By Caitlin Gibson; Washington Post
Loudoun County will host hundreds of wine industry and tourism leaders from across the country and the world at next year’s national Wine Tourism Conference — a development that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and local tourism officials have hailed as a milestone in the ascent of Virginia’s wine industry.
In a statement, McAuliffe said that Virginia was already well on the way to becoming a “premier international destination” for lovers of wine and food.
“The conference will offer an exciting opportunity to showcase our award-winning wines and world-class wine industry,” McAuliffe said.
The selection of Loudoun to host the event was announced at this year’s recent Wine Tourism Conference in Paso Robles, Calif., said Beth Erickson, president of Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism association. Representatives of Visit Loudoun attending the conference were elated by the news, she said.
“This continues to position us as a culinary destination, and the endorsement from the commonwealth of Virginia speaks to the importance of what’s happening here in Loudoun County and throughout the entire commonwealth,” Erickson said.
Over the past decade, Virginia’s wine industry has played an increasingly prominent role in the state’s tourism and its economy. Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in number of wineries — it is home to more than 250 — and a 2012 economic impact study showed that the wine industry contributes nearly $750 million to the state economy annually.
Virginia has also been recognized among the top wine destinations in the world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. More than 1.6 million tourists visited Virginia wineries last year, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The arrival of the fifth annual Wine Tourism Conference in Leesburg in November will mark the first time that the event has been on the East Coast. Loudoun winemakers and tourism officials will be able to mingle with industry tastemakers from around the world, organizers said.
The conference, organized by Zephyr Adventures, is open to winery owners, journalists, wine associations, wine destination marketing organizations and tour operators. Previous conferences have been in popular wine destinations on the West Coast, including Napa and Sonoma in California and Portland, Ore.
“Taking a very successful event from the West Coast and bringing it to the East Coast really speaks to the acknowledgment of what is happening here,” Erickson said.
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore noted in a statement that sales of Virginia wines have hit an all-time high, with more than 520,000 cases sold in the past fiscal year.
The conference, which will be at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, will also boost the local economy. Guests will “hopefully stay a few days, go to our wineries and go to our restaurants,” said Jennifer Sigal, Visit Loudoun’s media relations manager. But the bigger impact will be from the connections made at the event, Erickson said.
“Our winemakers will be able to partner with winemakers from throughout the country. .?.?. It elevates the work that they’re doing,” she said.
Erickson also said Loudoun tourism officials hope to explore the potential to operate more specialized wine tours among the county’s 40-plus wineries.
“We have local companies that do tours, but now there are tour operators that are currently running tours in Sonoma or in the Finger Lakes, and they are most excited about coming to see the tours that they can start running in Loudoun County,” she said.
Tourism officials think that the conference will elevate and help to popularize other wine and culinary-focused events in the area, such as Epicurience Virginia, an upscale food and wine festival that marked its second year over Labor Day weekend.
“With festivals like Epicurience, and what’s happening with our farm-to-table movement, what’s happening with the growing breweries and cideries and distilleries, Loudoun is truly becoming known as a culinary destination,” Erickson said. “This is another building block in that continued development.”