GREENSBORO — Because of the growth and economic impact being provided to the state from the wine and grape industry, the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council recently partnered with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to sponsor a research project.
That project — which was handled by faculty through the Bryan School of Business’ Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Hospitality and Tourism at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro — was tasked with developing the state’s first-ever strategic plan for the wine and grape industry.
“It was obvious that people who had tobacco farms were starting to turn into other types of agricultural crops,” said Bonnie Canziani, who co-developed the report with Erick Byrd. “Grape production was one that was tickling people’s fancy.”
That’s exactly how Lu Mil Vineyard in Dublibn came about. After many years of tobacco farming, the Taylor family looked into and then successfully switched a majority of their land to grape-growing.
“Our industry needs the guidance developed by the plan,” said Ron Taylor, who owns and operates Lu Mil. “Hopefully rural areas like ours will be more open minded to our industry when they see all the benefits.”
A key strength in North Carolina, as pointed out in the research, is the state’s diversity in grape and wine products. Fertile North Carolina soil makes it possible to grow both native muscadine grapes and European-style vinifera grapes. In addition, wine tourism offers a unique activity to the state’s existing tourism mix and creates additional business for local hotels, restaurants and tour companies.
“The strategic plan allows industry leaders to say, ‘What do we know about where we are, what do the majority of people in the state say are the core concerns, and what are the ways we may develop ourselves in the future?’” Canziani said.
The research was conducted over the summer and fall of 2013 and released to the public in July 2014. Among the key findings were:
— Ensuring the quality of North Carolina grapes and wines to drive sales, and increase positive brand recognition and consumer confidence;
— Continued funding and research in enology, marketing, viticulture and wine/grape business;
— Enhanced marketing to inform and promote the impact and benefits of the industry;
— A focus on wine tourism, which has solid consumer interest; and
— Advocating for a regulatory environment that equalizes peer state advantages and manages costs.
Taylor, who is a member of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, said the membership has “done extensive work” towards the final plan.
“We developed it and they (UNCG) put it together,” he said.
Canziana added that industry leaders have already begun working on aspects of the strategic plan — such as allocating money to meet some of the strategic imperatives. Among the high priorities were enhancing the state’s reputation as a producer of high-quality wines and grapes, as well as increasing market share. She said that some of the other goals in the plan have been put on hold pending the outcomes of the more immediate objectives.
Samuel Troy, the executive in residence at the Bryan School of Business said the strategic plan “should be of great interest not only to wineries, but also to economic development and tourism development officials.”
N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler agreed.
“The economic impact of the wine and grape industry in North Carolina is about $1.3 billion,” he said. “look forward to the implementation of the objectives outlined in the strategic plan to better serve the state’s 400 commercial grape growers and 125 wineries.”