Marketing efforts boost wine sales
100,000 more bottles sold in fiscal 2010 than 2009
A combination of economic recovery and savvy marketing boosted Maryland wine sales by 11 percent in fiscal 2010, with 100,000 more bottles sold than in fiscal 2009, the state comptroller's office reported.
And winemakers say they are expecting 2011 to be even better as the first wine from last year's spectacular grape growing season becomes available.
The long string of hot, dry days that caused row crops to wither and die in the fields produced a harvest of unusually high-quality grapes, vintners say.
Carol Wilson, owner of Elk Run Vineyard in Mount Airy, predicts these grapes will produce "the best year ever" for her 30-year-old winery.
"We're really excited about 2011," said Melissa Schulte, director of operations at Black Ankle Vineyards of Mount Airy, who describes 2010 as a "fantastic year for sales."
Black Ankle, one of the newest Maryland wineries, has been selling its wine since 2006. But the wine has proved so popular its inventory can sustain only on-site tastings and sales, plus sales to wholesalers.
Black Ankle probably will have to skip this year's festivals to maintain its inventory. Meanwhile, it plans to add 19 acres to its existing 22 acres of grapevines. But grapes from the new vines will not be available for wine for three or four years.
Linganore Winecellars winemaker Anthony Aellen credits the recovery from the Great Recession for some of last year's sales increase.
"People were hesitant for the past two years but everyone is slowly coming around to a more positive feeling," he said.
Linganore, Maryland's largest winery, sold 600,000 bottles that's 125,000 gallons last year and expects its upward trajectory to continue.
"I think it's going to be an ongoing tradition," Aellen said.
Marylanders also are discovering that a weekend trip to a winery, or several, makes for a fun and restful mini-vacation, winemakers say.
"Coming out to a winery and buying a glass of wine is an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon," said Elk Run's Wilson. For a $5 cover charge, Elk Run offers Wind Down Fridays all summer long, featuring local musicians and a sunset view. Visitors can buy bread and cheese or bring their own picnic.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, notes the state's wineries now are selling more to wine shops and that on-site visits were up last year from 10 percent to 15 percent over 2009.
Atticks also said Wednesday that pending state legislation to allow direct shipping of wine to customers in the state is "extremely important to the future of the state's wine industry, as we plan expansion in a modern wine market where answering customer requests is key."
Hearings on the bill are scheduled for Friday before House and Senate committees.
The 2010 sales increase "has to do with the fact that we've promoted the industry a lot more than in past years and held new events," Atticks said. "Because of that, Maryland stores and restaurants are taking Maryland wines more seriously."
A growing number of restaurants, including the new Drovers in Mount Airy, offer local produce and wines exclusively and winemakers agree they owe much of their sales increase to support for the "eat local" movement.
Linganore officials hope to offer a weekly farmers market.
"Local is extremely popular," said Wilson, who maintains partnerships with local cheese makers and bakeries.
Atticks also said he expects a big boost this year from a new Passport program that rewards customers with points for visiting wineries. Enough points reward the Passport holder with an invitation to a series of "Winemaker Receptions" where they can taste wines, meet the winemaker and learn about the wine-making process.
The winemakers also are busy promoting their product at on-site events that now run year-round.
For example, February is big wine and chocolate month for vineyards because of Valentine's Day, and Linganore offered tastings last month that paired 10 different domestic and imported chocolates with 17 of its wines. Dark chocolate, for example, was paired with a red wine and an Italian mocha with a fruit wine.
"It's neat to be able to taste the wine and taste the chocolate and see what wine does to the taste of food," Aellen said. "It's absolutely cool."
Correction: This story was corrected to clarify what the rewards are for the Passport program.