There’s a wine industry in every state and even in tough economic times, there are facets to every wine industry offering a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy recession. States such as Florida, Idaho and Oregon are growing their own unique industries while the country’s wine giant—California—feels a pinch from the economy, but still moves forward.
By Mikel Chavers
Economy got you a little down these days? There might be an anecdote for that.
States want folks to stop and taste their wine.
That’s because for states and tourists alike, state wine industries just might offer a bright spot in a gloomy recession. States—and wineries—are getting creative in maximizing their product, which is a mixture of the beverage and also the tourism opportunities that beverage brings.
“As most businesses are struggling, this has been a challenging year for Oregon wineries, yet there are so many bright spots,” said Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, a quasi-state agency. “We are seeing very strong traffic in sales at our tasting rooms. People are driving here and buying a lot of wine.”
That’s because in a down economy people are taking more “staycations,” or traveling without an airplane, typically in their own state or closer to their home, Farthing said.
“The local travelers seem to be especially supportive (of the state’s wine industry),” he said.
Other states such as Florida and Idaho are finding similar bright spots as well with their wine industries. Those states offer just a snapshot of the industry as a whole. Florida is taking the time to educate wine-drinkers in St. Augustine, a place rich with history, while Idaho’s blossoming wine segment is growing jobs and revenue. Oregon—known for its small-batch, hand-crafted wines—just launched a sustainable wine label showcasing the long-term and green practices of its wineries.
While their approaches may differ, many states are letting Bacchus be their guide in increasing tourism and revenues from a relatively new source. And who can think of American wine without thinking of California, the top wine-producing state in the country?
State Wine Industries are Everywhere
The first American wines were made in Florida, a place known primarily for its touristy beaches, where more than a century and a half ago—even before grapes were planted in California—Spanish pioneers made wine, according to St. Sebastian winery in St. Augustine, Fla.
Near the beaches of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., St. Sebastian Winery has made its home. Every year more than two stainless steel tanks full of wine—that’s more than 5,000 gallons of the vino—are given away to visitors who come to taste Florida wine, according to Nikki Whitney, a tour guide at the winery.
“That’s the best PR you can have, especially for a state that has no image as far as winemaking is concerned,” Whitney said.
But for states that don’t already have the wine industry image that’s become synonymous with places such as California’s Sonoma and Napa valleys, it can be a bit of a struggle to draw visitors. But Whitney said the key is to focus on educating visitors—and perhaps jumpstarting their journey into becoming a wine connoisseur.
That’s exactly what Florida’s St. Sebastian Winery has done. Whitney said the winery has such a consistent, loyal group of Floridians that keep coming to the winery.
At places like San Sebastian Winery, tour guides teach visitors how to taste wines, from smelling the aromas to rinsing the palette—to swirling the wine in the glass.
Still, even with efforts to educate wine consumers—Oregon is another state that’s trying to educate consumers about sustainable wine (more on that later)—states that are not synonymous with wine are finding creative ways to carve out a name for themselves.
“It’s a challenge,” Whitney said. “You’re not guaranteed an entrée into the wine drinker’s life, because we have no wine image.”
Idaho Wineries Growing Like Wildfire
If Idaho feels those same types of growing pains, you wouldn’t know it from its fast-growing wine industry. The state boasts six new wineries in the last eight months, according to Moya Shatz, executive director for the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission. Now there are 38 wineries in the state with more than 1,600 planted acres of vineyards, Shatz said.
Idaho’s wine industry is relatively young, even though it initially began in the 1860s but was stunted and fizzled away due to Prohibition, Shatz said. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the state’s wine industry was renewed with Saint Chapelle Winery.
Since then, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds; Shatz’s commission was founded in 1984. An economic study for the commission, which was released in April, found the state’s wine industry grew from 11 wineries in 2002 to 38 wineries in 2008—a 245 percent increase. Winery revenues have also grown from $15 million in 2002 to $52 million in 2008, according to the economic impact study.
Idaho’s wine industry contributed $73 million to the state’s economy last year, according to the recent economic impact study. The study was sponsored by Boise State University and the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission.
The state’s wine and grape products, as well as their related industries, account for more than 600 full-time jobs, the study reports—that’s $19 million in employee wages.
That’s good for the state’s pocketbook, too. In 2008, wine sales in the state grew by 3.3 percent and in the same way, wine tax revenue increased by $824,000 since 2002, the study reports.
Shatz thinks that kind of data is a testament to the growth of her state’s wine industry, which has led to the increased visibility of Idaho wines as well as helped poise the state for increased tourism opportunities when it comes to folks visiting the wine country.
The numbers also helped Shatz and other supporters of Idaho wines to combat another issue. When legislators proposed tripling the beer and wine tax this legislative session, Shatz and others, armed with the positive growth numbers for the state’s wine industry, were able to fight it.
The proposal—House Bill 140—didn’t go anywhere this session.