Celebrating Virginia Wine Month with VA Wine | Anna Pendleton

Celebrating Virginia Wine Month with VA Wine | Anna Pendleton

In Virginia, October is such a beautiful and exciting time of the year. It brings the beautiful colors of nature, mountain views, pleasant temperatures, and so many things to do and see -- especially with local food and beverages. Virginia wine is always a great addition to extraordinary meals, special occasions, and family gatherings. 

This October, we are celebrating Virginia Wine Month with Anna Pendleton, Marketing Manager at the Virginia Wine Board marketing office. Just like any other business, the wine industry has been affected by the pandemic and the industry is constantly shifting, as the virus impacts local wineries. Anna shares with us how the Virginia Wine Board helped farm wineries manage pivots to be more successful amidst the pandemic, promoting virtual experiences with wineries and consumers, and how e-commerce has greatly helped farm wineries reach more people and businesses. 

We also discuss where Virginia Wine Month originated, what it means, why it matters, the vision and purpose of the Virginia winery organization, and so much more.

If you own a business that is related to the wine industry or sells food that goes well with wine, then Virginia Wine Month and the newly launched Harvest Party campaign are two marketing tools you may leverage. Tune in to hear from Anna Pendleton, and learn about all the great things Virginia Wine has to offer.

Virginia Foodie Essentials:

  • A lot of our efforts shifted to that digital space so that we could promote and just share that information and educate our consumers how they could still get Virginia Wine on their table, and then their glasses. - Anna Pendleton

  • Our buying power benefits multiple small businesses across the state and gets to pull the industry together as a whole and represent Virginia as a region. - Anna Pendleton

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Fall in Virginia is a beautiful time of the year

  • The Virginia Wine Board

  • Promoting the Virginia Wine Industry

  • History of Virginia Wine Month

  • Harvest party is the month of October

  • Impact of the pandemic in the wine industry

  • Features of the Virginia Wine website

  • Virginia Winery Guide for farm wineries

Other Resources Mentioned:

More about the Guest:

Anna Pendleton is a Marketing Manager at Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. Their office is funded by the Virginia Wine Board, which was established in 2007 by the general assembly. The Wine Board’s goal is to promote and bring awareness to the entire Virginia wine industry, which has over 300 wineries as of today.

Follow The Virginia Foodie here:

Subscribe to the VA Foodie Podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, RSS, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Click Here for Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Anna Pendleton: Probably one of my favorite parts about this job is the range and diversity of these wineries, and size and production and their offerings, and the experience that you're going to get in the tasting room. It makes it really fun to promote them because there is absolutely something for everyone to enjoy in Virginia.

[00:00:17] Georgiana Dearing: Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered. "How did they do that? How do they turn that recipe into a successful business?" Then we've got some stories for you.

Greetings, Foodies. If you haven't noticed how many times I've mentioned this already, I love fall. To me, fall in Virginia is an especially beautiful time of the year. The temps are just right, and the mountain views put on a great show of color. Another reason I love fall is because there's so many things to do and see around the Commonwealth, particularly with local food and beverages. Our ag industry and the rise in agritourism means there are plenty of wide-open spaces to gather and share a meal or a beverage with friends and family. And today's guest is a big contributor to those great gatherings.

Anna Pendleton is a Marketing Manager at Virginia Wine. I wanted to speak with her because not only has Virginia Wine been a great partner to VA Foodie, this month, October, is also Virginia Wine Month. Food days and months and holidays are all good resources when it comes to planning your content marketing. But you hear these terms like Virginia Wine Month, and you may wonder, how did that come about? And what does it mean for me as a small business owner? In this case, Virginia Wine Month actually comes from state funding. Section 3.2-3005 in the Virginia Code establishes the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund.

Anna's office, along with its board of directors is the organization that manages those funds. And Virginia Wine Month is one of the marketing campaigns they use to fulfill their mission to help promote the growth of the state's wine industry and the enjoyment of Virginia Wines. Marketing funds like this one are hugely beneficial to small businesses because it's a larger pool of money than any one company could amass. And they use these funds strategically to lift up all the businesses in the industry.

