North Carolina’s wine and grape industry has experienced exponential growth in the past decade, employing more than 7,600 people. Now the industry has a five-year roadmap for continued growth and economic impact.
Researchers from the UNCG Bryan School of Business and Economics have developed the first comprehensive strategic plan for the North Carolina wine and grape industry. Formulated with input from key stakeholders ― including industry representatives, governmental agencies, business leaders and academics ― the report identified key areas of direction, including:
- Ensuring the quality of North Carolina grapes and wines to drive sales, and increase positive brand recognition and consumer confidence;
- Continued funding and research in enology, marketing, viticulture and wine/grape business;
- Enhanced marketing to inform and promote the impact and benefits of the industry;
- A focus on wine tourism, which has solid consumer interest; and
- Advocating for a regulatory environment that equalizes peer state advantages and manages costs.
“The economic impact of the wine and grape industry in North Carolina is about $1.3 billion,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “I look forward to the implementation of the objectives outlined in the strategic plan to better serve the state’s 400 commercial grape growers and 125 wineries.”
The report was sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the North Carolina Wine and Grape Growers Council. The number of wineries in the state has more than quadrupled over the last decade, supporting more than 7,600 North Carolina jobs and revitalizing some rural areas. “It was obvious that people who had tobacco farms were starting to turn into other types of agricultural crops,” said Dr. Bonnie Canziani, who co-developed the report with Dr. Erick Byrd. “Grape production was one that was tickling people’s fancy.”
Canziani and Byrd are both associate professors of sustainable tourism and hospitality in the UNCG Bryan School.
A key strength is the state’s diversity in grape and wine products. Fertile North Carolina soil makes it possible to grow both native muscadine grapes and European-style vinifera grapes. In addition, wine tourism offers a unique activity to the state’s existing tourism mix and creates additional business for local hotels, restaurants and tour companies.
“The strategic plan allows industry leaders to say, ‘What do we know about where we are, what do the majority of people in the state say are the core concerns, and what are the ways we may develop ourselves in the future?’” Canziani said.
Industry leaders have already begun working on aspects of the strategic plan, she added, allocating funding to meet some of the strategic imperatives. Certain initiatives, such as the push to enhance the state’s reputation as a producer of high quality wines and grapes and increase market share, were given high priority. Other goals will be put on hold pending the outcomes of more immediate objectives.
The UNCG Bryan School has partnered with the state’s wine and grape industry since 2007, providing business intelligence and research that boosts the sector’s economic potential. Previous statewide research includes a 2012 study, which found that excellent customer service is key to the growth of the industry.
“The relationships we’ve developed between the Bryan School and the industry, they are critical,” Canziani said. “It’s the perfect model of the kind of community engagement the business school is doing on a regular basis, and a great example of research partnerships that can have a strong impact on everyday life.”