ALBEMARLE Winemakers in this part of N.C. are not content simply letting their product ferment. Like any other industry, wineries are always looking for ways to innovate and introduce their products to new people and markets. With advances in the modern day winemaking process and changes in how today’s consumers try out new wines, it’s evident there is no room for idleness in the winemaking market.At the Stanly County Winter Wine Festival in downtown Albemarle, winemakers demonstrated the vast diversity of the area’s wineries. With all of the largest wineries from inside the county present and even more visiting from other counties, the festival serves as an excellent example of the impact Stanly County’s wine industry holds.”Our largest goal is always to support our downtown business merchants,” said Katie Furr, head of the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation which hosted the festival.Furr said the organization, a local nonprofit, worked with several others such as the Albemarle Chamber of Commerce and the Stanly County Shrine Club to host the Winter Wine Festival.The Wine Festival introduces new customers to Stanly County’s winemakers. Turnout for this event seemed particularly large this year, however Furr said this level of interest was par for the course. In fact, over the Winter Festival’s eight-year run, both interest and attendance have been steadily rising each year. As a result, the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation is always looking for new ways to expand the event and accommodate more vineyards in the future.Dennis Vineyards was among the wineries present at the festival. Headed by Sandon Dennis, the head winemaker, and his wife and office manager, Amy, Dennis Vineyards has plenty of experience adapting to a changing wine marketplace. Beginning as a hobby project roughly 20 years ago, Dennis Vineyards has grown well past that into one of the forefront vineyards in Stanly County.Dennis Vineyards’s start as an initially small startup gives valuable insight into some of the overarching trends the local wine industry has undergone. Amy Dennis explained some of the improvements they have made to their winemaking process over the years to keep up with the ever-increasing demand, such as the implementation of a mechanical grape harvester, bottling line and new steel tanks for fermentation.Dennis Vineyards has attended the festival since its start eight years ago and has seen the growth of the festival first hand.”It has always been a pretty decent festival for us, but the last few years have been fantastic,” said Sandon Dennis.Sandon Dennis said the festival’s excellent turnout, weather conditions and the fact it is an off-season event are great for the industry and ultimately lead to more people visiting the vineyards in person. It should come as no surprise that Dennis Vineyards plans to continue to attend events like these, including Wilmington’s recent Azalea Festival.With the popularity of open-air festivals such as these on the rise it may open the way for other types of businesses such as breweries to make a name for themselves in Stanly County.With more than 200 craft breweries present in N.C. including a local brewery potentially coming to the Pfeiffer campus in downtown Albemarle the town can certainly look forward to even more events in the future.
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