Virginia wineries struggle with grape shortage

Updated: Apr. 2, 2014 at 5:28 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Virginia wine industry is booming, but Virginia wineries are struggling to find enough Virginia grown grapes to meet demand. It's driving up the cost of your glass of vino.

You could say Virginia wine has reached its time. Demand has popped the cork, but the amount of grapes being grown isn't keeping up.

"We need more grapes than we can grow ourselves," said New Kent Winery and Vineyard managing partner Pete Johns. "We have 21 and a half acres planted here and that's less than half of what we need at this time."

For a winery to write the word "Virginia" on the bottle label and for it to be considered a Virginia wine, a Federal requirement says it must be made from at least 75 percent of grapes grown in the state of Virginia.

Wineries want the Virginia label. It means premium wine... but there just aren't enough Virginia grapes.

James River Cellars Winery co-owner Mitzi Batterson is also President of the Virginia Wineries Association. She explained, "The number of wineries has exploded. I think we're somewhere over 250 wineries licensed in Virginia now. We were winery #70 when we opened 12 or 13 years ago. But the number of vineyards has not increased to the same degree."

Now wineries have to compete with other wineries to buy additional grapes from Virginia growers. That's why James River Cellars decided to plant four more acres this year.

"Our sales last year were actually down because we had periods of six months when our most popular varieties of wines were sold out," said Batterson. "We just didn't have them."

Competition for grapes is driving up the price.

"It does drive the price of the wine up. We want to keep our wines as competitive as we can," said Johns.

Wineries hope the high price of grapes will encourage farmers to grow at least 200 more acres a year. But it takes time.

Johns told us, "It takes at least three years from the time you order your plants and plant them until you can offer them to make wine."

And of course, it will depend on mother nature to make each bottle a good year.

Now that wine is on your mind, James River Cellars is hosting the April Fools Wine Festival this weekend, April 5 - 6. Click here for more information.

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