More than a year after a series of reports on West Virginia wineries by the Charleston Gazette sparked renewed interest in creating a winery and distillery trail here, progress has slowed, and for some, enthusiasm has waned.
The West Virginia Departments of Agriculture, Tourism and Commerce have taken a leadership role in an effort to capitalize on the travel industry’s growing emphasis on themed trails.
“This is a very big business nationwide, but in West Virginia, it’s small,” said Eric Deal of Forks of Cheat Winery near Morgantown, which has been operating for 25 years. “Wine trails work well in Virginia and New York, why not here?”
Deal said proponents need more promotion and more exposure for the industry to better impact the rural economies where these vineyards are located.
Mark Whitley, executive director of the Jackson/Roane County Economic Development Authority, recently wrote a $9,924 grant requesting funds for marketing the proposed “Country Roads Wine and Distillery Trail,” to include businesses within a five county region — Calhoun, Jackson, Roane, Wirt and Wood.
Projections indicate the trail would create up to 15 new jobs, increase tourism by 20 percent and lead to increased revenues of up to $400,000 for the ten wineries and distilleries included in the area. It would also positively impact other “agriculture businesses, lodging facilities, restaurants, gasoline stations, and other tourist interest in each of the rural communities,” it read.
Whitley said there are plans under development to include social marketing for easier access to consumers.
Another public meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at the Jackson County Development Authority office, 167 Seneca Drive in Ripley…