RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Set along the James River in quiet Charles City, Upper Shirley Vineyards opened for business 14 months ago.
“This area is just crazy rich with history,” said Tayloe Dameron. “And being 20 miles from the capital of the state, I think it’s easily accessible.”
Dameron, along with his wife Suzy, own the vineyard by Shirley Plantation. There’s a tasting bar, restaurant and event facility.
Dameron says Shirley Plantation gets about 25,000 visitors a year, and most wind their way in for lunch and a drink.
He says they embrace what’s around them.
“Our grapes are locally grown, we’re making the wine [and] our chef uses so many local ingredients,” said Dameron.
Michael Shaps is the winemaker and Carlisle Bannister is partner and executive chef.
“I get to have so much fun creating menus and dishes with everything Virginia has to offer,” said Bannister.
Upper Shirley Vineyards is just one of the 1,400 agritourism businesses in the state. Those are businesses that draw visitors while offering an immersive learning experience focused on rural communities, farms and agriculture.
And they’re having a big impact.
Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced the results of a new economic impact study which, for the first time, provides a benchmark report to measure the sector focused on food, beer, wine and cider.
It reveals the commonwealth’s agritourism industry accounts for $2.2 billion in economic activity and supports 22,000 jobs. The study was conducted by the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business.
The inaugural study also shows agritourism contributes $840 million in income and injects $135 million in local and state taxes.
The most-visited destinations are in Northern Virginia, Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.
“I don’t think any other state in America has grown the way we have in agritourism,” said McAuliffe.
“I don’t think any other state in America has grown the way we have in agritourism” — Gov. McAuliffe
McAuliffe says the commonwealth’s historical assets mixed with its openness to entrepreneurialism is what allows agritourism to flourish. He says legislation makes Virginia a “favorable environment” for entrepreneurs and innovation.
“You want to talk about entrepreneurs? You go out there and start a winery or a craft brewery or a distillery. This takes a lot of courage and generally takes a lot of money. I commend these entrepreneurs and innovators,” he said. “But we foster that here in Virginia.”