The impressive Triangle culinary scene is only elevated by the burgeoning beverage industry of wine, craft cocktails, local breweries and the like. With this competition, it’s not a surprise why Marek Wojciechowski and Jill Winkler have been successfully owning and operating Chatham Hill Winery since 1999. Marek started the winery solo, with Jill joining him shortly before they married in 2006. However, she’s been just as invested in Marek’s “retirement hobby” and together they’ve continued success from the original Aviation Parkway hub to their current location off Chapel Hill Road in Cary.
I pass by Chatham Hill Winery frequently and always gift a bottle of their goods to out-of-town friends or encourage visitors to stop in for a tour. We’re fortunate to live in a state that grows such a plentiful bounty of produce that can be constructed into many food products and beverage items, including wine. For anyone who can venture into the shop for a while, Chatham Hill Winery’s great outdoor patio offers plenty of seating to take in a glass of sangria during the summer or warm up inside during the cooler months with a glass of red or white. I was expecting Marek to be stomping grapes in the back of the winery, but alas, my dreams were shot down when he said that’s not how things are done at Chatham Hill Winery. I’ve seen one too many vicarious movies to know this actually happens, but I still had a small hope that secretly it occurred in some sort of wine aficionados only group that I had to be privy to. Thankfully, Marek and Jill knew I was only half-joking.
Marek holds his PhD and was a practicing chemist for years. Although, he really does still continue this role as Winemaker with Chatham Hill Winery. With the complexity of which grape varietals to grow, when to pick the grapes (based on weather, sugar content, etc.), how long to age the wine and a slew of other vital winemaking decisions; Marek doesn’t mess around. An incredibly kind and affable man, you can see Marek’s disposition change as he delves into the intricacies behind his wine business. It’s impressive to step into Marek’s office to see his wine making tools and instruments set up like a mad scientist that’s keen on making some killer wine. However, he and Jill are quick to say, “Wine should be something fun and enjoyable. What we like to drink might not be what you like to drink and that’s ok.”
Jill is equally as pleasant as Marek, eagerly immersing herself into the role as co-owner of the winery and life partner of Marek. She says, “Before I knew Marek, I was a casual wine drinker. Only once we met did I start to learn more from and with him by tasting and reflecting on wines. I read a lot and started to educate and experiment more with wine and food pairing.” Despite their individual roles offered to the winery, it’s clear Jill and Marek mesh well with each other and the customers. Producing wine at Chatham Hill Winery is their “labor of love” and they are both so excited to share this with newcomers and continue providing solid products to their regulars.
As small business owners, Marek and Jill are quick to give praise to the local community for all of their support. Jill says, “Many people think of eating local at a restaurant when they ‘support local.’ However, not everyone translates that over to drinking local. Our grapes are grown in the Yadkin Valley and then shipped here for us to process. That’s as local as it gets. We, by no means, say we’re the only or greatest local North Carolina wine, but we would love to have people try us out. There’s no greater compliment than coming to buy wine from us only to purchase more for family or friends.”
Along the same lines of supporting local, Marek and Jill hope to educate and give people exposure to wine varietals outside of the typical names we hear at the store or in a restaurant. Jill says, “We want to offer great wines that use Euro-style grapes that are a little different such as our Viognier (white) or Cabernet Franc (red). Some people may not have heard of them, but these grapes produce a pleasing product.” Marek chimes in with, “We encourage people to try these other wines because like with many other produce items that are grown, there is an issue of sustainability. If you only continue to drink or grow a certain type of grape, the diversity is lacking.”
Chatham Hill Winery offers a variety of fun events including tastings and classes. Head on over to their site for more information with wine-themed activities to partake in, no matter the season. However, if you want the real deal winery experience, you’ve got to head into their store where the staff is greeting you with a friendly smile and a chance to showcase the variety of great North Carolina wine Chatham Hill Winery has to offer.
Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @