Shenandoah Spirits Trail celebrates first anniversary

MIDDLETOWN – Shenandoah Spirits Trail celebrated its first anniversary at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Backroom Brewery on Ridgemont Road. And yes, alcohol was served.

Strictly speaking, the trail launched in September 2016, making Thursday the 1 1/3 anniversary. The holidays and a busy harvest season led the leadership team to push back the annual gathering until business had settled down.

Up from its original 27 wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries, the trail now consists of 42 independent businesses. Shenandoah County director of tourism and economic development Jenna French said this growth can be attributed to continued development in the trail’s original areas, but also thanks to the new inclusion of Clarke, Page and Warren counties.

“Visitors don’t see boundaries. So the fact that Page County was just over the border … we wanted to find a way to incorporate that and everybody else in the other localities,” French said.

The Spirit Trail’s leadership team invited Lisa Damico, director of marketing for the Winery at Bull Run, to share her advice on how to market a craft alcohol business.

At the last Spirits Trail get-together, Justin Kerns, executive director of Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that he and the other tourism directors asked companies what professional development skills they wanted to learn the most. Kerns said that marketing strategies and social media finesse “popped right up to the top.”

Damico’s advice centered on maintaining a modern website, mastering one social media platform instead of poorly using all of them, and finding ways to engage with customers online.

One critical hub of customer attention that cannot be ignored, Damico said, is the company website.

“People are going to judge you very quickly, within less than a second,” Damico said. “If you have a website that looks like it was designed in the 90s, and hasn’t been updated since then, that’s going to lead them to think, ‘Oh god, they really don’t have their act together.'”

The Spirits Trail consists of 20 wineries, 17 breweries, three cideries and three distilleries. (The Winery at Kindred Pointe counts twice, as it operates as both a winery and a cidery.)

With partner contributions and state grants, the trail raised its operating budget to over $70,000 in fiscal year 2018. This money goes into advertising the trail and bringing more customers to all of its 43 partner businesses.