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Virginia’s wine industry entwined with tourism

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Corresepondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia’s wine industry has been here a long time but it has taken a big leap forward in the last few years.
Since 2005 it has grown 106 percent, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced recently. He said the industry has grown to 4,753 full-time jobs at wineries and vineyards across the state.
“Tourism is why we have a wine industry here in Virginia,” Dr. Tony Wolf, Virginia Tech viticulturist, told folks attending the Tech Alumni Association’s “Food for Thought: Exploring Virginia Wine and Fine Cuisine Weekend” on Feb. 4.
In his presentation, “Virginia’s Wine Renaissance,” Wolf traced the history of wine in Virginia from the Jamestown colony to Thomas Jefferson’s attempts to grow grapes and make wine at Monticello and on to Prohibition, which put an end to the attempts to have wineries.
“Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry contributes almost three-quarters of a billion dollars — or $747 million — annually to Virginia’s economy,” McDonnell said.
“The Virginia wine industry has seen tremendous growth over last few years,” he said. “From beautiful new wineries starting up to more and more retail outlets and restaurants adding our wines to their shelves and menus, the growth has been very evident even to the casual observer.”
He noted that a recent economic impact study clearly quantifies that growth with empirical data and shows the significant economic impact that the industry is having across the Commonwealth.
“I congratulate our winery owners and grape growers for these achievements, and I look forward to working with them as we continue our efforts to make Virginia the preeminent East Coast destination for wine and winery tourism,” he said.
Wolf said people began using more wines in the 1960s. Since then the state has emerged as a leader in the vineyard industry, he continued.
He was hired by Virginia Tech in 1985 to help the growers find ways to grow grapes in a state that is basically unfriendly to growing the European grapes, especially the French varieties needed for the most popular wines. Climate and topography are the problems.
He said grapes usually do better on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge.
The big weather enemy is a late spring freeze that can wipe out a crop in one night.
Most of the state’s wineries are located in the more affluent areas.
Many of the wineries have festivals, gift shops, venues for weddings and parties and a variety of wine tastings and dinners featuring wines appropriate to accompany the foods being served throughout the year.
The event at Virginia Tech’s Holtzman Alumni Center and The Inn at Virginia Tech was similar to these industry events. Friday night and Saturday at lunch and dinner the chef at the inn prepared fine cuisine and picked wines to compliment them.
The university did slip in some educational moments with Wolf’s talk and one by Lisa Pélanne, who promotes wine as part of a healthy lifestyle and the art of living.
Even in February, plenty of options abound. This month you can take in a wine and food festival in Newport News, and Ravishing Red Days of Winter and Chocolate Days at Fox Meadow, both in Linden.
The Gray Ghost Irresistible Chocolates and Cabernet event in Amissville was Feb. 11–12, and will be Feb. 18-19 is the Virginia Wine Showcase in Arlington.
The Southern Virginia Wine Festival takes place February 18 in Chatham and Richmond hosts the Virginia Wine Expo Feb. 24–26.