Dessert at the winegrowers awards banquet: Riesling Poached Pear, filled with mascarpone, house-made almond brittle, and red wine and berry compote. (Almost too pretty to eat!)
To grow the wine industry in North Carolina, wineries need to work collectively, expand their markets beyond the tasting room and create an experience that will draw in tourists. At the recent NC Winegrowers Association conference, wine producers heard from experts on creating the tasting room experience, branding their products and using social media and optimized websites to bring in customers.
Winegrowers President Mark Friszolowski encouraged winegrowers to work together, across the state and including all types of wine, to promote North Carolina’s wine industry in the state and beyond.
“We represent all of North Caroline wine,” Friszolowski told the conference. “Our strength is working together.”
Though consumer wine preferences are trending more toward red than white, Friszolowski said, there is still a huge consumer preference for sweet wines, which outsell dry wines 4:1.
Enhancing the quality of NC wines is important for future of the industry, as well as gaining acceptance by getting North Carolina wines on restaurant menus and educating wait staffs about the wines the state has to offer.
In an effort to educate the public about North Carolina wine, the state’s wine industry will partner with WUNC-TV’s NC Weekend to produce a 10-show series on the history of NC wine. The series is in production now.
Enhancing the tourism experience of the state wineries was also a theme of the conference. Virginia Tech’s Tony Wolf explained how tourism had helped grow Virginia’s wine industry from, “you can’t grow wine grapes here,” to more than 250 wineries and 3,500 acres of grapes. “Tourism is and always will be integral to the growth of the Virginia wine industry,” Wolfe said.
Other conference breakout sessions focused on the tasting room experience and marketing
- Hiring the right tasting room staff was the focus of a presentation by Thomas Salley of Raffaldini Vineyards and Erin Doby of Raylen Vineyards. Both described attributes they look for in hiring employees, including a background in retail sales and a strong commitment to customer service. They also talked about setting work expectations for employees.
- Erick Byrd of UNC-Greensboro talked about a tasting room employee training program under development by the university’s Bryan School of Business. (Byrd presented remotely because the icy roads prevented him from making the drive to Winston.) A four-module online training program will be released later this spring. (Byrd and his colleagues received the “Member of Distinction Award” from the association Saturday evening.)
- The NC Wine Guys, Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling, explained to winegrowers how social media and blogging can help them connect to consumers. Consistent engagement on social media, using hashtags and photos can help turn social media followers into visitors.
- Susan Dosier of DK Communications Group shared how search engine optimization – using trending and searchable words – can help businesses to make sure visitors can find their way to their website. She talked about using tools like Yoast.com (WordPress plugin) and Google trends to increase traffic to your website.
At the Saturday evening awards dinner, John Ryan of Sanctuary Vineyards received the “Grower of the Year Award.” The dinner was excellent, especially paired with wines from Morgan Ridge Vineyards.
A Sunday morning “coffee discussion” on branding allowed winery owners – including several who had bought existing wineries – to explain how they rebranded their operations to strengthen their position in the marketplace. All in all, it was a very good conference.
Read more about the 2016 NC Winegrowers Association conference.
Saturday night awards banquet
John Ryan of Sanctuary Vineyards is named Grower of the Year at NC Winegrowers Association meeting.