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Wine Tourism Conference in Loudoun: ‘Wine is a dream maker’

Local wines wooed Wine Tourism Conference attendees at Thursday’s Lansdowne Resort dinner. Pictured are three tasty bottles from Lost Creek, Dry Mill and Hiddencroft. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko
Wine and tourism insiders from Portugal, Slovenia, Canada and across the country converged in Loudoun County Thursday and Friday for the Wine Tourism Conference's first-ever stop on the East Coast.

In its fifth year, Zephyr Adventures' Wine Tourism Conference brought together vinous experts to underscore the weighty impact the wine industry has on tourism and the economy, both within and outside the U.S.

Last week's installation was hosted at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg.

“You know you are in the right place when you are talking about wine at 9 a.m.,” Beth Erickson, the president and CEO of Visit Loudoun, said Thursday as she kicked-off the forum.

Wine is many things, Erickson said -- it’s an economic driver and job creator, a dream maker and a storyteller.

While the event wasn’t focused exclusively on Virginia wine, the agenda offered several opportunities for outsiders to get a taste of the commonwealth’s juice. A pre-conference trek through Road Yachts ushered guests to the local Tarara, Winery 32 and Fabbioli wineries, and Thursday’s lunch was hosted at the tony Stone Tower Estate Winery, with transportation provided by Reston Limousine.

“Had a great time,” Ted Willey, an economic development officer from Ontario, Canada, told the Times-Mirror. “Made some great contacts and was very impressed with your wines and wonderful hospitality.”

Attending his first Wine Tourism Conference, Willey said he was hoping to get a sense of tactics other regions and localities are doing to support wineries. Ontario’s Norfolk County, where Willey works, is an emerging wine destination between the Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore Wine regions.

“Thought we might make some contacts in the industry, which we did, and connect with other suppliers, wineries and likewise businesses to understand their journey and their challenges,” he said.

These guys mean business! Again...7,500 cases a year!? Grand plans... @stonetowerwinery @visitloudoun @vawine #WTC15

A photo posted by Nicholas Wilson (@wickedwinetours) on

Topics for panels ranged from the Chinese wine industry and guerrilla marketing to website design and agricultural tourism.

Loudoun provided a unique opportunity to bring the event to the East Coast, said Allan Wright, president and owner of Zephyr. Wright pointed out the proximity to D.C. and the Dulles airport and the fact Northern Virginia is in the heart of the Atlantic Seaboard. “We were able to draw on the location to attract attendees, and I am confident Loudoun County's wine industry has a very bright future,” he said.

Approximately 175 guests – wine bloggers, tourism officials and wine lovers – attended the conference for several hundred bucks a head.

Wright was impressed with the steady rise in Virginia wine quality in its relatively short lifespan.

“Wines in relatively 'new' regions seem to go through an evolution,” Wright said. “There are always good wines, but it is often hit and miss to start. As a region grows, varietals become more suited to the region, grape growers understand how to tend vines, and winemakers improve their craft ... Virginia has clearly arrived as a mature wine region.”

A record 524,000 cases of Virginia wine were sold in fiscal 2015 compared to 515,000 cases the previous year. Those figures mark a 26 percent increase in Virginia wine sales over the past five years, according to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office. The state's wine industry supports nearly 5,000 jobs and generates more than $750 million annually to the economy.

Attendee Alison Marriott, a resident of the District, enjoyed sharing the tale of Virginia vin with newcomers. Marriott owns and runs Bon Vivant D.C., through which she provides consulting and concierge services in Virginia's wine country.

“Networking with people from wine regions all over the world highlighted Virginia's signature hospitality,” said Marriott. “I look forward to being a part of the local economy's growth as Virginia cemets its place among premier wine destinations.”


Having fun at #wtc15 with @nswinetours @benjaminbridge cheers!

A photo posted by The Maine Brew Bus (@mainebrewbus) on


Q&A with Wil Fernandez, a California-based wine documentarian and Wine Tourism Conference attendee

Is this your first Virginia Wine experience?

It was the first time I had visited wineries in Virginia. A few years ago I did attend a small wine festival down in the South Eastern part of the state.

Why did you choose this conference? What were you hoping to take away?

I was asked to speak on a panel discussion about bringing wine country communities together to impact wine tourism. The participants seemed to be hungry for ways to learn from others so they could bring back actionable ideas to improve wine tourism in their regions.

What are a couple things you learned during your stay?

Supporting organizations like Visit Loudoun did an amazing job of bringing the right people together and ensuring we left with a good sense of what the area has to offer.

I was impressed with the level of infrastructure that is being built around wine tourism in the area. Many of the wineries I visited had just completed or were in the midst of major tasting room construction work. As opposed to a "build it and they will come" mentality, the decisions being made seemed to be driven by previous consumer feedback and demand. A good example was the addition of "adults only" tasting areas at some of the wineries that understood the value of segmenting visitors.

What are your overall impressions of Virginia wine?

I was definitely surprised by what I tasted. You can tell what I personally had a preference for by what I chose to fill my suitcase with - Cabernet Franc was the most common single varietal I enjoyed. Interesting blends with varietals I don't regularly experience also topped my list; such as Petit Manseng, Tannat and Rkatsiteli.

I especially enjoyed spending time with winemaker/GM Jordan Harris at Tarara Winery. He echoed what many other Virginia winemakers showed me in their vineyards -like anything derived from nature, they can't always grow what they want, but through a tenacious spirit and a little trial and error, they can make some amazing wines.


Thanks @visitloudoun and @vawine for having the Monticello Wine Trail at the #wtc15

A photo posted by Monticello Wine Trail (@monticellowinetrail) on


Featuring news on the Loudoun County wine industry, the Times-Mirror's award-winning “Wine Wednesday” appears the first Wednesday of each month. Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Check out recent Wine Wednesdays:

-"Another record year for Virginia wine" -- Oct. 7, 2015
-"In Loudoun’s labor of love, balancing the costs with the romance" -- Sept. 2


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