Consumer trends that impacted the Virginia Wine Industry in 2020

2020 was a chaotic year in Virginia wine, with records good and bad. On the positive side Virginia saw a near-unprecedented number of winery/cidery/meaderies opening all across the state. Many locations – especially those further away from Coronavirus hotspots or were able to provide ample outdoor seating – saw record breaking summer sales, largely driven by new customers fleeing to the countryside. As 2020 draws to a close, it currently has a total of 264 wineries, 26 cideries, and 11 meaderies of various sizes and business models, with more on the way.

The downside is this came at a huge emotional and financial cost, especially in the early days when the industry was reduced to curb-side sales and online events. For large parts of Virginia, these woes were compounded by an unprecedented Mother’s Day frost which wiped out their vineyards. Unruly customers who refused to conform to social distancing regulations didn’t help.

“Pivot” was the key theme for dealing with these challenges. Outdoor seating, virtual events, shipping deals and self-guided wine flights (often in disposable cups) became the norm. A number of locations shifted to a reservation-only policy. As the weather became cooler, fire pits and outdoor plastic ‘bubbles’ also became customary.

While the dust from 2020’s tectonic shift hasn’t settled, many of these trends are here to stay. For several years there has been growing demand in the U.S. for lower-alcohol, more diverse, ‘healthier’ beverages; this movement is now easily visible in the Virginia wine scene. Online events are also now the norm; some wineries openly wondered why they didn’t think of doing them sooner.

Here’s my take of the key consumer trends that impacted Virginia wineries in 2020:

1. Virginia’s Sparkling Wine Market Continues to Grow: Veritas Winery / The Virginia Sparkling Company deserves a lot of credit for this trend, as their opening of a major sparkling wine facility in Charlottesville has enabled other wineries to make sparkling using their own fruit without the high start-up cost of bottling on site. In northern Virginia alone, roughly a dozen wineries have bubbly on the menu, usually in partnership with Veritas or Michael Shaps.

But it’s not just Veritas. There has been a growing number of wineries doing pétnats or other casual sparkling wines, and Casanel, Rappahannock Cellars and others are killing it with sparklings that range from ‘fun to drink’ to downright ‘serious’ Champagne-like bubbly.

2. Cideries & Meaderies Gaining Steam: Cider and mead consumption has likewise grown, in line with consumer demand for lighter, fresher beverages. Out of the 23 new ‘wineries’ to open in 2020, 1/3rd of them were cideries or meaderies. In addition to these, many wineries are offering ‘guest’ ciders, or a house cider to complement their wine.

3. Growing number of ‘Multi-Beverage’ Wineries: The number of wineries that serve beer has grown by leaps and bounds, sparked by a 2015 change in what ABC qualifies as a ‘farm enterprise’. Quattro Goomba and Barrel Oak helped pioneer this concept, but now there are at least 18 x wineries that have taprooms as well.

Likewise, the number of wineries that serve spirits is about to double. Davis Valley, Old House, Rappahannock, and Vincent’s Vineyard will soon be joined by distilleries at Abingdon, Iron Heart, and Triple V. Add cider, mead, and sparkling to the equation, and Virginia’s wineries have never had such a diverse lineup.

4. Virtual Events & Online Sales: This is one of the better things to come out of COVID; being able to enjoy a winery event from the comforts of your own home. Walsh Family Wine and Keswick still host weekly or bi-weekly virtual tasting events; other wineries hold similar events periodically. Barboursville and Chateau O’Brien also conduct weekly customer outreach events where the owner or manager takes 10 minutes or so to do a ‘behind the scenes’ look at their winery or taste some wines.

These events usually feature wine deals that range from new releases, library wines, to ‘guest wines’ from Virginia or abroad. It’s a fun way of doing comparative tastings of the same varietals from different locations or vintages, or expose consumers to new wines they may not have otherwise tried.

Wineries that closed in 2020

That a number of wineries closed in 2020 is hardly surprising; the entire food & entertainment industry took a huge hit. While it would be easy to blame COVID for these closings, many closings were either planned prior to the pandemic, were due to the retirements/deaths/illnesses of their owners. Fortunately, Winery 32 looks like it will reopen in March, so it’s not on this list.

  1. 612 Vineyard
  2. Desert Rose Winery
  3. Giles Mountain
  4. Hartwood Winery
  5. Mountain View Vineyard
  6. San Soucey Vineyards
  7. Vault Fields Vineyard
  8. Weston Farm Vineyard
  9. Winding Road Cellars

Wineries that opened in 2020

Fortunately the roster of wineries that opened far exceeded the number that closed. Several more planned to open, but deferred to 2021 due to the pandemic. Even so, 23 new openings in a year is likely close to a record, especially considering the years of growth that preceded it.

  1. Altheling Meadworks (Roanoke)
  2. Backporch Vineyard (Northern Neck)
  3. Bleu Frog Vineyards (Leesburg)
  4. The Capital Hive Meadery (Leesburg)
  5. Carriage House Wineworks (Waterford)
  6. Chapelle Charlemagne Vineyard (soft opening; Front Royal)
  7. The Cider Lab (Sumerduck)
  8. Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery (Natural Bridge)
  9. Honey & Hops Brew Works (Front Royal)
  10. Iron Will Winery & Vineyard (no tasting room but selling their first vintage, Waterford)
  11. Jolene Family Winery (Richmond)
  12. Mount Alto (no tasting room but selling their first vintage, south of Charlottesville)
  13. Nicewonder Farm & Vineyard (opened tasting room early 2020, Bristol)
  14. Reserve (tasting room for VinoWine) (Lynchburg)
  15. Rivah Vineyard at the Grove (Northern Neck)
  16. Rock Roadhouse Winery (Hot Springs)
  17. Saga Meadery (Front Royal)
  18. Sugar Hill Cidery (Norton)
  19. The Estate at White Hall Vineyard (Northern Neck)
  20. Three Creeks Winery (Hamilton)
  21. Triple V Farm (Northern Neck)
  22. Tumbling Creek Cidery (Abingdon)
  23. Woodbine Vineyards (Buffalo Junction)

Upcoming wineries

Some of these wineries have firm opening dates; other are in various stages of being built.

  1. Above Ground (Middlebrook)
  2. Crimson Lane (Linden)
  3. Firefly Cellars (Hamilton)
  4. Hillcrest Vineyard and Winery (Charlottesville)
  5. Kalero Vineyard (Purcellville)
  6. Lakefront Winery (Buffalo Junction)
  7. Smithfield Winery (Smithfield)
  8. Stag and Thistle Meadery (Fork Union)
  9. Skjald Meadworks (Charlottesville)
  10. Williams Gap (Round Hill)

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