When I moved to North Carolina to help start up and become the winemaker for RagApple Lassie Vineyards, there were only 18 to 20 wineries in the whole state, with four being in the Yadkin Valley. Imagine my surprise to find that Surry Community College had both a Viticulture and Enology program in place. That seemed amazingly far thinking to me, as well as optimistic. In addition, consider that Surry includes a hands-on winery for the students, as well as the fact that the wine can be sold in retail stores.
Compare this to California, with the University of California at Davis, one of the premier wine teaching schools in the world, and, of course, boasting over 4,000 wineries. They now have a working winery but, until a few years ago, had to dump all the wine because the state would not allow them to bottle and sell it. Next up is New York for the East coast, with over 400 wineries and Cornell University, also considered a premier wine teaching facility. They are just now building a working winery for their students.
We know that government bureaucracy has hindered us in many ways, yet it seems that some of what they have decided has put our industry in the forefront somewhat in comparison with other states that are closer to the top of the list of U.S. wine producing states.
We now have somewhere near 150 wineries in North Carolina, with about 38 in the Yadkin Valley alone. It has been an incredible ride for the wine industry in this state. We have been one of the fastest growing wine regions in the United States by percentage and now rank number 10 as a wine making state. The benefits to North Carolina derived from this industry are immense and getting better every day. The smart legislators have stood up and taken notice. The rest need to do so as well. Jobs, tax income and, most of all, tourism dollars have increased with every year of growth in the winery business. In addition, the buildings, vineyards and surrounding areas are certainly a treat for the eye as compared to industrial complexes, or overcrowded housing developments.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who are “the wine industry.” While many people think of it as a glamorous job, it is incredibly hard work to make high quality wine, and we are, indeed, making high quality wine here in North Carolina. Who would have guessed this 20 years ago? When I was leaving the winery for which I worked in Ohio, my boss assumed I was going to California. I told him that I was going to North Carolina and he laughed at me and said, “I wouldn’t buy a house if I were you.” He has been here since then and has been made to eat his words. It is the dedication and long, long hours of work that we in the wine industry have put into it to make it all work. It is growing of quality grapes to start. It is having knowledgeable winemakers who are willing to continue to learn every day, to keep improving on what they are doing, and to pay attention to detail as well as go the extra mile to make the very best product they can from the fruit at hand. It is the winery owners and investors who have spent a fortune to take a chance to create a dream and who remain open minded to all of the possibilities and improvements that can be made. And it is the customers, both in state and out of state, who have given us a chance to show we can compete with the best.
And so, I thank all of the above for turning my time here in North Carolina into an experience that truly is “ahead of the curve.” Keep up the good work!
Linda King is a winemaker as well as an internationally certified wine judge, and does consulting for various wineries in the industry.