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Pop the Cork! NC Wine Industry Plans for Growth

Photo: Owl's Eye Vineyard opened in Shelby in 2007. Since then, two other wineries have opened nearby. Photo courtesy: Owl's Eye Vineyard
Photo: Owl's Eye Vineyard opened in Shelby in 2007. Since then, two other wineries have opened nearby. Photo courtesy: Owl's Eye Vineyard
April 29, 2015

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Although North Carolina's craft beer gets plenty of accolades for quality and growth, the state's wine industry is experiencing success of its own.

About 7,600 people now are employed by the industry in the Tar Heel State, and researchers at the University of North Carolina's Greensboro campus developed a five-year plan for further growth. Marketing and tourism professor Bonnie Canziani worked on the recommendations and said North Carolina wine comes down to raising the bar for quality and consistency.

"Focus on quality in order to improve wine itself," she said, "and then the second biggest recommendation is to focus on ways of getting North Carolina wine into the hands of more people."

There are 400 commercial grape growers in North Carolina and at least 140 wineries, according to the state's Department of Agriculture. State officials say the North Carolina wine and grape industry generates $1.28 billion annually for the economy. The state ranks 10th in the nation for wine production, and third for wine tourism.

Wendy Wright's family owns Owl's Eye Vineyard and Winery in Shelby. Open since 2007, Wright said the family business has seen a growth in interest and now bottles 2,000 cases a year.

"People are generally interested in learning what North Carolina wine tastes like and seeing how that industry is developing," she said. "North Carolina is still very young, but it's burgeoning."

North Carolina's crop of scuppernongs and other muscadine grapes that grow near the coast enable wine makers to offer a wine unique to other regions. Canziani said North Carolina has a wine for every palate.

"In North Carolina, there are a lot more drinkers of sweeter wine compared to other states," she said, "and then when you look at the Piedmont and going out towards the mountains, the whole rest of the state tends to be a little bit more of the traditional vinifera, the European-style drier wines."

North Carolina's Roanoke Island is home to the mother vine for scuppernong grapes. Settlers from the eastern part of the state planted cuttings in the 17th and 18th centuries.

More information is online at newsandfeatures.uncg.edu.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC