‘Where are the local wines?’

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Appalachian State professor wonders why regional wines don’t appear on Appalachia wine lists

Jessie and ??

Jessie Blackburn, right, wondered why Appalachian wines lists didn’t serve local wines. (Ellen Gwin Burnette photo, Appalachian State Univesity)

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North Carolina’s wine industry continues to grow, with nearly 200 wineries and more than twice that many vineyards. But how often do you see North Carolina wines on a restaurant menu?

At their annual meeting in 2016, the North Caroline Winegrowers discussed ways to raise the profile of their industry. One strategy was to get more of the state’s top restaurants to put North Carolina wines on their menus. Despite a thriving farm-to-table restaurant culture, it is difficult to find the state’s wines being poured in fine restaurants.

Jessie Blackburn, associate professor at Appalachian State University with degrees in rhetoric and Appalachian studies, noticed the same thing. While driving from New York to North Carolina several years ago to relocate for her current position, she was surprised by the number of wineries she passed in the Appalachian Mountains, especially Virginia and North Carolina. Wineries don’t match the outdated “moonshine” stereotype that so many still have in their minds about Appalachia.

She began visiting winery tasting rooms, talking with winegrowers. She was impressed with the quality of their wines and the experience that greeted tourists. At the same time, she was aware of a “culinary renaissance” going on in Appalachia — restaurants with a strong farm-to-table ethic. Her experience will be the topic of an upcoming book, Appalachian Terroir: Stylistic Approaches to New Landscapes, to be published by University of Kentucky Press.

But where were the North Carolina wines? “I looked at chefs’ menus, and few were selling local wine,” she said. And that didn’t match the tradition that you would experience in other parts of the world, she said. In places like Italy and France, food and wine from the same region are proudly served together.

“When you eat food or wine from a region, you’re tasting terroir. Why is there a disconnect here?” she asked, pointing out that restaurants in North Carolina and Virginia seemed to have no problem putting local beer and spirits on their menus.

She had the opportunity to talk with Appalachian chefs who are committed to a sustainable, local food system. She asked them, “Why do you not have local wines on your menu?”

She believes there are many reasons why North Carolina wines may suffer from an “image problem” with chefs and consumers.

“It may be that every chef has a different reason,” Blackburn said. Some fear that their clientele’s wine literacy suggests the best wines come from other places – California, New Zealand, France or Italy. Some chefs just have an idea of what a standard wine list typically looks like.

And there are other reasons why N.C. wines may suffer from an image problem. Some North Carolina wineries are perpetuating a low-brow image of the industry by cashing in on the state’s bootlegger, moonshine stereotype, “which does us few favors,” she said.

Developing a tasting room experience “that is worth coming back to and that reflects the nuances of the terroir” is important for enhancing the wine industry’s image. “Wine is one of those things that is symbolic. Some of the wineries are still struggling to create that experience that people are willing to drive for or to come back for,” she said.

Wineries also benefit from being located close together, creating a destination for tourists, a scenario that you would certainly find in many parts of North Carolina.

People should see wine country as a destination.

“So the more wineries open up, the better our destinations become,” she said. A winery that is isolated from other wineries faces more struggles than a winery or vineyard surrounded by others, and trails and winery passports help pour dollars into local economies.

Yet Blackburn believes that getting wines on the menus of top restaurants is the best way to promote the state’s wine industry. So she decided to bring together some of the area’s finest chefs and regional winemakers to expose the chefs to regional wines that are good enough for restaurant wine lists. And the idea for the Chef and Winemakers Summit was born.

Check back Wednesday to read about the summit!

How to build a bright future for NC wine: Collaboration and tourism

dessert

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.

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Saturday night awards banquet

Ryan accepts award

John Ryan of Sanctuary Vineyards is named Grower of the Year at NC Winegrowers Association meeting.

Winegrowers brave winter storm for annual conference

Kyle holding bottle of wine at wineryWith a winter storm bearing down on North Carolina, winegrowers from across the state will gather in Winston-Salem this weekend for education and business related to the state’s growing wine industry. And, of course, there will be North Carolina wine.

Winegrowers and wine enthusiasts were scrambling to get to Winston-Salem ahead of a winter storm, expected to bring snow and ice across the state. But if you have to be snowed in, what could be better than hanging out with a bunch of winegrowers? You know they’ll come prepared!

The conference includes breakouts on viticulture, enology, and business and marketing. Viticulture sessions will focus on issues related to wine grapes production: pest and disease management, soils, vineyard establishment and management, and vineyard canopy management.

For the wine producers, enology sessions will deal with topics like producing muscadine wines, using quality control tools, determining the cost of a bottle of wine, deciding what wine to make, aging in barrels, packaging, outsourcing and more.

On the business and marketing side, panelists will discuss the value of wine competitions, tasting room staff, social media and blogging, branding and marketing.

Really looking forward to hearing the “NC Wine Guys,” Matt Kemberline and Joe Brock, talk about social medial and blogging. And Saturday afternoon, Susan Dosier will over a two-part session on the “Marketing Circle of Life.”

The NC Grand Wine and Food Tasting on Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. is open to the public and will feature food and wine pairings and a chance to meet the winemakers and grape growers from across the state. Light hor d’oeuvres prepared by local restaurants will be paired with NC wines. Saturday evening will feature the NC Showcase of Wines, followed by an awards banquet.

Saturday morning’s business meeting will include presentations on how NC fits into the global wine market, grape production in a challenging environment and an update on rainfall by region in NC.

If you’re in Winston Friday night, brave the storm and come out to Grand Wine and Food Tasting – maybe get snowed in with a few of your closest wine grower friends. Tarheel Taps and Corks will be there to share it all.