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A record year for Virginia Wine

McDonnellGov. Bob McDonnell, right, with the help of Salamander Resort and Spa owner Sheila Johnson, unveiled a highway sign in July 2012 welcoming visitors to the “Northern Virginia Wine Region.” Times-Mirror File Photo/Trevor Baratko
A surprise to no one tracking the Virginia wine industry's evolution, Gov. Bob McDonnell today announced that fiscal 2013 was another record year for sales of the commonwealth's vin.

Surpassing the previous record of 485,000 cases, set in fiscal 2012, Virginia wineries sold more than 511,000 cases in the most recent year, according to data gathered by the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) and the Virginia Wine Marketing Office. The Virginia Wine office also highlighted that Virginia sales have increased by nearly 25 percent since fiscal 2010.

Noteworthy in the governor's announcement was the enhanced interest from wine distributors outside of Virginia, an essential component for the state's wine to increase national and international prestige. Wine sales to out-of-state distributors were up more than 60 percent from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013. Currently, the commonwealth's vin is being sold in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida and Washington, D.C.

McDonnell, a Republican, highlighted the achievement during a morning visit to Chatham Vineyards in Machipongo on the the state's Eastern Shore.

“At the beginning of my administration, I pledged to work with the Virginia wine industry to make the commonwealth the East Coast capital for wine and wine tourism,” the governor said. “Today’s announcement is further proof that we’re well on our way to reaching that goal.”

“I’m pleased our administration’s focus on promoting Virginia wines and wine tourism both here and abroad is helping the commonwealth's wine industry to grow and expand,” McDonnell added. “From serving only Virginia wines at the Executive Mansion to marketing them during all domestic and international trade missions, we have taken every step possible to help create new sales and generate more jobs and economic opportunities all across the commonwealth.”

Virginia ranks fifth in U.S. with more than 230 wineries, more than 30 of which are in Loudoun – more than any other county in the commonwealth. Virginia is tied with Texas as the nation's fifth largest wine-grape producing states.

Jen Breaux, of Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville, said the McDonnells “deserve commendation for their efforts to bring visibility to Virginia vineyards and the wines being produced here.”

“It's a great time to be in the Virginia wine industry and this should give way to even more growth and interest in work that is happening in the wine industry here," Breaux said.

Yet delight at the news was restrained for some in the local wine game.

“This is somewhat great news,” Jordan Harris, the vintner at Tarara in Leesburg, said via Facebook. “The problem is there is not enough fruit in the state to support over 500,000 cases at this time. The fruit has to be coming from somewhere.”

Breaux agreed. “You're so spot on, Jordan,” she said. “The word on the street is that there is some serious juice coming in from California. Not good for the industry. If there is an immediate need, isn't it important to at least stay regional? If I were visiting a winery in California and they told me I was drinking Virginia wine, I'm not sure how I'd feel about the experience ... It's frustrating.”

According to Harris, a winery is allowed to import 25 percent of their fruit from out of state to adhere to state law.

Harris said he "certainly doesn't think" that 25 percent of Virginia's wine is coming from out-of-state fruit, "but that is the allowance."

“Commercial wineries can bring in as much as they want and there are a couple bigger ones that have this. You can also get a special exception and bring in more for certain circumstances like frost, hail, etc,” he said.

The Virginia wine industry employs more than 4,700 individuals and contributes almost $750 million to the Virginia economy on an annual basis, according to a 2012 economic impact study.

This story has been updated from an earlier version.

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Someday we’ll get the vineyards that rationalize the whole open-space, favorable tax treatment that our Loudoun wineries enjoy.  We have a few that grow their own grapes and bottle their own wine produced on site…but far too few.  Instead, we have way too many hucksters cashing in on the concept—putting a wine bar in a residential neighborhood, planting enough vines to yield a gallon or so of grape juice, buying and relabelling wine from elsewhere and putting up VDOT signs pointing out their “winery.”

Wish our local governments would help enforce a little sanity on this as we don’t want to end up like Fauquier county—where the bad apples ruin it for everyone.

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