So if you're a business that's connected to the wine industry or any food that pairs well with wine, Virginia Wine Month and the recently established harvest party campaign are two tools you can use in your marketing. You've got a built-in campaign season that happens every year. Stick around and listen to Anna Pendleton, and learn about all the great things Virginia Wine has to offer.

I'm here today with Anna Pendleton. Hi, Anna. Thanks for joining me on the podcast.

[00:03:09] Anna Pendleton: Hi there. Thank you so much for having us.

[00:03:11] Georgiana Dearing: Well, you’re from Virginia Wine, which I've known you for a while, but I thought for the benefit of our listeners, could you give us a little deeper introduction to yourself, and what you're doing?

[00:03:22] Anna Pendleton: Sure. I am a marketing manager for the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, and all of us at Virginia Wine are huge fans of Virginia Foodie. So it's been a great partnership over the years. They go together so well. Our office is funded by the Virginia Wine Board. As it operates today, we were established in 2007, and our goal is just to promote and bring awareness to the entire Virginia Wine Industry, which we have a little over 300 wineries now. So it's a lot of fun being able to share one of Virginia's great products.

[00:03:52] Georgiana Dearing: So I'm going to ask you a little bit about those wineries. Do you really have a membership, or do you just generally represent the industry? Then if somebody called a vineyard or winery, you help them.

[00:04:06] Anna Pendleton: Yes. Any Virginia Farm Winery is part of our office's efforts. So that is the only requirement to be included in our marketing efforts, to be listed on virginiawine.org, or to be included in the Virginia Winery Guide. They have to be an ABC-licensed Virginia Farm Winery. And that just ensures that they're using Virginia fruit, and producing and growing Virginia products.

[00:04:27] Georgiana Dearing: So it's ABC-licensed, it's a farm, and so, not necessarily a vineyard that is growing grapes and providing them to someone to press and turn into wine.

[00:04:39] Anna Pendleton: There's a little bit of both. So they're Virginia Farm Winery-licensed. There are vineyards that are just growing and producing grape fruit. And they'll help provide extra grapes to wineries so they can produce more wine. And then there are also wineries that are growing and producing that wine on-site in the groups.

[00:04:55] Georgiana Dearing: Because I've done some work with a couple of different wineries, and I know that there's only so much that they can grow on property. And that there's a lot of market for grapes coming from different places, and maybe even they want a particular terroir to add flavor in a growing season. So I was just curious how an organization got to be covered by the Wine Board. So thanks for explaining that to me.

[00:05:20] Anna Pendleton: Sure.

[00:05:21] Georgiana Dearing: I've been asking everyone this at the start of the interviews because this is airing in October of 2021. So the pandemic is still an active part of our economy and our day-to-day life. We're working remotely, as we speak. So how has it been going for you? What did you see as the impact of the pandemic on your group and the industry?

[00:05:45] Anna Pendleton: Sure. So the biggest word that comes to mind, and I'm sure you hear it a lot when you ask this question, is just pivoting. So for us, we were in the midst of planning a hundred-people-plus events, dinners, tastings, all sorts of things, and that immediately got put on hold. So we flipped our efforts to match with what the wineries were doing. So promoting places that you could do curbside pickup to get local wine, shipping discounts. We tied it all together with a #vawinetogether. And it was a community effort that included restaurants and retailers that were selling Virginia Wine, the wineries, wine lovers, how to best find the wines and get them on their table, and all support each other.

So at the beginning of the pandemic, that's really where we were focused. And then as wineries, we're able to reopen a bit through phase one and phase two reopening, we provided lists and information on who needed a reservation, the best way to get there, their hours because everything was constantly shifting. So a lot of our efforts shifted to that digital space so that we could promote and just share that information and educate our consumers how they could still get Virginia Wine on their table, and then their glasses.

[00:06:51] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, we were part of that. We were helping some vineyards through that period. It was like a big shift like, oh my goodness, how are we getting the word out? And then as outdoor spaces became destinations, people were excited to do something. It was nice to see a bit of an uptick, actually, when they weren't expecting it.

