“Is Janice working today?”
If you’re at Chatham Vineyards, the answer is often yes, Janice Korleski is in the tasting room eager to welcome you back or greet first timers ready to soak up a unique experience on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
“Janice is incredible,” says Jon Wehner, vintner at Chatham Vineyards along with his wife, Mills. “She’s so much more than the tasting room. She’s part of the experience, that local experience, and everybody knows Janice. She’s so knowledgeable and helpful.”
Janice grew up in nearby Capeville, one of three daughters of a potato farmer who set her behind the wheel of a tractor well before she drove a car.
“I think I was 10 years old,” she says. “I’ve plowed many a field, and back then, irrigation was different. My dad would round up us girls and we’d have to go out in the mud and move irrigation pipes.”
For decades, Janice lived away from the Shore, in cities that included Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Atlanta and in the smaller urban areas of Annapolis, Maryland, and Newburyport, Massachusetts. She thrived in the restaurant and hospitality business, schooled in exemplary customer service as taught by Ritz-Carlton, where the motto is, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” It’s not a gimmicky phrase; it’s the core of the company’s business model.
“That training really enlightened me,” Janice says. “The hospitality business is tough. I always think everybody needs to spend at least one day working in it. That’s why I enjoy working at Chatham so much. It’s so different than restaurants. Everybody is in a good mood. Always. Of course, it does help that Jon makes such great wine!”
Janice returned to the Shore to be closer to family and friends in 2007 and met Jon and Mills while working a barrel tasting event at the winery. When asked if she wanted to work in Chatham’s tasting room, she jumped at the chance and started in December 2009.
“I thought I knew wine; I didn’t,” she says. “But I was like a sponge. I had the best teacher and that was Jon. He would explain things to me about what was happening in the vineyard so I could share them with customers.”
“Janice can do anything and everything. Her bright blue eyes are always smiling, and we are so lucky to have her on the team,” Mills says. “She is family as well as our longest standing winery employee”
Soon Janice assumed other responsibilities, “a tireless worker,” Jon says, who has a way of tackling more and making it look seamless. Janice assists with festivals, orders tasting room supplies, solves IT issues and contributes to planning special events.
“I also love the fact that she’s local — local and authentic,” Jon adds. “She can tell you what Cape Charles was like 40 or 50 years ago. It’s so important to have that person preserving Shore history and traditions because we try to be respectful of both. She’s an important part of that.”
Janice enjoys sharing the story behind Chatham, which started its vineyard in 1999 and opened the winery in 2005 using only estate-grown grapes harvested from what’s been a working a farm for four centuries. She recognizes the familiar faces from Chatham’s Wine Club who drop in regularly, welcomes vacationers who make an annual trek to Church Creek and loves meeting folks eager to discover the Chatham experience for the first time.
“I have the best job in the world,” Janice says. “I’ve never seen owners of a business work as hard as Jon and Mills. They’re right there in the trenches with us. Whatever I can do to help them enhance their business, I’ll do it. The Shore is home to me, and Jon and Mills, they’re family.”