By Doug Fabbioli
Dogs, breweries and building regulations, where are the Virginia Wineries going?
The ball keeps bouncing and the vines keep growing. I have seen a lot of change in the Virginia Wine scene over the past 21 years – from great improvements in red wine quality to high profile owners and investments purchasing and building new operations. I have also seen how our customers have evolved, grown and changed. As so many things in our industry are built for the long term run, there is not a lot of flexibility with wineries to change with the wind. That being said, we need to have the ability to adjust in parts of our business in order to stay relevant and current in the lifestyles of our customers.
A piece of legislation was passed by the Virginia State government to allow dogs to be inside at wineries and breweries. Dogs have always been a member of families at home but now they are traveling a lot more with their families and have created a social subculture within many hospitality industries. This law allows the dogs to come into buildings with their owners and enjoy another level of social interaction that is not weather dependent. Businesses have the right to keep their current policy and not change the culture of their operation, but those that have dog owners as a key component to their customer base, can expand their offerings.
The farm breweries continue to build and open in the rural areas of Loudoun and the rest of the Commonwealth. There are more local plantings of hops and grains that go into the beer, but the farm breweries do not have the production requirements from the state as the farm wineries do. I do see the effort by many brewers to source local if the products are available. I believe the breweries are here to stay and the wineries will have to adjust to the changing demographics and patterns of the customers. Also, many wineries are building breweries and vice versa, taking advantage of the customers that want more choices. The law changed last year to allow the commingling of adult craft beverage types. As a consultant, I have two clients that are doing this. No, I am not building a brewery but I will not say never. I will say personally, I will not be a brewer. But I also will not be an airline pilot or medical doctor!
The other challenge for our farm wineries and rural venues is the potential change of building requirements. Currently, a building used for production of agricultural products is exempt from the universal building code. This gives the businesses the opportunity to start smaller with value added operations on the farm and increase the overall impact on the industries and economy. This issue is a bit more complex than I can explain in a brief column, but will be a subject that will be studied and addressed again in the general assembly. The key takeaways are that as winemaking is tradition and heritage based our Greater DC culture is strong and ever changing. We need to stay current on changes so timely decisions can be made protecting the business and industry. Stay properly informed, work with others – especially those with opposing views – and keep the bigger picture in view. We will always be better if we are together!