Planting more grapes will enable Virginia vintners to keep up with a steadily increasing demand for wine, a top state official said Friday.
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore shared his outlook at the Virginia Vineyards Association technical meeting and trade show at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel.
Speaking before the group broke for lunch, Haymore quipped that he appreciated the chance to get out of Richmond during a contentious General Assembly session.
“I feel like I’ve escaped from prison,” he said.
As the laughter subsided, Haymore said his bottom line during the last year of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration remains the same.
“We’re going to continue to keep the Virginia wine industry and Virginia grapes in the public eye as best we possibly can,” Haymore told the group.
In the last three years, Haymore said the state has averaged about 8 percent growth in wine sales but there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the number of acres under vine. About 3,000 acres are under vine in Virginia.
“We’ve got to put more grapes — Virginia-grown grapes — into the process of being utilized for winemaking,” Haymore said after his formal remarks. “The growth in sales just isn’t catching up to the growth in planting ... so we’ve got to facilitate that. From the vineyards side, that’s the most important thing we can continue advocating for.”
Haymore said various tools, including tax credit programs and expert agricultural guidance, are available to anyone who would like to start or expand a vineyard.
Also Friday, the association honored Len Thompson of Amherst County, an independent wine grape grower, with the Grower of the Year Award.
Thompson has been active in the industry for more than a decade, including serving two terms as vice president of the Virginia Vineyards Association. He’s also currently serving as a board member and vice president of the Virginia Wineries Association.
Thompson said the honor came as a genuine surprise.
“You join a select group of people who’ve been chosen in the past, and in actual fact, it really surprises me to be in the same company as those folks. It’s really an honor,” Thompson said.
Organizers said more than 200 people attended the two-day event, which concluded on Friday evening, by honoring Bruce Zoecklein with the association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Zoecklein is a Virginia Tech professor and head of the university's grape chemistry group.
Daniel Sweeney of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard in Dundee, N.Y., was among the exhibitors and winemakers at the event. In addition to wine, the vineyard sells commercial grafted grape vines. Sweeney said it’s common for new vineyards to get their vines from outside the region.
“Even though there’s 200 wineries in the state now, it’s still an emerging region, and I don’t think there is a grape vine industry in Virginia,” he said. But Sweeney added that Virginia is definitely well positioned for development of an exclusive grave vine nursery in the future.
“Ultimately, the more wine that’s sold, the trickle down goes all the way to our grape growers,” Haymore said. “The wine industry is providing a lot of economic opportunities for rural areas, and not only for the wineries, but for bed and breakfasts, for restaurants, for convenience stores — everybody along that chain that you have to go by to get to that winery.”