It was Tourism Day at the Legislature and among the businesses exhibiting in the Capitol halls were two small West Virginia wineries. The owners of Stone Road Vineyard and Chestnut Ridge Winery say tourism continues to have a very positive impact on their business, even accounting for a majority of the sales at their wineries.
David and Lynne Stone, operators of Stone Road Vineyard, were there to talk about the benefits their industry provides rural areas of the state. Like all small winery owners, the Stones aren’t in it for the money; they do it because they have a true passion for the art and magic of winemaking.
They have been generally happy with the state’s increased efforts to promote winery tourism over the past year. But they still have a hard time with high taxes and overly restrictive regulation.
“Business is steadily increasing, but I think it’s important to keep taxation in mind when you are trying to get things done,” says David Stone, winemaker/owner at Stone Road Vineyard in rural Wirt County, WV.
The state’s wine distributors are trying to get the legislature to remove a 5% wholesale wine tax this year. West Virginia’s wine taxes, compared to other states, have been higher than average, so wineries and distributors would like to see them reduced a bit. On the tourism promotion front, the state has a better track record.
Phillip and Teresa Holcomb operate Chestnut Ridge Winery in Spencer, WV. The Holcombs are two very upbeat, creative business people who have worked hard to establish their business in a small town in a rural county. Along with the Stone Road Vineyard folks, they have been instrumental in forming the Country Roads Winery and Distillery Trail.
“Winery tourism is growing in West Virginia, in part because we were able to promote a new wine trail in the western part of West Virginia,” says Phillip Holcomb, who feels the state’s recent winery tourism initiative has been very positive. “These efforts have increased our business by 10% over the last year.
Through the years, the Holcombs have come up with some very innovative, seemingly reasonable business development ideas that have run up against restrictive state laws and regulations. They were at the legislature in hopes that people in positions of influence would hear their concerns.
“Right now we’re working on some new laws that would allow us to expand our market and reduce our taxes, and, hopefully, that would bring in some more business,” Phillip said.
Out-of-date, backward laws & regs thwart growth
On one hand, the state is promoting tourism for West Virginia wineries, breweries, and distilleries. But at the same time, the Governor is currently trying to raise state excise taxes on beer and distilled spirits. State government doesn’t seem to have any consistency when taxing and regulating the beverage alcohol manufacturers.
On the one hand, the state wants to promote tourism. On the other hand, they want to make it very difficult for tourism magnets like small breweries, wineries, and distilleries to be profitable.
On one hand, state government wants to see more manufacturing jobs, but then it places special high taxes and overly burdensome regulations on what is about its only fast-growing manufacturing sector: breweries, wineries, and distilleries. It seems as if the state does not really want these businesses to succeed.
Telling our side of the story better
BrilliantStream commends Stone Road Vineyards and Chestnut Ridge Winery for taking time out of their busy days to attend Tourism Day at the Legislature and communicate with legislators and others about the opportunities their industry creates and the policies that would help it prosper. Distillery partner Rob Losey of Bloomery SweetShine, near Charles Town, was also in the legislative halls, as he was last year, lobbying for the benefit of the state’s small distillers. He is a dedicated soul who does a great job.
We only wish some WV breweries would have made an appearance there, as well, to tell their side of the story. Our beverage alcohol manufacturers are double taxed and hamstrung with some ridiculous, archaic, anti-business, anti-growth laws and regulation. Laws and regs that seem to exist for no public benefit, but solely for the purposes of discouraging anyone from trying to make a living operating these businesses.
West Virginia needs only to look at the way it treats these small businesses to understand why the state’s business climate is so often poorly rated.