As the popularity of Virginia wines increases across the nation and around the world, so does the need for locally grown wine grapes, and a recently released report shows that growers in the state are rising to the challenge.
Last year, Virginia’s grape harvest increased more than 17 percent from the previous year’s harvest, according to the 2014 Virginia Commercial Grape report released by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. More than 8,030 tons of grapes were harvested last year, up from about 6,850 tons in 2013, the report said.
“The Virginia wine industry is growing,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said in a statement. “With sales increasing steadily over the last few years and interest about our wine industry growing along the East Coast, the United Kingdom, China and other markets, we must plant more grapevines, increase harvests and produce more wine to meet that demand.”
Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the number of wineries — with more than 255 — and is the nation’s fifth-largest wine grape producer, officials said. According to a 2011 economic impact study, the wine industry contributes almost $750 million to the state’s economy on an annual basis.
More than 1.6 million tourists visited Virginia wineries in 2013.
In Loudoun County, home to more vineyards and wineries than any other jurisdiction in the state, economic development officials said they were particularly pleased by the county’s results in the report.
“We’re about 20 percent higher than the rest of the state average on actual tons of grapes harvested in 2014,” Kellie Boles, Loudoun’s agricultural development officer, said. “It really goes back to the fact that we have more new vines in the ground than any other county in the state.”
Loudoun, which brands itself as “D.C.’s wine country,” has quickly become the leader of Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry. Boles said the new report reveals “a really positive outlook” for the future of a market that is continuing to attract new entrepreneurs.
“The private sector investors and the landowners and the farmers have confidence in the wine grapes and the wine market in Loudoun, because they’re investing a minimum of $15,000 an acre to put more grapes in,” she said. “If you didn’t think you could sell those grapes or you didn’t think you could sell the wine that you’re making out of those grapes, you surely wouldn’t be making that investment.”
From 2013 to 2014, about 34 acres of grapevines came into maturity in Loudoun, Boles said. During the same period, about 40 acres of new vines were planted. It typically takes about two to three years for vines to fully mature and begin producing fruit, she said.
In the statement released by the governor’s office, officials noted the challenge of keeping pace with a steadily rising demand for Virginia wines.
“Although Virginia wines are garnering global acclaim, and sales continue to grow, the industry’s greatest challenge is to plant more vines to meet the increased product demand,” Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, said in the statement. “The growth in wine sales is outpacing wine grape production figures and that is a trend that must be addressed. However, grape growing is a unique and labor-intensive endeavor that requires the right site selection and investment.”
Sales of Virginia wines have increased by about 26 percent since fiscal 2010, according to Virginia officials. But from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014, sales grew by only 2 percent, the smallest increase in the past few years because of a limited supply of fruit, the statement said.
Loudoun, one of the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the country, has only so much acreage with the proper landscape and soil to foster grape vines, Boles said.
“The places where we’d be planting grapes are not likely the places where we would either plant other crops or where we would look for some kind of residential development,” she said. “Grapes don’t like to be on the best soil, and grapes want to be on a sloping hillside. So we’re not overly concerned about any kind of agricultural or residential development pressure on our grape-growing land.”
Land that is “perfect for growing grapes” is limited, she said, but she added that there is potential for expansion in neighboring areas.
“The industry is so collaborative and cooperative, and other counties around us will start growing more grapes,” she said.