Virginia wines set another record in 2013

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK — There is no cork large enough to plug Virginia wine’s growth.

Already having experienced a record year in 2012, sales of Virginia wines reached another all-time high in fiscal year 2013.

According to a release sent by the governor, wineries in Virginia sold more than 511,000 cases in fiscal year 2013, an increase of about 26,000 cases since 2012.

Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, said total Virginia wine sales rose by 5 percent in fiscal year 2013, including a triple-digit increase in international sales of Virginia wines.

Much of those exported wines went to London and China, she said.

“Because of our climate, our wines are more similar to those [European wines] than wines on the West Coast,” said Boyd. “Folks in London and the U.K. have a natural palate to Virginia wines.”

She said sales have gone up as the quality of Virginia wines have “improved drastically.”

“After 30 years of trial and error, I think folks in Virginia now know what grape varieties grow best here and they now know the best practices to grow their grapes,” she said.

Boyd said there’s a growing trend for people drinking local wines, especially among Millennials who she described as “more experimental.”

“People eating local has now translated to people drinking local,” she said.

There are more choices now than ever before to imbibe locally. In 2012, the Virginia Winery Guide listed 230 wineries. In 2013, that number grew to 249.

Staying true to its name, about 75 percent of the wine sold at All Things Virginia @ The Farmhouse come from 30 vineyards in the commonwealth.

Owner Vicki Ruckman, who opened the Woodstock store last January, said she’s also noticed a trend of more wine drinkers seeking out local labels.

“All of Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley in particular, have improved vastly over the past few years,” she said.

She said quality has improved as vineyard managers have learned how to better harness the soil and microclimates as well as how long to ferment and seal their batches.

She recalled distinguished British wine critic Oz Clarke’s visit to vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley and Loudoun County last fall.

“He told a bunch of people in his group that Shenandoah Valley wines were better and had more potential [than Loudoun County wines] because of its location,” said Ruckman.

Boyd said Clarke was adamant about visiting the valley and its soil.

“He thinks with global warming the Shenandoah Valley is going to be the place to grow grapes in Virginia,” she said.

Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery in Edinburg recorded its sixth consecutive record year.

Owner Willard “Wolf Gap Willie” Elledge said sales at his winery increased by about 10 percent since 2012 and expects another 10-percent increase in 2014.

“I think it’s because we get more and more return customers,” he said. “We’re still a fairly new winery, only six years old.”

Boyd is optimistic about 2014.

“We feel like it’s going to be a good year,” she said. “You never know, nature tends to surprise us, so my fingers are crossed.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com