The Tribune
Monday, February 4, 2008

Wine trends studied at meeting

• Laurel Gray's Myers leads state association

By Julia Bank
Staff Reporter

Steve Shepard, winemaker at RayLen Vineyards, talks to visitors at the RayLen tasting table at the Greensboro N.C. Winegrowers Association meeting Saturday. RayLen was presented the N.C. Winegrower of Excellence Award. It was awarded at the 2007 State Fair. McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks of Thurmond accepted the commercial winery division's best of show

Wine enthusiasts from across the state assembled this weekend to celebrate and learn during the N.C. Winegrowers’ Association annual meeting.

The Greensboro event Friday through Sunday brought newcomers, seasoned vintners, and exhibitors to the Greensboro Marriott Hotel. The organization is led by President Kim Myers, co-owner of Hamptonville’s Laurel Gray Vineyards

Workshops were held for beginning wine enthusiasts on Friday, including an introduction to the state’s winemaking industry by Myers. “We had a very good opening Friday. There were 95 newcomers in attendance,” Myers said. “A lot of good information was shared and I heard some say that it was the best opening ever.”

After a showcase of North Carolina commercial wines, the NCWA awards were presented. Two awards from the 2007 State Fair Wine Competition were given.

Scott Pearson was presented with the Amateur Division Best of Show award and McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks accepted the Commercial Winery division's best of show.

The highlight of the evening centered around Steve Shepard who first accepted an award on behalf of Raylen Vineyards for the N.C. Winegrower of Excellence award.

Winning the award signified “A vineyard with at least five years and five acres of excellent fruit and contributing to the betterment of North Carolina vineyards at large,” said Myers.

The second major award was a NCWA Member of Distinction award presented by the former award winner, Larry Kehoe, to Shepard.

Kehoe called Shepard “A pioneer in North Carolina winemaking who has always been open and willing to share knowledge.” Greg Johns of Childress Vineyards joined Kehoe at the podium to share his own story of Steve Shepard’s “selfless generosity” in helping find their winemaker Mark Friszolowski.

Shepard, after receiving a standing ovation, thanked the winegrowing community for the two awards. “I feel like you guys are putting me out to pasture.” Shepard said laughing. “It seems a little premature for me...but I'll take it!”

Other speakers during the workshops included wine professionals, with topics for beginners from Norm Oches and Joyce Rigby’s “Vineyard and Winery Business Plan” to a real life discussion panel titled “What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then...”

Saturday and Sunday’s events targeted current wine industry issues from general marketing management and sales tips to very technical findings on specific grape varietals, diseases, and fermentation practices in North Carolina.

Viticulturists from across the state discussed this year’s late frost effects and the many devices that were tested to protect the vines. “When the speaker (Jack Watson) asked us, ‘Did anyone not have loss?’ there wasn't a hand in the air,” vineyard manager Andy Shores, said. “There isn’t much you can do when you have a really warm March, prompting bud break, and then weather below 23 degrees in April.”

Jack Watson is a retired area extension agent from Washington State University. He explained how his state copes with colder temperatures by figuring a certain amount of loss due to frost into the budget.

Three lectures followed introducing new Cornell-designed hybrid grapes that could be bountiful in North Carolina, the types and smells of chemical spoilage in wine and Southern Living expert Susan Dosier’s marketing 101.