Wine Versus Beer, Can North Carolina Have Both?
If you’re looking for a luxury libation, come to North Carolina. The craft beer business is thriving in the state, adding new breweries and brewpubs every year, as North Carolina’s wine industry continues to grow.
The state's wine and grape industry contributes $1.71 billion to the state’s economy, according to a recent report. The study shows the economic impact of the industry grew 33 percent from 2009 to 2013. It was commissioned by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council and used data from 2013.
“It is encouraging to see continued growth in the wine and grape industry, not only for our wineries, but also for our grape growers,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler in a statement. “More than 77 percent of all wine produced in North Carolina comes from North Carolina grapes.”
On the other side of the bar is craft beer. This week marks the 10th anniversary of the "Pop the Cap” legislation in North Carolina. Passed by Governor Mike Easley in 2005, “Pop the Cap” raised the alcohol limit from 6 percent to 15 percent on beer sold in the state, allowing brewers to expand their craft.
Since “Pop the Cap,” the craft beer industry has boomed in North Carolina. The state has more than 130 breweries and brewpubs, brings in an estimated economic impact of $791 million annually and supports more than 10,000 jobs, according to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild. Wine, on the other hand, has been a part of North Carolina since colonial settlers first began cultivating the state's grapes in the 16th century. Today, the state’s wine industry supplies about 7,700 full-time jobs.
But with each industry on the rise, will wine and beer battle one another for North Carolina’s alcoholic throne, or can each maintain their own niche market?
Much of wine’s impact comes from tourism. The number of tourists at N.C. wineries increased by nearly a half-million between 2009 and 2013, totaling $257 million in expenditures, according to the report.
Most wineries are located in rural areas and visiting them is more of an event than just a “passing through” for tourists. In other words, once you’re there, you stay and soak in the vines, landscape and everything else the winery offers.
“Many of our wineries are opening up their vineyards to wine-related events, private parties, weddings and other special occasions to attract more visitors and diversify their income,” Whit Winslow, executive director of the Wine and Grape Council, said in a statement. “The new numbers reflect an increase in consumer demand for experiences beyond the tasting room.”
North Carolina has 159 wineries, according to Winslow. They are categorized by region: Haw River Valley, Swan Creek, Yadkin Valley and Upper Hiwassee Highlands. Check out an interactive map of North Carolina's wineries here.
Wineries dominate the rolling hills and countryside, but craft beer has the ability to bring the beer closer to enthusiasts' doorstep. Breweries and brewpubs are mostly located in urban areas across the state.
But Erik Lars Myers, president of the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild, said choosing between the wine and beer industries does not have to be an "either/or" decision for consumers.
"We are complimentary. People who like good wine should also like good beer and vice versa," he said. "The wine industry has flourished for a while but we are catching up right now."
In terms of location, Myers said it is easier for breweries to sell craft beer by the pint in urban areas, but there is no need for only wine to be in the country and beer in the city.
"There are wineries that aren’t attached to a grape field. They are in a strip mall aging it and making great products," Myers said. "Pop culture tells you that wineries have to be on those hills, so people are looking for them out there, but there is no reason why they couldn’t exist in urban areas and for breweries to be in the country."
Whether it's in the country or the city, North Carolina has breweries everywhere. Asheville is a leader in the state with big-name breweries like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium Brewing, while more than 20 breweries and brewpubs are located in the Triangle. However, Fortune recently showcased Charlotte as the new spot for craft beer in the Southeast. This shows all across the state, beer is in business.
Check out an interactive map and timeline of all the breweries in North Carolina, and those planned for the near future, from the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild. Below is an image of the map.