I asked her last week to email me a list of five observations she has made about Pennsylvania wines, and she didn't disappoint. Indeed, she wrote so much that we'd have to trim her some in the paper. On here, she gets to run in full. My thanks to someone who took some time out of a very busy schedule to organize her thoughts and assemble her list.
Although Pennsylvania's wine industry makes a continuous effort to improve wine quality on many fronts (i.e. advances in viticulture, varietal selection, updating production practices, enhancing employee education, etc.), there are several things that come to mind in terms of what I've seen in the past 5 years.
1) Brand identification - We're seeing this now with the emergence of breweries and/or distilleries in association with a winery. This helps establish a brand for the winery and improves options for product portfolios. Now consumers can enjoy a glass of Pennsylvania wine or beer from the same place. That's unique! And it opens doors for visitors in terms of providing something for everyone.
2) Greater numbers in young adults interested in enology/viticulture - This has to be one of the most exciting things that I see happening to date. We now have several established co-ops or internships through Penn State's Food Science program that are teaching college students how to grow wine grapes or make wine. Students get incredible hands-on production experience and utilize opportunities to travel abroad, learning international wine growing. The best part of this is that many of these students want to return to Pennsylvania and help grow the industry. Additionally, students can continue their education through Harrisburg Area Community College's (HACC) Viticulture and Enology program, which is all online and designed to train/advance industry employees. This educational circle, from undergraduate through industry-based adult education, is bound to make huge changes in the industry as time progresses.
3) Greater recognition in national and international wine competitions - This is equally exciting to see. Although we have a solid annual Farm Show Wine Competition and Pennsylvania Winery Association (PWA) Competition, more wineries are exploring competitions outside the borders of the state. This is fantastic! Not only does the recognition improve the state's reputation throughout the national wine industry, but it gets the name of Pennsylvania wines out there. It's quite impressive to see Pennsylvania wines rank in the top awards for these competitions (although I must say... well deserved).
4) More awareness of local wines - With all of the publicity regarding the PLCB, it's hard to miss their recent move in adding more local wines to state stores. Currently, consumers only see (literally) a handful of Pennsylvania wines in the state stores. But with more selections that are going to be available in the state stores, the hope that Pennsylvania residents get a chance to try state-wide wines is exciting. I continue to encourage consumers to look up local wineries (you can do this easily on the PWA website: http://pennsylvaniawine.com/wineries). Most residents have a winery in their backyard! In addition to providing a local product, wineries are heavily involved in community-related activities and supporting local or national charities. Wineries also offer educational opportunities for consumers. More and more are offering night classes or activities for enthusiasts that want to learn more about wine or wine/food pairing.
5) Improved education for winemakers - Perhaps this is slightly biased because this is what I do for a living, but I see more winemakers exploring educational opportunities to continue wine improvement. I always tell people that one is never done learning about wine. There is always something new to learn! Research is constantly on the cutting edge of new findings, and our winemakers now have several opportunities to take advantage of this information that is tailored towards Pennsylvania's wine industry. The Wine Marketing and Research Board now hosts an annual symposium on Pennsylvania grape/wine related research. Additionally, the Eastern Winery Exposition has emerged in Lancaster, PA in addition to the established Wineries Unlimited conference. These are huge educational opportunities for winemakers, cellar staff, researchers, and political leaders that are involved in the wine industry. If I think back 10 years ago, such opportunities were limited. This pretty much says: We have an established wine industry and we're here to stay. Let's move forward.
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