King Family Vineyards on Thursday hosted the launch of a statewide initiative to increase the visibility of Virginia’s homegrown wines.
The program will allow for the installation of 17 highway signs across the state that highlight designated American Viticultural Areas.
Virginia’s first lady, Maureen McDonnell, oversaw the launch, which is part of her platform to promote economic development, health and opportunities for women.
“No state can touch what Virginia has when it comes to all that we have in our state to offer,” McDonnell told about 75 people against a backdrop of gray skies and fog-draped foothills.
In the Charlottesville area, four signs denoting the Monticello American Viticultural Area will be erected — two each on U.S. 29 and U.S. 250.
The wine region sign program was funded by a federal grant through the Transportation Enhancement Program and matching funds from Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“[When] you put wine and tourism together, you’re really talking about an economic engine for the state,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore. “We’re trying to do everything that we can to boost the wine industry and the related industries that tie into it,” he added.
Vineyard Manager David King praised Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration and the administration of former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for their work to advance and promote the industry, calling their support and advocacy “a big help.”
Asked to name her favorite variety of wine, Maureen McDonnell said petit verdot and cabernet franc are two of her favorite varieties. She also shared a little insight into the governor’s tastes.
“Generally, I’ll drink more red wine and my husband generally prefers the white wine,” she said.In a release announcing the sign initiative, the governor said, “In addition to having one of the fastest growing wine industries, the commonwealth is blessed with some of the country’s most beautiful wineries and wine regions. The new signs will draw attention to the diverse wine regions and encourage travelers and tourists to see and taste what the Virginia wine industry has to offer.”
Virginia is home to more than 200 wineries.
The governor’s announcement also said that Virginia’s wine industry contributes $747 million annually to the economy, supporting 4,800 jobs that pay $156 million in wages.Approximately 1.6 million people visited Virginia wineries last year. In 2010, tourism generated $19 billion in revenue, supporting 204,000 jobs and generating $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the governor’s office.
Albemarle County spokeswoman Lee Catlin, who also attended the unveiling, said the fact that 11 out of the 12 top-scoring wines at the 2012 Governor’s Cup Competition came from Central Virginia further cements the area’s reputation as a serious player in the wine industry.
McDonnell and Haymore also visited Trump Winery and Blenheim Vineyards on Thursday.
On the agricultural side of things, thanks to this winter’s mild weather, King said vineyard growth is several weeks ahead of schedule this year, but so far, that hasn’t caused any setbacks.
“This is real live agriculture,” King said. “We grow fruit here, we make it into wine. It’s a terrific business to be in.”