Wine Industry Sparkles Through Gray Clouds Of Economy

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 15,2009

Despite a slump in consumer spending, wine buying remains stable across the country. That's why winemakers are toasting, vineyards are opening, and, importantly for job seekers, the wine industry is emerging as a bright spot in the hiring picture, reports MSNBC.

Take Michigan, a state battered by the sagging revenues of its one-time economic engine, the auto industry. Here, five new wineries opened in 2008 and two more already set up shop this year, says Linda Jones, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council , a program of the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Not only that, but Michigan wine saw 5 percent retail sales growth last year, even as overall wine retail revenues held steady. "We've been able to maintain our strength, even amid the economic downturn," Jones told CityTownInfo.com.

Long a fruit producer, Michigan has seen most of its wine vineyards take root along its more temperate western coast. The state's 65 wineries are largely located in the southwest, within an easy drive of Chicago, and around the summer tourism center of Traverse City, in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula. Each of these employs a small number of people, says Jones.

Yet, just as the auto industry spins a larger economic web of suppliers and dealers, wineries have generated other enterprises such as online marketing, vineyard management firms, and packaging warehouses, which stock boxes, bottles, and corks. "We're very pleased to see the trickledown effect of ancillary businesses," Jones said.

Current job figures are hard to come by for Michigan, but some 875,000 work in wine-related industries nationwide, according to the California-based Wine Institute. Jobs range from full-time sales and marketing positions, to part-time hospitality and retail slots (as in tasting rooms), to both year around and seasonal winemaking work.

Training for high-level positions in the wine business range from a four-year horticulture degree to a two-year associate degree to a certificate. Missouri State University and partner schools train future winemakers online through the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), funded through the National Science Foundation.

On wine industry web sites such as Winejobs.com, the preponderance of jobs remain in California. The state still dominates viticulture in the United States, with 89 percent of production, reports the U.S. Department of Commerce. California entrepreneurs opened 410 new wineries last year, boosting the state's total number to 6,368. It all added up to 309,000 wine-related jobs statewide, the Wine Institute says. Still, a variety of wine industry openings are popping up in other places-from Arizona to Georgia, South Dakota, and New York, the nation's number two producer.

For would-be vintners who dream of crafting their own chardonnay, however, caution is in order. A winery takes hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in startup funds. As Jones put it in an interview with Michigan Public Radio, winemaking remains "a capital-intensive industry."

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