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Raise your glasses for the Old Dominion

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Salute Wine Market in Winchester displays Virginia produced wines. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Virginia wine sales reach all-time high in last fiscal year

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Warren Richard has visited almost 140 of the 200 wineries in Virginia. In the summer of 2005, he and fellow wine-lover Paul Armstrong started blogging about their travels and tastes.

At the time, the state wine industry had a passport program. Participants received a sticker every time they attended a wine tasting, and when they filled up their passports, their names were entered into a drawing to receive a prize.

"That became the impetus for us to start a blog," Richard said.

The duo never received the prize, but six years later they're tasting better Virginia wine than ever, he said.

"I think the quality only continues to improve," Richard said. "There are Virginia wines now being poured in London ... obviously they're able to compete on an international stage."

Statistics show the same. Gov. Bob McDonnell's office says Virginia wine sales reached an all-time high this past fiscal year, increasing more than 11 percent compared to the previous fiscal year. During the fiscal year ending June 30, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reported that the wine liter tax garnered $1.8 million from Virginia wines.

In fiscal 2010, Virginia wines sales were up by almost 13 percent, according to Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office.

"Virginia wines have made some amazing strides in quality in the last five years," Boyd said, noting that people also are perceiving wine as a healthier drink. Also, the struggling economy has caused people who would normally venture overseas or across the coast for vacation to stay closer to home, and "Virginia is a day's drive from two-thirds of the U.S. population," she said.

Todd Haymore, Virginia's secretary of agriculture and forestry, said wine is "one of the fastest-growing sectors of agriculture" in the state.

"We're hearing from critics all across the world that Virginia is a top wine production area," Haymore said. "People recognize the product and want to buy it."

He, like many others involved in the industry, give McDonnell and Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell credit for helping to boost Virginia wine sales. The administration passed a program that gives tax credits to establish or expand wineries and vineyards. His administration also has increased the amount of money going to the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund from $580,000 to $1.8 million, Haymore said.

Virginia has the fifth-largest number of wineries in the nation. The industry makes about $350 million annually and employs more than 3,000 workers.

Richard said he has visited the Shenandoah Valley and pointed out wine maker Jim Law at Linden Vineyards as "one of the best wine makers in Virginia." He also noted that Jeff White, general manager and wine maker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, is "another solid wine maker" who has impressed him and Armstrong.

White said he has noticed about a 15 percent increase in wine sales since this time last year. His nearly 15 acres of vines brings home enough funds to support his family. White "got into grapes" in 1995 and said his location and novelty have worked in his favor.

"You have a lot of Washingtonians who head out to Virginia to have a nice time," White said. "This is what I consider the best agriculture-based business to take our family's farm into the next 100 years. I'm a fourth-generation farmer and we have a fifth generation on the ground."

Dawn Dobersztyn, who sells Glen Manor wines in her downtown Winchester-based shop, Salute! Wine Market, said the shop often sells out of Virginia wines. Her team gives out maps showing Virginia wineries "constantly."

"People used to think that Virginia wine is just OK," she said. "Now it's actually kind of sought out."

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