple of vines, which turned out to be 10 acres,” says Stuart. “It turned into, ‘Well, let’s build a winery.’”
The vineyard was planted in 2002 and 2003. The first wine production was in 2005. In 2009, Honora opened its Jacksonville tasting room. J’Ville Brewery, the company’s beer leg, was created in 2012 (“We started the brewery because I like to drink beer,” says Stuart). Last year, the Honora and J’Ville tasting room was opened in Dover.
The winery has a 20,000-gallon capacity. On its 10 acres of vines grow 10 cold-weather varieties of grapes. Whole grapes are also imported from California. “That’s something Patty was passionate about,” says Stuart. “We’re in Vermont, not wine country. Regardless of your techniques, the climate doesn’t lend itself to deep red wines, which is what Patty loved.”
“Oh, yeah,” says Wade, with a laugh.
Wade says it wasn’t always her plan to work at the winery, but when she moved to Vermont to be near her parents six years ago, she found her niche in the events side of the business. A wedding venue was built at the winery in 2009. Wade’s was the first wedding to be held there.
Stuart talks about the first time she met Farrington. It was at an interview for a job that didn’t exist. Stuart had seen a presentation about Honora’s internship program when she was a freshman in college. When she was about to earn her degree in plant science, she followed up. She was told there were no internships available. Stuart asked if Patty would interview her anyway. She said yes. Stuart says she arrived in a business suit at the insistence of her mother.
“I was so mad,” she says. “I said, ‘I have a degree in plant science, no one expects me to be in a business suit.’ So I walked in and everyone burst out laughing because I was in a pant suit. I think Patty fell in love with me that day.”
In addition to wearing a business suit, Stuart says her mother had given her another piece of advice about the interview, which was that it wasn’t proper to ask if she’d gotten the job. “So Patty asked if I had any more questions, and of course I said, ‘Uh, did you hire me?’ And she said, ‘Ya’ know what? Yes, yes we did.’”
So began a relationship that was part business mentorship, part deep personal connection. In Farrington’s obituary, both Wade and Stuart were acknowledged as Farrington’s daughters. The growth Stuart reports having gained from her years with Farrington ranges from matters of business to those of the soul.
“She was definitely one of the most giving people I’ve ever met,” says Stuart. “She taught me a lot about being a business person, but also about just being a decent human being.”
“She was all about empowering women,” says Wade. “Bringing up strong women and girls, and instilling that in me, and her granddaughters, and Janice. Her famous line was, whenever we didn’t want to do something or were nervous about something, ‘Put your big girl panties on, let’s do this.’”
The pair say they’re working totally as a team, though technically Stuart is managing the production side of the business and Wade the events side. Asked how or when it was decided that they would carry on the company together in Farrington’s absence, silence hangs for a moment as though the answer is obvious. Within the world of the three women, it seems it was. “That’s how Patty trained us, and that’s what Patty wanted,” says Stuart. “We’re working together, and Patty is going to be proud.”
“It’s more like family than anything,” says Wade. “And she was happy to see us working together. It’s important that we keep that alive. And that we keep her legacy alive.”
“Oh, it’s alive,” says Stuart. “It’s shining.”