This story is part of Dorchester County Tourism’s ongoing series on Pioneering Women of Dorchester County. The series celebrates 2020 as The Year of the Woman, commemorating 100 years since U.S. women gained the right to vote. See all the Pioneering Women of Dorchester stories.

By Amanda Fenstermaker, Director, Dorchester County Tourism

Small Business Leadership During Challenging, Changing Times

If small business owners are the consummate ‘jack of all trades,’ then Jennifer Layton demonstrates how to become a ‘master of many’ in a sector heavily reliant on tourism during the current pandemic. As she adapts both business model and management of Layton’s Chance Vineyard to navigate Covid-19’s impact on her customers, she laughs aloud at the new skills she’s had to master. 

With the vineyard adopting an all pick-up or delivery distribution model – as retail visits and events were banned – they’ve had to get more creative with marketing their products online.  

“It’s a continuous learning curve,” she says. “How people consume information is constantly evolving and we need to market to them where and how they’re engaging.”

To meet customers where they are, she tapped technology and embraced such tools as Facebook Live, Zoom and is working on learning how to combine them both for a more interactive experience.

New Wines and New Ways

And while the tasting room may be closed, the work planting grapes and making wine continues. Just a few weeks ago, Layton’s Chance had their largest bottling ever. They bottled 10 different wines, including a new varietal being released this year “Twilight Delight.” 

Jennifer calls Twilight Delight a picnic perfect wine and suggests that it be chilled.

“It’s a lighter, off-dry red made from Cabernet Franc grapes, we were inspired by its hues to name it after the vineyard sunsets we enjoy.”

As Jennifer looks forward to restrictions soon being eased for small businesses like hers, she is confident that the vineyard’s plentiful land and abundant space will provide many opportunities for visitors to enjoy themselves while maintaining safe distances. 

Reflecting on the Tasting Room’s first ten years, and her role as woman of influence in Dorchester’s Tourism industry, Jen credits the women who mentored her wine-making career. From Salisbury University’s professor of Management and Marketing, Paula Morris and wine industry veteran and author of Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History, Regina McCarthy to founder and CEO of the Craft Wine Association’s Carole Lawson, each has left an indelible mark on her role as an industry leader.

A Tradition of Innovation – A Focus on the Future 

Just two months ago, Carole visited Dorchester County to recognize Layton’s Chance as the first certified craft winery in Maryland. The program aims to elevate craft wineries to the status enjoyed by other artisanal producers such as breweries and distilleries. The designation is awarded to winemakers who are partners in the decision-making process, that the grapes come from a traceable source, and that wines are made in lots of 5,000-cases or less. 

Jennifer believes Dorchester’s Tourism future is bright. 

“I think that our beautiful surrounding and outdoor recreation opportunities will help us to recover quicker relative to other areas and that local travel will be regarded as a more appealing opportunity for visitors.”

Yet, as she looks to the future, she’s also reminded that the future was built on the shoulders of generations of hard-working family members who also adapted to changing markets.

“Just last week, William told me that every generation of our “Hall of Fame Farm” family has produced something different. Where his great grandfather once grew tomatoes and vegetables for canning houses, his grandfather raised cattle for beef, and his father excelled at the grain planted for export. And now our generation has put our signature on the land with a vineyard that’s rooted in tradition yet open for future possibilities.”

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