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Uncorked: Outreach plan for wineries created to target influencers — lawmakers, wine drinkers, foodies

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Ed Williams

WINSTON-SALEM — An ambitious outreach plan aimed at bringing more state, regional and national recognition to North Carolina’s growing wine industry topped the news at this year’s annual N.C. Winegrowers Conference.

The effort targets key “influencers” — lawmakers, wine enthusiasts and foodies.

The association plans to leverage the American Wine Society’s 2024 annual conference hosted in North Carolina. The American Wine Society’s 4,000 members nationwide offers a constituency whose word-of-mouth could extend North Carolina’s brand.

Next year, the N.C. Winegrower’s Association plans to expand its “A Taste of N.C.” program beyond Winston-Salem and into Raleigh and Charlotte. The following year, that could expand to Asheville and Wilmington.

“A Taste of N.C.” — pairing the region’s finest cuisine with North Carolina’s top wines — has been a part of the Winegrower Association’s three-day annual conference. The food-wine pairing — open to the public — is well designed and flawlessly executed.

Additionally, the association plans wine appreciation events aimed at General Assembly members because state support of the N.C. wine industry is critical.

The annual economic impact of North Carolina’s wine industry is conservatively estimated at $2.7 billion. However, Wine America — a lobbyist organization — recently commissioned a national economic impact forecast for each state. That research sets North Carolina wine’s annual economic impact at $4.7 billion — nearing parity with Virginia’s wine industry, which had a significant head-start.

Also, an international wine symposium is under discussion, possibly in conjunction with Wake Forest University and other higher education institutions. That event could attract key wine representatives from France, Germany, Spain, Australia and South America. Associating North Carolina wines with international brands and expertise can boost brand image.

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COVID-19 pandemic safety measures may have a lasting impact for North Carolina’s wine industry.

Winery visits traditionally feature “tastings” — patrons bellying up to the tasting bar to sample wine. Depending on winery size, a tasting bar might feature one to four tasting staff leading customers through samples. Sometimes jostling crowds can get two or three deep, frustrating patience.

Late 2020 saw a migration to the “flight” model — akin to restaurant service. In that model, wine staff directs patrons to individual tables, offering predetermined choices of red vs. white or dry vs. sweet or a mix-and-match, with four or five samples brought tableside all at once.

The socially-distanced guest tables are staffed by servers delivering from a “flight” menu. Lessons learned?

Seated guests discovered a more intimate setting which lead to a more leisurely experience, which lead to a longer stay, which lead to more sampling and more sharing. That usually increased sampling and sales.

For wineries, “flighting” allows them to regulate sampling inventory. It also allows them to more accurately allocate staffing during peaks and lulls.

Additionally, guests — left to their own pace over a full glass or bottle — create less strain on servers.

That, combined with some wineries now encouraging reservations, saw supply and demand hitting a sweet spot for both guests and winery staffs.

If the pandemic morphs to endemic, I predict this serving model has legs.

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Congratulations to Piccione Vineyards near Ronda, recently awarded the Winegrower of Excellence Award by the N.C. Winegrower’s Association. Additionally, Piccione’s Vino di Lusso sparkling wine was a “Made in N.C.” award winner by Our State magazine.

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Wines I enjoyed at the annual conference — and you might, too: Grove Petit Manseng, JOLO Pink, Sanctuary Albarino, Haze Gray Aviator Red, JOLO Crimson Shadow, Round Peak Tannat, RayLen Category 5, JOLO Carolus XII, Golden Road Vineyards Viognier, Shadow Springs Meritage, Sanctuary Coastal Collage and Shelton Vineyards 20th Anniversary Red Blend.

Freelance writer Ed Williams has written about wine for the News & Record since 1990. Send wine news or events to williamsonwine@gmail.com.

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