The hard sell

The hard sell

Twenty years after Governor Gerald Baliles declared October to be Virginia Wine Month, the industry seems to be drowning in marketing. Everybody is involved with public relations, from the wineries to the wholesalers; there are even independent PR people who liaison between the wineries and the wholesalers. The Virginia Vineyards Association represents the grape growers and the Virginia Wineries Association represents the wine makers, and the Virginia Wine Marketing Office (a subset of the Virginia Wine Board) tries to sell it all to You The People. At a tasting on September 29, held in the Rotunda Room of the State Capitol to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Virginia Wine month, people from SunTrust Bank mingled with members of the Virginia Tourism Corporation who stood talking with the wine press. Meanwhile, over in the corner near the hors d’oeuvres sat the product of this grand sales push: a large ad featuring Leesburg sommelier Mary Watson-Delauder being eaten alive by mutant grape vines. Smiling, she proffered a bottle of Virginia wine, provoking snickers from the crowd.

A tasting was held on September 29 in the Rotunda Room of the State Capitol to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month.

The new industry catch phrase: Virginia Wines are at the Tipping Point. Jennifer McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards, used the sturdy cliché during her speech at the event in Richmond and Kluge CEO William Moses echoes it in an article in this month’s Virginia Business magazine.

I have to wonder if this is true. We have the numbers, around 140 wineries and growing (at the current rate, McCloud said, we’ll have 460 by 2028), and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore that we have the quality. But we’re a long way from being considered more than just a regional curiosity, even here at home. To wit: Only 5 percent of the wines sold in Virginia are produced here. And that’s the real tragedy: How can Virginia wine Tip when most Virginians won’t even tip it into their glasses?

Two words: more marketing.  Or better. Or smarter. Clearly the state and the wine industry need to do a better job of selling their product here at home. The state spends only $387,000 a year to promote wine, a product that, according to a recent study, provides 2,750 jobs and brings in $35 million in taxes. Virginia wine will never hit the big time (Tip, if you will) if the state doesn’t get the message out to the good folks who reside in the Commonwealth. Let’s not keep it a secret that some of our wine tastes damn good and all of it is good for our local economy. And our wineries need to get beyond selling their wine at festivals and from tasting rooms, as this merely solidifies the image that Virginia wine is strictly tourist fare. Our wines need to be sold on store shelves and off of restaurant lists all across the state, and that is exactly what all those PR people who work for distributors and wineries need to be doing, not to mention the sommelier slowly being devoured by her dress.

Governor Kaine addressed the crowd gathered in the Rotunda Room and made the same point simply and eloquently. He reminded us that wine is at its heart an agricultural product in a state where agriculture is still the No. 1 industry. But wine is also, he said, a “particularly human art form,” art that you don’t put on a pedestal or hang on a wall to enjoy at a distance. Instead you enjoy it in the most intimate way; you take it into your body and let it nourish you. I completely agree and hope that the Governor will put more money where his mouth is. I also have to wonder: Does our Governor drink Virginia wine with his dinner?

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