Thursday, August 04, 2011

Virginia Gazette Raves About Virginia Wine Tourism

EDITORIAL: Tourism uncorked
Modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 7:19 AM EDT
Originally Published: Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Virginia Gazette

The recent debut of Saudé Creek Vineyards in New Kent provided a snapshot of a business woefully unprepared for the crushing interest in its venture. Amid the chaos, however, was a glimpse of a tourism angle that could help greater Williamsburg.

There are now three wineries in a 30-mile radius of Williamsburg, four if you count the storefront Vintner’s Cellars in Yorktown. Working together, they could package tourism in a way that would benefit the wineries, lodgings, restaurants and perhaps even tourist attractions.

Here’s the model to consider. A Hampton Inn & Suites in the Shenandoah Valley has put together a $250 package that offers 2 nights lodging, vouchers for free tastings at four nearby wineries, and a three-course dinner at a local steakhouse. Six businesses stand to benefit from one two-day visit.

The beauty is the simplicity. Wineries are smart enough, or should be, to know that having a competitor nearby is good for business. It’s the same logic that entices Home Depot to locate next to a Lowe’s. If you don’t find what you want at one business, you might at the one across the street.

The public was creating its own wine tour at Saudé Creek. Several familiar faces showed up a few hours later at New Kent Winery, about 5 miles away.

The wineries can take it a step further, with food and entertainment. Williamsburg Winery does this at Gabriel Archer Tavern, where the focus is on meals. Vintner’s has caught on with nighttime entertainment.

As in northern California, visiting four wineries in a day is not uncommon here. There are dozens of wineries within an hour’s drive of Charlottes­ville. And Vintage Ohio, a statewide wine festival held in a state park each August, gives attendees an opportunity to sample 100 wines in one night. No bottles are sold inside the festival. Ingeniously, customers must exit through a sales tent, the industry’s equivalent of departing a museum exhibit through the gift shop.

Ohio wineries get it right in another respect. Many offer tasting trays, typically $8-$10 for a medicine dose cup-size sample of up to a dozen wines. Offer a cheese and bread tray for another $10, and people will make an evening of it, and probably take a few bottles home.

Greater Williamsburg could capitalize by offering a package of 2-3 nights lodging. Space the tastings over two nights, visiting the wineries in New Kent one night, then Williamsburg and Yorktown the next. Get restaurants on board for dinners and breakfasts. And local livery companies could latch on with a designated driver service.

Wine tourism is real. Sales of wine in Virginia grew 13% in 2010, according to the Virginia Wine Board. There are already multiple companies offering wine tours across the state. And a week ago Charlottesville hosted a conference of 300 wine bloggers.

One of those bloggers was Huffington Post wine writer Mary Ortlin.

“You get a critical mass of 300 or so bloggers blogging about Virginia wine,” she wrote. “Add in the thousands of tweets all of us sent out while visiting Virginia wineries and tasting Virginia wines... Virginia is on its way to being a player in the wine world.”

There are approximately 190 wineries in Virginia today. The time is ripe to uncork ours for local tourism.

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