Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Interview With Dr. Kevin Atticks

Dr. Kevin Atticks is the executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, the industry trade group representing Maryland’s wineries. He is a regular contributor to the Maryland Beverage Journal, Daily Record and was the wine editor of The Grapevine magazine. Atticks was the founding host of Word on Wine – a weekly show that explores the history and culture of wine WBJC-FM in Baltimore.

Atticks has been writing about wine since 1997 when he took interest in wineries in Colorado. After traversing that state and all of its wineries, Kevin returned to his home state of Maryland to publish a tour guide to the local wineries, titled “Discovering Maryland Wineries,” the first of its kind in the state.

Atticks then researched the wineries surrounding Lake Erie and soon published “Discovering Lake Erie Wineries,” which covers wineries in the lake regions of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Ontario. The series continued in 2000 with the publication of “Discovering New Jersey Wineries.”

He has been a member of the Communication faculty at Loyola College since 1999, where he teaches public relations and publication design.

Kevin Atticks

What is the biggest challenge facing wine in your state today? The biggest challenges our wineries face are the post-prohibition restrictions still in law. Many don’t make any sense, or contradict traditional winery operations. Secondly, we have five different growing regions throughout the state and it’s taken our industry decades to sort out which grapes grow best in each. Now, we’re finally seeing that the southern part of our state is more of a Italian/southern Mediterranean growing style, and we’ve got a region that can handle the Bordeaux varieties and so on.

What is the difference between wine in your region from ten years ago to today? There’s a lot more of it! And there’s more expertise in the region than there was tens years ago so new wineries are opening their doors with high quality wine and great marketing.

Where do you think wine in your region will be 10 years from now? We’ll have 60-80 wineries in the state and we’ll have made a reputation for certain grapes in each of our five distinct growing regions. Ten years ago Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vidal and Chambourcin were planted everywhere…and they may not have been the best grapes for some of our regions. Now we’ve got superb Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Malbec, Barbera, etc.

What’s the trend in wine in your region that has surprised you the most in the last 2-5 years? The diversity of grapes that we can grow well. You would never have thought that Maryland was a Gruner state, or an Albariño state, but we can grow the heck out of them.

Is there a new trend you expect to see in the next 2-3 years? I think the biggest thing we see on the horizon is the creation of appellations (AVAs) in the state …finding the outer perimeters of what grows where, and marketing the differences. We’re primed for appellations.

Do you find liquor stores and wine shops have been a good partner for your state grown wines? They are becoming good partners. We have a lot of work to do to encourage Marylanders to go to the stores and buy our wines. Retailers are in the business of selling wines from any/everywhere, and it’s our job to convince them through market demand that our wines have a place.

Regional wineries sometimes find it hard to sell wines outside of their state. How easy or difficult is it for your wineries to export their wines to other states…countries? We only have a few wineries whose markets have expanded beyond our state boundaries. We’re also bound by being a state that can’t ship to reciprocal states—like New York.

How big a part do festivals and farm markets play in your state‘s wine distribution? A large role. Many of our wineries attend festivals and farmers markets. They used to go for sales. As the retailers become bigger partners, farms stands and festivals become more about marketing than revenue.

What are the challenges of getting your wines covered by local press and the wine media? We find that the local press is interested when there is news. And so we have an easy time promoting MD wine when there’s an event, harvest, good growing season, etc. We’re a local crop, a local product. The wine media here and there pays attention to Maryland wine, but we haven’t made a national push yet. Our industry is still in its infancy, and we’re looking to grow our industry in a sustainable way first.

Are there any fears you may have too many wineries in your state? No. We’ve not had a problem with too many wineries. There’s enough interest in local wine that our wineries are able to sell everything they make, and the more wineries we have the more successful wine trails can become. Competition is healthy for any industry—only the weak suffer from competition.

Do you have any wine trails in your state? If so, how effective have they become? If not, why? We do and they are very effective. We have three wine trails with more on the way. Frederick wine trail. Patuxent wine trail. Chesapeake wine trail.

Are you finding there are enough grape growers to fill the demand created by wineries in your state? Absolutely not. We’re in desperate need for new grape growers. We have some crazy programs that have been enacted to get people to grow grapes here in Maryland.