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Happy New Year!

Since this post has languished in my drafts folder since late November, I am unilaterally extending the acceptable HNY salutation grace period…

To officially begin the new year, I offer my thoughts on a few opportunities and headwinds facing the Virginia wine industry in 2015 and beyond:

Caution — Craft Beer Ahead
It’s not news that the last few years have been big for the Virginia wine industry in caution-signterms of new winery operations (not necessarily a good thing), new vineyard plantings (a great thing!), industry-wide sales, and favorable press recognition.

Like 2012, 2013, and 2014, 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for Virginia wine.

With that being said, the drink local landscape is evolving.  An opportunity for some and risk for others….

Add to the list of factors contributing to the headwinds Virginia vintners face each vintage — frost, hail, humidity, harvest rains, spotted wing drosophila, increased competition for quality fruit (for those sourcing fruit), and pink boas — increased competition from their booze peers making craft beer.

In his latest Harpers column, booze writer Jason Wilson writes, “cocktails and craft beer are gaining popularity among consumers because they’re simply more fun, and the people explaining, teaching, writing about, and serving cocktails and craft beer are just flat-out better at providing an engaging experience than their counterparts in wine are.”

Gulp.  

While I don’t completely agree with Wilson’s statement, the growing appeal and energy of the craft beer movement is undeniable — especially here in Virginia.

Thanks to established breweries like O’Connor Brewing Company in Norfolk, along with newer operations like Hunter Smith’s Champion Brewing in Charlottesville, Back Bay Brewing in Virginia Beach, and Triple Crossing Brewing in Richmond (among many others), popularity of the craft beer movement in Virginia is skyrocketing.

I concede the obvious point that craft beer is not new to Virginia and does comfortably co-exists with Virginia wine.

However, local brewers and their beers are winning over wine-centric drinkers (like me), making craft beer a big player in the competition (yes, competition) for local consumers’ finite ‘drink local’ budgets… thereby making beer a part of the Virginia wine narrative in 2015!

Cider
Add cider to the above.  In 2015, I believe Virginia artisan hard cider will take a bigger step outside the shadow of its close cousin, Virginia wine.  And, Virginia’s Cider Rockstar, Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider, will be on the receiving end of more deserved national cider recognition.

Viognier, Oh Viognier, What Are We To Do With You?
Like the mischievous schoolboy that finds himself in the headmaster’s office for reasons many and curious (I may have been that kid), Viognier just can not seem to cooperate.

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Viognier and in particular, Virginia Viognier.  When the Wine Board officially designated Viognier as Virginia’s signature grape for national branding purposes in 2011, I believed that this aromatic white grape would actually provide the opportunity for differentiation and marketing cohesion in the global wine marketplace.

Well, not so much.  At least not yet. 

In fairness to Viognier, weather — spring frost, humidity, and rains at harvest — hasn’t helped the cause.  Based on discussions with many winemakers, Viognier yields have been particularly inconsistent and challenging the last few vintages.  Add to this the expense associated with farming Viognier and its future as the calling card of the Commonwealth doesn’t look likely (well, at least any time soon, anyway).

In the spirit of making predictions that can not be measured, I believe 2015 will be the year that Viognier quietly fades into the middle of the Virginia wine narrative while lesser-known varieties (like Petit Manseng and Vermentino) gain more respect and prominence.

Regardless, I dig Viognier and will continue to be a fan and advocate for those restrained, well-made examples.  Drink Viognier!

The Growing Divide in Quality Will Become Clearer
In August I wrote about the growing divide in the quality of Virginian wine.  Having recently visited a number of tasting rooms throughout the state, I hold the belief that this quality divide will only grow in 2015.

The increasing number of new operations making wine with purchased grapes but not investing in vineyard plantings is exacerbating the grape shortage, the use of out-of-state fruit, and the growing quality divide (this being the subject of a lengthy article I’m working on).

Tourism!
A bane for some, boom to most — tourism is a big part of the Virginia wine industry, and 2015 may serve as the tipping point of significant wine tourism growth here in the Commonwealth.  Due in large part to the hard work of the team at Visit Loudoun, with support from state government, the annual Wine Tourism Conference will come to the east coast for the first time.  Attended by a couple hundred travel professionals across the U.S. and beyond, the Wine Tourism Conference will bring a lot of attention to wineries and tourism in Virginia.

As always, I welcome all opinions, especially those that differ from my own.

All the best in 2015!

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