Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pa. association president: Numbers pointing up

Caught up to Bob Mazza, the owner of Lake Erie's Mazza Vineyards and president of the state winery association the other day and picked his brain on a couple of issues. One dealt with what he sees coming up for wine producers in the state this year. In a bad economy, he sees many reasons to be bullish.

"We’ve got a pretty aggressive marketing program that we are working on," he said by phone. "We received some funding through the wine marketing and research program. We received some decent funding from PDA [the Pa. Department of Agriculture] in terms of our winery association. It started out at about $240,000, but that been whittled away by the 4.25 percent decrease and will probably take another little hit here very soon. But, you know, that’s still significantly more money than we've ever received before. So we’re doing some pretty aggressive, first of all, some good research to see what our audience is and what we want it to be and basically market to that. So I think we have a pretty good concerted effort right now to help market Pennsylvania wines.

"We also have a very stable industry. I’ll call it recession-proof. In talking to our members, there's nobody out there wringing their hands and crying the blues, you know, they’re pretty much saying, 'We’re doing OK. We hit a gas crisis in terms of prices and that didn’t seem to affect us adversely, and now the recession just hasn’t hit the wine industry so we’re hopeful that we are a fairly recession-proof business and people will realize that going to a winery and buying some good, local wines is a cheap date, in a sense. At least they’re closer to home and continue to buy local products and we’re wll positioned to take advantage of that.

"In the meantime our industry contiues to grow. We have another 4, 5, 6 wineries coming on board. We're sitting at about 15, 136 wineries right now. We’re still experiencing growth. People are still looking at this industry as a good viable industry to park some money and make an investment in, and that’s good."

Told that the investments new owners are making seem to be growing, Mazza replied, "You got kind of a mixture. You have people getting into it and . . . we'll call them very small, boutique operations, maybe out of the cellar of their homes, maybe out of their garage. Not literally, but very limited operations. But I found that a number of wineries that started that way and have grown successfully, and then you've got guys who put up a million dollars . . . and put up a nice facility. They want to do it Napa Valley style, and, you know, unless they're very well-heeled financially, those are the ones who usually tend to struggle. They make a big splash in the beginning and they kind of peter out later on when they run out of money. I'll take the little guy starting out slowly, cautiously, and growing as the business expands as opposed to someone coming in with a lot of dollars. But we need both and we have both [in our state] and it’s up to the individuals how they want to enter the business. I'm not going to dictate that to anyone.”

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