WILLIAMSBURG -- A group of investors from France has announced plans to build a $10 million winery near Williamsburg, creating a new tourist attraction and perhaps providing area farmers a temporary market for an alternative crop.

Eventually, the investors would want to make wine from their own grapes planted on 250 acres in Gloucester County or on the Eastern Shore, Phil Poling, vice president of JSB Investment Group, said last week.

Officials of JSB, the Washington company representing the investors, appeared before the Peninsula Ports Authority of Virginia last week to seek $6.25 million in industrial revenue bonds to finance the venture, a first for Hampton Roads. Most of the state's wine industry is located in western Virginia.

The winery would only employ about 18 workers, although supporting services could add more jobs, Poling said. The winery is planned for a 10-acre site in Whitaker's Mill, a proposed commercial and residential development near the intersection of Virginia Hwy. 199 and Interstate 64 in York County.

In addition to making 250,000 cases of wine annually, the investors hope to market their winery as a tourist attraction, Poling said.

If financing is secured, Poling hopes construction can begin next summer. If not, he said the project may move elsewhere.

Poling said the winery will buy grapes from Virginia growers until its own vineyards are mature enough for winemaking. That usually takes at least three years, he said.

Gloucester County Extension Agent Gene Daniel said he is excited about the proposal, "particularly if there is potential for growers to plant under contract."

He said two Gloucester farmers a week come to him for advice on planting alternative crops. "They're looking for something they can grow, harvest and deliver to a point," said Daniel. But until now, he has never recommended grapes because there was not a market for them. endqua