Richard Chapman is a man with a history. Like many in the South, Chapman – a Sanford native who made his way to the Crystal Coast in the early 1990s – can trace his roots to the Civil War and beyond. While there are a variety of common threads through the decades, the one that Chapman hopes to build a future on is alcohol.
Sitting in entry hall of the construction zone that is Bogue Sound Distillery on Highway 24, Chapman is watching his dream become reality in slow motion. The exterior building is now intact and interior space that hasn't been framed already is marked with thick blue painter's tape. The outline of the tasting bar wraps along the rear wall and the steps to the second story offices make it easy to visualize how the offices will look down over the rest of the operation. Pipes are run and huge stainless steel fermentation tanks line the wall in the distilling room.
The alcohol industry is one rife with regulations. Chapman initially wanted to open at a smaller site until the new building was finished, but when he learned that he would have to reapply for licensing, he decided against it.
“It’s been a complicated process – I think that describes it well,” said Chapman, sitting at a table just inside the open double glass front doors with a comfortable breeze rolling through. “It’s taken longer than we had hoped, but things are coming together.”
And he’s not in a rush to the finish line. Chapman definitely gives off the vibe that he would rather take his time and do things correctly regardless of the task at hand. He’s done his homework, both researching the industry and doing a fair share of test batches to perfect the process. His hands have been in it from the beginning – from perfecting recipes to designing and constructing the building.
“From top to finish, good bad and indifferent, it's mine,” Chapman said.
He's soft spoken and friendly. He credits his mother for his manners. She was, as he describes, the epitome of a Southern lady. She emphasized good manners, she was formal, but she also encouraged her children to be independent and to aim high.
"She taught us to achieve – 'nothing in this world can take the place of persistence,'" Chapman said, smiling as he channels his inner Calvin Coolidge. "That quote pretty much sums me up."
His children, who had surely heard it many times while growing up, had it printed and framed a few years ago. Now hanging in his home, the quote stands as a daily reminder that with perseverance all things are possible.
It is those strong family ties that will thread together his line of liquor beginning with vodka, the first offering to reach the market from Bogue Sound Distillery.
Chapman’s great-grandfather, John A.P. Conoley, was a major in Jeb Stuart's cavalry during the Civil War. He was wounded in 1863 in Fredericksburg, Va., where he found himself under the care of a Union medical team. So impressed by the care he received from his nurse, Conoley promised to name his first child after her. And he kept his word. Chapman's grandmother was Alice Vitzellen Conoley, a name also carried by his mother. He will do his part to carry the name forward as the name of his 85-proof vodka.
"The vodka is really a tribute to that nurse who saved my great-grandfather and for all the nurses who saved so many," he said. "It has to taste good, but your story is just as important as your taste."
Chapman, and business partner and wife Margaret, hope to begin production in the distillery by spring of 2018. The vodka, he said, is just the beginning. Chapman hopes to follow it up with John A.P. Conoley whiskey, Chapman John Alexander single malt and Oyster Cracker moonshine.
The pair is focused on being as environmentally friendly as possible and to using locally sourced products where appropriate. A cistern will gather rainwater to cool the equipment and ventilation equipment will completely recycle the air every few minutes.
“It’s important to us that we’re not only good neighbors to the community, but that we’re a positive addition to the area,” said Chapman.
A tasting bar will allow visitors to sample the wares and Chapman anticipates decorating the public area of the distillery with a little history, including a 1923 Model T with whiskey barrel and an antique grist mill.
“I want people to come in and get to know about the history of liquor production – specifically the history of production in North Carolina,” he said. "If we don't know where we've been, we don't know where we're going."