Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Belle Meade Plantation: Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at the First Non-Profit Winery in the U.S

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Belle Meade Plantation: Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at the First Non-Profit Winery in the U.S

Article excerpt


"Ifyou 're in the wine business and you 're not making money today, it's not the industry's fault. Check your business model. " Adam Beak, Managing Director Bank of the West's North Coast Agricultural Banking Center (Huyghe, 2014)

Belle Meade Plantation was founded in 1807, by John Harding. The Belle Meade Mansion was built in 1853, by Harding's son and Confederate Army General William Giles Harding. By the time of the U.S. Civil War, the Plantation had become famous as a 5,400 acre stud farm that was producing some of the best racehorses in the South.

Over the last century-plus, Belle Meade's breeding lineage boasted some of the best-known thoroughbred horses in U.S. history, including Secretariat and many others such as 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. And through it all, the Greek revival-styled Mansion was the centerpiece of the affluent Belle Meade region of Nashville, with the historic homestead surrounded by 30 acres of manicured lawns and shade trees. A long driveway led uphill to the mansion fronted by six columns and a wide veranda. Inside, the restored building was furnished with 19th-century antiques that hint at the elegance and wealth that the Southern gentility enjoyed in the late 1800s.

As of 2004, Alton Kelley, former restaurateur and hospitality executive, and current president of Belle Meade Plantation, and his wife, Sheree, winery manager, were both facing the monumental task of securing adequate, long-term funding for the historic non-profit. For the fifth consecutive year, donations from corporations and individuals had declined to the lowest levels in memory, and the couple believed they had little choice but to look for solutions that were well outside of the proverbial box. Clearly the organization and its board of directors could no longer rely solely on corporate donations for the ongoing operations of the Belle Meade Plantation. So, after evaluating and discarding a variety of other alternatives, the Kelleys set about pursuing an ambitious plan to build and operate a nonprofit winery on this historic site to help sustain current and future long term financing needs. The idea was bold, given that there were no other known nonprofit wineries in the U.S. However, they believed that if they could successfully navigate through the numerous legal and market-based challenges, this was an initiative that could provide the necessary funding required for supporting the property's ongoing operations.

At the time, the existing sources of funding for the operations of Belle Meade Plantation were (in descending revenue order): (1) ticket sales from visiting tourists, (2) hosting special events, (3) corporate and private donations, and (4) sales of items from the gift shop, including a line of private-labeled products, such as cheese, country ham, grits, and a variety of souvenirs.

Paid staff offered Plantation tours to the general public, and costumed guides followed a theme (for example, holidays, aspects of plantation life, etc.) that changed every three months with the seasons. These themed tours provided fascinating glimpses into the lives of the people who once lived at Belle Meade. The grounds also included a large carriage house and set of stables that date back to 1890, and that now housed a large collection of antique carriages. During the tour, visitors w7ere also given a glimpse inside a variety of other historic facilities on the property, including a log cabin, a smokehouse, and a creamery. Belle Meade's park-like grounds made it a popular site for festivals throughout the year.

In late 2009, The Harding House Restaurant opened on the grounds, immediately adjacent to the mansion, replacing the popular "Martha's at the Plantation" restaurant. The restaurant is an independent operation and pays rent to Belle Meade Plantation, with all profits remaining in the restaurant. The rental agreement between the restaurant and Belle Meade Plantation is for a three-year period, and the current operators are in the final year of that lease. …

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