[00:07:10] Anna Pendleton: Yes, that's a huge benefit for wineries, is the space that they have. They're sitting on, most of them are just beautiful, beautiful land. And so, they were able to open it up and let people come and space out, and distance properly and reopen, which was great. They also did such a wonderful job pivoting to create virtual experiences and even search to experiment in e-commerce a bit more than perhaps they would have before the pandemic.

[00:07:35] Georgiana Dearing: Well, you mentioned something in there about restaurants and I do have a question. I know that you're a resource to the industry. And I saw on your site that you have trade groups and other things. I was surprised that there were only 64 restaurants listed that serve Virginia Wine. And my suspicion is that it is a self-reporting site. Is that true?

[00:07:57] Anna Pendleton: Yes, it is. So that is a newer feature on virginiawine.org, where you can search for wine nearby. So you can find it through wine shops, grocery stores, or restaurants that are serving it. And it is self-reporting, so we started with a base list, and then we're constantly adding in any restaurants that are serving Virginia Wine, and we're happy to list and to include. It's a great resource to get started. But there's definitely more out there.

[00:08:19] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, I thought so. That's why I wanted to ask that question. Because I thought, oh, that word has to get out because there's got to be more restaurants serving Virginia Wine. It's kind of a pushback that we see on our consumer channel VA Foodie is, we always want to make sure that the wine in something they we’re supporting is a Virginia Wine. And sometimes, in the comments, somebody will ask that very question. So we want to make sure.

[00:08:43] Anna Pendleton: Yes. It's the perfect pairing to Virginia foods being grown and produced here. There are definitely more restaurants out there, but we're always looking for more to pick-up wines to have on their list because there's definitely a place for it at every restaurant.

[00:08:56] Georgiana Dearing: Well, one of our biggest connections is through Virginia Wine Month. So could you tell me, where did Virginia Wine Month come from? And what does that really mean?

[00:09:04] Anna Pendleton: Sure. So Virginia Wine Month has a very long history. It actually started in 1988, and I think there were about 40 wineries then. So it has come quite a long way. Governor Baliles was the governor at that time in 1988, and he declared the first Virginia Wine Month. And since then, it has just grown into a special celebration.

Virginia is truly a special place in October. The vineyards are beautiful with the mountains, and the leaves changing colors and its crest. Then people are ready for a nice glass, maybe of red wine, by that time. And it's really grown into a way to just celebrate the entire industry. Our promotion Harvest Party grew out of that as well as a way to celebrate the nearing end of the growing season and harvest of the grapes, and all of the hard work that our farmers and our vineyard managers and winemakers worked so hard leading up to harvest and throughout the whole year. That it just became a month to celebrate all of that. And it's a great time to get out and visit as well. So it's definitely one of my favorite promotions, to be able to pull all of that together in a celebration.

[00:10:06] Georgiana Dearing: It's a lot of fun, and we see a lot of good things happening with the Harvest Party events. So I'm excited to see what people come up with this year. Another thing that we worked together on in the past was Harvest Party. And last year, that was put on a bit of a pause because of the restrictions on gatherings. And this is airing in October, and I'm sure the news will already be out there by the time this airs. But can you speak a bit about how Harvest Party is being handled this year?

[00:10:38] Anna Pendleton: Sure, yes. So we did. We celebrated the Harvest Party last year, but it definitely looked different. For anyone listening that doesn't know, Harvest Party is what we call Virginia's Homegrown Holiday, and it's part of Virginia Wine Month in October. And initially, it was a celebration of everyone coming together to toast with Virginia Wine after harvest. And so, last year obviously needed to look a little different. So our wonderful partners and wineries found trade partners and restaurants to create bundles and take-home kits to do Harvest Party last year. We did some virtual toasting. And so, it did look different, but we did have it. Just definitely not in the gathering ways that we've done in years before with the beautiful feast.

But this year, we'll be merging the two virtual options. Wineries are hosting events that are properly spaced and safe and following all guidelines. But definitely bringing it back. And we can't wait until we can have a full-blown feast with everyone again.

[00:11:33] Georgiana Dearing: This year, everybody's getting their sea legs. There was a scramble, I think. Just to get outdoors, I know that people were looking for outdoor heating units to extend the season, and that was a problem. The wineries should have their sea legs under them, and be asked to create experiences that are unique to their destination that still fit with that idea, I guess.

