Alliance seeks to lower barriers for business

Group seeks to reform wine wholesaling laws
Feb. 11, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

The Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance has a new president: Don Collier, the Sevier County businessman whose wine concerns include Sugarland Cellars and the Apple Barn, Hillside, Mountain Valley and Eagle Springs wineries.

Collier took over as president last month, at the alliance’s annual meeting in Nashville.

The alliance represents 37 Tennessee wineries and 140 vineyards. Its main function is “to promote the consumption of Tennessee wine and the growth of Tennessee grapes,” said Collier, a fifth-generation Sevier County resident. “We seek legislation that lowers the barriers to entering the business.”

The group promotes regulatory reforms relating to wine wholesaling, said Collier. He also wants wineries to be able to distribute their products directly to stores and restaurants.

“If you look at the growth of wine [consumption] in the U.S., it’s outperforming every other alcoholic beverage,” said Collier.

In particular, Collier said, wine is increasingly popular with young people – so-called Millenials. “They’re more open to trying new things,” he said. “The mystique of wine doesn’t bother them. The consumption of wine in that age group is greater than any other group except the Baby Boomers.”

Collier would like to see more Tennessee vineyards. “Grape-growing is very cost effective,” he said. “It’s a cash crop. You don’t have to have fertile land. You can use poor to medium soil, hillsides.”

When grape production expands, Collier said, “One, you’re creating jobs in rural areas, and two, you’re saving family farms.”

Critically for Sevier County, wineries are tourist destinations, Collier pointed out. “If Tennessee wants to promote tourism, the best way is wineries and wine trails,” he said, noting the success of California’s Napa Valley as a tourist destination. Sevier County chambers of commerce ought to do more to promote wineries, he added.

Tennessee is within a day’s drive for many millions of Americans, Collier noted. “If Tennessee were known as a wine region, serviced as we are by the Interstate system, how many tourism dollars would be driven by wine?” he said. “You get synergy – wineries, hotel stays, food, all those things.”

The wine business also could expand the county’s tourism base. “If you look at what the region normally attracts, it’s blue collar visitors,” he noted, “Wine trails and wineries normally attract white collar visitors. It’s a field that’s not being tapped. These people have more disposable income and are more inclined to spend money.”

Tourism is changing, Collier said. “And tourists are changing. If we don’t get on board with new trends, we’re going to stagnate, and everyone else will out-perform us.”

kburns@themountainpress.com