By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - The Maryland wine industry is budding and Americans are decanting, sniffing and sipping more wine than ever before, according to the Congressional Wine Caucus' first nationwide economic study of wine and grape products.
The study released Wednesday—"The Impact of Wine, Grapes and Grape Products on the American Economy 2007"—concluded that the American wine and grape industry contributes $162 billion and 1.1 million jobs to the economy.
Maryland wineries have followed the industry growth trend recently, including a 19 percent increase in sales in 2006, which the director of the Maryland Wineries Association said, is above the national average.
"We'll have 32 wineries by the end of this year," said Kevin Atticks, of the wineries association. "Four years ago there were only 12."
"It's exciting to see more vines growing," said Carol Wilson, past-president of the MWA and owner of Elk Run Vineyards in Mt. Airy.
U.S. wine consumption per capita ranks 38th in the world, but the United States is one of the few global wine markets with increasing demand.
There are now wineries in all 50 states, although California dominates the others with 90 percent of America's wine production.
Maryland's industry is growing, but neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia, each have roughly four times as many wineries.
The MWA is doing its own economic study expected in May, but Atticks estimates the industry contributes $50 million annually to the Maryland economy.
The Wine Caucus study will be distributed Congress-wide so representatives can see the importance of immigration reforms, global climate issues and other issues potentially harmful to America's wine industry, said co-chairman and co-founder Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.
Those national issues are important to the Maryland wine industry, but both Wilson and Anthony Aellen, winemaker and president of Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy said the state's success hinges on promotional and land issues.
"It's a different agriculture than what's around here," Aellen said.
Grape farming is a highly capital- and labor-intensive activity, and getting farmers to change from their traditional crops is difficult, often meaning a break from family tradition, said Aellen.
Vineyards are expensive, and it takes upwards of six years before a product is ready for market, but the returns per acre are impressive, said Aellen.
Promotion is an issue, said Wilson, because it and distribution are limited by state laws. Virginia and Pennsylvania both have more favorable laws for promotion and distribution.
Tourism could be the key to increasing the number of grape growers in the state, Wilson said. Wine tourism in Maryland is up at least 50 percent from 2005. The more wineries in an area, she said, the greater chance the area becomes a tourist destination.
In Frederick County, both the county and state have helped fund a wine trail, or tour of local wineries, which is being held up as a model for the rest of Maryland's counties.
The Congressional Wine Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral coalition with 182 members, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski who did not return phone calls for comment.
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