We’ve heard some good news regarding North Carolina’s beer and wine industries this summer. The economic impact of the state’s wine industry grew by 33 percent from 2009 to 2013 to $1.7 billion, according to a recent survey by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council. Wine-related tourism expenditures are up 65 percent, and the industry supports about 7,700 jobs.
At the same time, the state’s craft beer industry here has just exploded in the 10 years since the state legislature passed “Pop the Cap” legislation, lifting a cap of 5 percent alcohol by volume on beer sold in the state. Since 2010, the number of breweries in the state has grown from 45 to 130, with an impact of $790 million. The craft beer industry supports 10,000 jobs. And the proliferation of craft breweries here has brought three large West Coast brewers – Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium — to the Asheville area.
So is there room in this state for strong beer AND wine industries? What would it take for both beer and wine to remain be successful, and what are the challenges for each? For thoughts on the state’s wine industry, I reached out to the NC Wine Guys (ncwineguys.com) – Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling – who blog about NC wine from centrally located Mooresville. Joe and Matt believe they have visited 125 North Carolina wineries, with about 15 left to go. They share their insights on North Carolina wine and how the industry can continue to prosper.
The NC Wine Guys give a resounding, “yes,” to both a strong beer and wine industry. The experiences are so different, they say, with wineries located mostly in rural parts of the state. Wineries are not open late, and generally they attract a different clientele from breweries.
Joe thinks there are opportunities for breweries and wineries to work together. More and more NC brewers seek used wine barrels for “barrel-aged” brews, so wineries might consider sharing their barrels with brewers, in exchange for having the brewery serve the winery’s wine. “Not everyone at a brewery wants to drink beer,” he said.
Joe and Matt helped pour for Hanover Park Winery at the N.C. Wine Festival in the spring. “Everyone loved the wine,” Joe said, adding that many had never heard of Hanover Park, though it is located just outside of Winston-Salem and is one of the state’s older wineries. He believes there is a “huge opportunity” to spread the word about the quality and experience of North Carolina wine.
Like some of the state’s winemakers, the Wine Guys have been disappointed at the lack of interest in North Carolina wine by major wine media. Wine marketing experts have said the state’s wine industry needs to institute wine quality standards in order to be noticed by serious wine enthusiasts.
“I think the wines are getting better,” Joe said. “The 2015 vintage, I think we’ll be talking about for a while,” adding that the hot, dry summer has been good for wine grapes.
The NC Wine Guys admit that some winery tasting rooms in the state do a better job with the tourism experience than others. “We want to make sure than people have a good experience. Wineries need to educate consumers,” said Joe.
And getting North Carolina wine into restaurants is also key to the success of the industry. Wineries are doing more wine dinners, which helps wine-loving consumers to experience how NC wines pair with food. Joe believes there is an opportunity for farm-to-fork restaurants to open their tables to North Carolina-produced wines, along with locally produced produce, meats and dairy products.
NC Wine Guys aren’t afraid to preach. On Sept. 16, they will host a #WineChat on Twitter devoted entirely to NC wine. Join the conversation to celebrate #NCWineMonth and share your thoughts on North Carolina wine!