I am Linda Losey, co-owner and the visionary behind Bloomery Plantation Distillery in Charles Town, WV. My team affectionately, or at least I think it’s affectionately, calls me the DragonLady, or Mom. And they are my family, in every sense of the word. What is happening to me affects them greatly. So what’s the story?
I never had a dream of owning a distillery. Nope. But I’ve always had a dream of owning my own business. When Tom, my husband, and I traveled to Italy for the canonization of his Great, Great Aunt Mary MacKillop in 2010, Australia’s first Saint, we fell in love with limoncello.
Upon returning, we started researching and making our own limoncello. I started looking at property in MD, PA, DC, VA and WV. We fell in love with a 12 acre parcel with an old log cabin in the woods on the shores of the Shenandoah River and Blue Ridge Mountains A vision turned into reality, and I became one of only a handful of female distillers in America.
Tom and I worked hard at the business, converting the old log cabin into a production and tasting room, planting lemon trees and raspberries, applying for our local, state and federal permits, all while working full time jobs. The business opened in September, 2011 and grew and grew. We began to hire people, my ex-husband Rob was the first, his girlfriend the second, ultimately 17, to help with the growing business. There was a farm to take care of, lemons to water, raspberries to pick, and SweetShine to make, tastings to give, and the community to support. It was a wonderful life. We poured our hearts and souls into the small business. But in three years we never became profitable. Why?
Did we need to cut jobs, expenses, marketing? Where were we going wrong? We sought investors, thinking that if only we could go national and get to the next level. But no investor would touch us. The business model was upside down. It wasn’t the employees—who were necessary to host 50,000 visitors and to keep the farm running. No it wasn’t that at all. It was the State’s upside down model of taking 38% of the business before it even hit our tasting room shelves. That was the expense that was strangling us. They were treating us like a liquor store rather than a small farm distillery. A model that won us, in the state of WV, the Rural Innovator of the Year Award. But they were doing more than treating us if we were a liquor store—by marking up our bottles by 28% and forcing us to buy it back at that higher rate. No indeed they also took 10% of our RETAIL sales and distributed that money to three neighboring liquor stores in our area. Every sale we made.
We couldn’t hang on without an investor. We do have commitments though. Our distillery is wildly popular as an ag-tourism business and has helped to bolster the economy by drawing in 50,000 visitors from all over the world. But even when we do projections out to $10 million dollars, we won’t ever make one dollar. Who would invest in that? So we reached out to the West Virginia Alcohol Control Board to help clarify the ambiguities and inconsistencies in the code, where it states that distilleries are exempt from the madness. But the Commissioner has responded that his hands are tied.
So now a small business is closed. Dreams are broken. Jobs have been eliminated. And our fans and the small businesses in the community are crying out to Charleston.
UPDATE: Your voices have been HEARD! The Senate and House passed SB 574 to lessen the tax and fee burden on WV Craft Distillers. We need your help NOW in urging Governor Tomblin to “SweetSign” our Bill into law. Please take three seconds to sign the petition:
We hope to be serving you soon!
With warm regards, Linda Losey Co-Owner Bloomery Plantation Distillery Charles Town, WV 25414 304-725-3036