Exploring VA Wines – July 2014
It is important that we have visionary people in leadership positions to help us steer the future. Jim Hilleary was hired last year as our Loudoun County Extension agent. Extension is a state funded program that gets the agricultural research knowledge from our land grant universities, VA Tech and Virginia State University, into the hands of the farmers. He also brings information back from the farmers to the universities. Jim organized a meeting the other day to get researchers, professors, other extension agents, farmers and business leaders together to focus on the libations industries here in Northern Virginia.
The wineries have developed a strong industry focusing on locally grown, quality grapes and using them to make world recognized wines that mostly sell directly off the farm. Jim has been playing out his vision of using the winery model to improve and grow the spirits, cider, beer and mead businesses in the same fashion. By bringing all of us together, we can share successes, identify challenges and build a strategic plan to fill in the gaps in our supply chain.
One point of this is with the apples needed to make cider. Greg Peck at Virginia Tech is doing test plantings of apple trees that are suitable for cider. We did the same thing for grapes a number of years ago and we continue to look at feasibility. The great thing about cider apples is that the market only looks at apple cider on the label, not the varietal. The apples can be ugly or bitter but if they grow well in this climate and they make good cider, they will be the best to grow. With grapes, for the most part we need to grow what people are used to and adjust our growing methods to make this work no matter the cost or effort.
Another gap needed to be filled is for the brewers and distillers. We have some grain growers and we have brewers, but the grain needs to be processed before the brewers can use it. A milling and malting facility would be needed for us to fill this gap. That is another business and other jobs, but we need to look at size and feasibility in order to make this work.
The overall goal is nor to put Budweiser or Seagrams out of business, but to use our local lands, workforce and business efforts to create products that feed and enhance an important market in our region. The greater Washington DC area needs its libations to survive and function in its own bureaucratic quagmire. We are all very willing and hopefully able to make a living fillings this need. Thanks Jim Hilleary and all of the others involved for working collaboratively to find solutions that will help us all for the future. Cheers!
Written by: Doug Fabbioli