A new sticker is appearing on locally produced wines and the hope is this quality assurance sticker will boost the credibility of North Carolina’s ever-growing wine industry.
Ken Gulaian, owner of Round Peak Vineyards, said the program officially launched in 2015. In 2011, the North Carolina Winegrowers Association began discussing concerns over the quality of wine in the state and how it could be improved. The North Carolina Wine Quality Alliance Program (QAP) was then developed through a collaboration between the North Carolina Winegrowers’ Association, the NC Grape and Wine Council, more than 30 industry volunteers, and the Fermentation Sciences program at Appalachian State University. Its mission is “to ensure the commercial viability of North Carolina wines by providing a voluntary program to identify fault-free commercial NC wines, with the overall goal of educating the public on NC wine quality.”
Wines at RayLen Vineyards in Mocksville have had the QAP labels in place for nearly a year, said Erin Doby, marketing and events coordinator. As the program is so new, their main goal at this point is to educate consumers on what these new stickers mean.
“We try to talk about it as often as we can to explain why the sticker is there and why we’re using it.” Doby said. Doby also serves on the panel for the QAP and said she hopes the program will continue to grow and more wineries will submit their wines for evaluation.
“I think it’s really valuable. It gives North Carolina wineries an opportunity to have their wines evaluated for faults just to make sure that we are putting out a quality product. I think it will be invaluable once we get the name out there. I think that once it’s a little more widespread and you start to see it more and more, it’s definitely going to give a little bit of value to the consumer to know that this wine is viable to drink and there are no faults in it.”
Wine industry panelists who evaluate the wine have gone through more than two years of training to learn and identify various wine characteristics that may indicate an error in the wine making process, explained Louis Jeroslow. Jeroslow is co-owner and winemaker at Elkin Creek Vineyards and serves on the QAP panel.
During their extensive training, QAP panelists have learned to identify particular chemical compounds associated with specific wine faults that have to do with things that go wrong in the wine making or storage process, said Jeroslow. The wines also are analyzed at the lab at Appalachian State University.
Jeroslow said it was important to note that the double blind tastings done by the QAP are not the same as judging such as in wine competitions.
“The people who are the panelists are not judges, we are sensory panelists who evaluate the wines not for quality, as far as the wine itself like a competition would be, but solely for identifying faults that can result from less than ideal wine making procedures,” Jeroslow said.
Serving on the QAP panel has been an asset for Jeroslow.
“Participating as a panelist has made me a better wine maker,” he said. “I can identify any potential issues happening in the wines early enough to identify what may be happening and know exactly what causes it and know exactly how to fix it.”
Though the tastings by the panel are done in a blind tasting method, the lab analysis from Appalachian State will be released back to the submitting winery should faults be found so that the winemaker can make adjustments in correcting problems for future vintages.
Elevating the status of the North Caroline industry and creating an environment of trust in the purchasing decision for the consumer are the two primary benefits of the QAP, said Jeroslow. The organizers hope that additional wineries around the state will participate in the program.
“I think it will improve the perception of North Carolina wines by creating a vetting process,” Jeroslow said.
For more information on the program, visit https://wine.appstate.edu/wine-quality-alliance.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Instagram @onthevinemag.