[00:12:00] Anna Pendleton: Yes.

[00:12:01] Georgiana Dearing: Another question I had is that there was some information on your site about cider and perry, which I wanted to look up. Perry is like pear ciders, or sparkling pear beverage. And I know that we have craft breweries growing as well in the state. So what's the crossover with the wine board and cideries and perry manufacturers?

[00:12:27] Anna Pendleton: So with the farm winery license, it includes ciders because it's fermented apples. So just like wine is fermented grapes, we've got the apples and the same thing with a perry, with fermented pear. The other fun drink that's included in our office as well is mead, which is fermented honey. So our office represents any Virginia winery, cidery, or meadery with that farm winery license, their ABC.

[00:12:51] Georgiana Dearing: Oh yeah, that's a growing thing. I’ve had some really interesting meads.

[00:12:56] Anna Pendleton: There are some really fun collaborations between wineries and meaderies and cideries as well. And cideries are growing so much in the state too. We have, I think, nearly 50 or maybe a little bit more now of cideries. And they're also unique. We've got lots of great urban cideries, and then more farm cideries as well, where you'll be sitting out in the orchards much like the vineyards.

[00:13:16] Georgiana Dearing: So you're state-funded, and you're part of the Wine Board. How many people are in Virginia Wine? How many employees?

[00:13:24] Anna Pendleton: Sure. So the Wine Board, just to give you some context, is appointed by the governor, and there are 10 Wine Board Members. And the Wine Board was founded back in, I believe, 1984. So it's been around for a while. Our office was founded in 2007. And right now, we are full-time with four employees and one part-time employee.

[00:13:42] Georgiana Dearing: So you have four and a half employees, I guess.

[00:13:45] Anna Pendleton: Yes. And just a great little team.

[00:13:48] Georgiana Dearing: So four and a half employees, and then appointed by the governor. So does that board turnover a lot?

[00:13:55] Anna Pendleton: It has some turnovers. I believe they can serve four-year terms and then they can be reappointed. So there are changes, and it's not going to change with each administration. It'll change on each appointee’s span of when they're appointed and if they want to stay on the board.

[00:14:10] Georgiana Dearing: Okay, good. Then that provides a little bit of consistency all the time.

[00:14:14] Anna Pendleton: Yes.

[00:14:14] Georgiana Dearing: It would be a little hard to be running a board if everyone got up and moved to every election. So the purpose of your organization is to promote the industry. What can wineries expect from the experience with the board? We've talked about events, we've talked about funding. What really is the direct day-to-day relevance to a winery?

[00:14:38] Anna Pendleton: Sure. So the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, if you're a farm winery, it's going to automatically include you on virginiawine.org, our website, you'll be listed. There's a place to list all your wines, your hours of operations, different offerings. And then that information is also included in the Virginia Wine app, and then in a printed Virginia Winery Guide as well. So that winery guide is a map of the state that plots all the wineries. And so, any farm wineries that are connected with us will be included in all of those printed materials and on our digital platforms as well. And then on top of that, we do different promotions and marketing initiatives throughout the year that will feature these wines.

So in the spring, we do a big Virginia Rosé push as it's getting warm outside. It's time to enjoy those wines. And then Virginia Wine Month, any promotional materials that we create there will feature these wineries. And then it continues into the holidays too and kind of evolves throughout the year. But they're included in those initiatives.

And then outside of those entire industry-wide reaching promotions that we do, there are also opportunities to interact with media and trade samples in different ways to just get the wines in front of our valued partners, and make sure that they're tasting and experiencing what's being made in Virginia.

[00:15:46] Georgiana Dearing: So that's where we overlap a bit, is because we have been part of some of your campaigns. And I think the best model that we have because we're really trying to support small businesses, is when a larger entity can pool funds and represent a whole group. So that's why it's been such a great partnership is your buying power that benefits multiple small businesses across the state. Am I reading that right?

[00:16:14] Anna Pendleton: Yes, definitely. Definitely. It gets to pull the industry together as a whole and represent Virginia as a region. And so, that promotion happens locally to talk to Virginia Wine lovers and Virginians about Virginia Wine. And then nationally too, to talk about the tourism to Virginia wine country and talking to different media about the caliber and exciting wine that's being made here in Virginia.

