KU-SBDC and CCEDC Partner to Support Stargazers Vineyard
John and Alice Weygandt founded Stargazers Vineyard on the southern slopes of the Brandywine Creek just south of Unionville in 1979. The vineyard is near the “Stargazers Stone” which marks the location of the observatory Mason and Dixon used in surveying the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. During the first 17 years of their 10-acre vineyard’s operation, they sold grapes to nearby wineries for wine production.
In 1996 the Weygandts built a 3,750 ft2 wine production facility that included a tasting room that could be opened in summer months to enjoy the Brandywine Valley. Further expansion included opening a tasting room in Lititz in 2014 and Intercourse in 2015.
Michael Vorauer has been in the vineyard and winery business since he was a child. His grandparents and uncle owned and operated a winery in Fredericksburg, TX just north of San Antonio, where he was raised. He earned his B.S. in Horticulture at Texas Tech University and after working for 2 years at a vineyard on the Rhine River in Germany, he returned to Texas where he continued working in the industry.
An opportunity in Adams County brought him to Pennsylvania in 2012 and by 2015 Michael was involved in his next project – a restaurant and winery combination, Folino Estate Winery that opened its doors that November.
In 2015, Alice passed away leaving John to run the business by himself. He closed the Intercourse store in 2017 but continued to operate the vineyard and winery until he decided it was time to retire in 2019. At the same time, Michael learned from a colleague that there was winery that was going to close. That’s when Michael reached out to John and their stories intertwined.
Their first contact was in March 2019 and within 2 weeks a letter of intent was signed for Michael and his partner, Jason Kirkpatrick to purchase the business. With a goal to maintain the Stargazer name and logo and grow the brand by broadening the wine selections, Michael and Jason immediately began managing the property and using social media to tap into the audience of Wine Lovers.
Before they could purchase the business, Michael and Jason needed to raise capital. They were referred to Ernie Post at Kutztown SBDC by Eric George of Fleetwood Bank. The team at KU-SBDC led by Marcia McGavisk, Director Capital Acquisition, helped them develop financial projections and prepare the business to obtain debt financing. KU-SBDC then reached out to the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) and its affiliate organization, Seedcopa to explore their financing options.
The deal included a $42,000 loan to buy the business with a plan to purchase the real estate at some point during the following three years. CCEDC immediately placed the $42,000 request into underwriting for its PSBCI revolving loan fund. Within 3 weeks, the loan was approved, closed and funded and on December 31, 2019 – Michael realized his dream of owning a vineyard and winery when he purchased Stargazers. And John was able to retire knowing that what he and Alice built together will continue.
Not only did the efforts of KU-SBDC and CCEDC help two entrepreneurs acquire their business, they also saved a local business, and brand, from closing.