[00:16:35] Georgiana Dearing: I was just going to say that another connection is tourism. So your map is probably distributed through all the Visit VA and tourism places where people would be trip-planning, basically.

[00:16:46] Anna Pendleton: Yes, definitely. And we've built out some exciting new features on our website and app too, that people can plot itineraries and save them to their phones, and use the app to figure out what wineries they're near.

[00:16:58] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, this is really cool. It's nice to see that there's an entity that has a bigger picture, strategy and some focused behavior that these smaller, I mean, some of the wineries really are very small businesses. We've got some big power players, of course, but it's really nice to see that there is a way where they can just be part of the wave of wine information.

[00:17:20] Anna Pendleton: Definitely. Probably one of my favorite parts about this job is the range and diversity of these wineries, and size and production, and their offerings, and the experience that you're going to get in the tasting room. It makes it really fun to promote them because there is absolutely something for everyone to enjoy in Virginia.

[00:17:36] Georgiana Dearing: I have a question. Is there grant funding that's available as well? Are you part of that? Or how does that work?

[00:17:43] Anna Pendleton: So the Virginia Wine Board has grant funding that's going to be more research- and education-driven, and that's going to be a bit more technical for viticulture and enology. And then separately, our office has a matching marketing grant program as well. And so, that's a one-to-one matching grant. It's really looking just for innovative ideas to help move marketing the Virginia Wine forward, and so we've had some really great projects come out of it. It requires a minimum of three partners. And one of them, it has to be a Virginia Winery. But we've seen things from sponsored James Beard dinners to local Wine Trail media tours.

We've seen really innovative things like people bringing in a receipt from a purchase of our bottle of Virginia Wine that day and they get a corkage fee waived at a restaurant and just different ways to try and bring our communities together. And I think that one of our favorite parts is seeing these partners come together in different ways, and coming up with new ideas that are going to work for either their wine sale or their county, or they’re little collaborative that they felt. So it's a neat way to extend some of our efforts.

[00:18:43] Georgiana Dearing: So what's coming up next? What's in the future? Can you predict anything, or share anything that's in the works?

[00:18:50] Anna Pendleton: Yes. The most exciting thing to me is just the innovation that's happening in the industry. So starting in the vineyards, there are new varieties being planted, new explorations in winemaking, and there's a lot of work towards sustainability efforts, and our farmers and our winemakers are doing incredible work. And then that translates into what our wineries are offering. So there are new ways to experience wines, virtually. Wine Club memberships are always expanding. There are super exciting dinner partnerships with cool restaurants and chefs in the state. And so, all of that innovation eventually trickles back to the work we're able to do.

And so, it's so fun to be able to promote that and see the ways that the Virginia Wine Industry is expanding. So for us, it'll just be taking the work that they're doing, and sharing it with everyone.

[00:19:37] Georgiana Dearing: Well, that's exciting. There are so many things I love about Virginia, and I think your organization is just one of them. There's a lot happening at the state level. It really promotes good business and good business practices. So that's very cool.

So before we go, can you share how people can find you? Like consumers can go to your site and research wine, find wineries, find resources for travel, and things like that. So how would we find you, and what do we do when we get there?

[00:20:07] Anna Pendleton: Sure. So you can find us on virginiawine.org, and that's where you could go to plan a trip. If you're a restaurant or a retailer, you can reach us there as well, to be sure that you're listed. If you want to follow along on social media, we're on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @vawine. And those two places should be a really great place to start. Or you can also just head out to any of the wineries in the state, and they'll be able to point you in the right direction as well.

[00:20:32] Georgiana Dearing: It's been so good to talk to you. This is an audio podcast, but I have been communicating with you for a very long time, and we hardly ever see each other face-to-face.

[00:20:42] Anna Pendleton: I know. It was so great to see you and get to bring VA Wine and VA Foodie back together again.

[00:20:47] Georgiana Dearing: It was great. So thank you so much for joining me.

[00:20:50] Anna Pendleton: Thank you for having me.

[00:20:52] Georgiana Dearing: Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We are @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.