MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - When thinking of the places that produce the best wine, Tennessee may not come to mind immediately, but state leaders hope it will one day.
A new state law calls for the creation of a wine and grape board to promote Tennessee’s wine industry.
“We are lagging behind Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, so many of our neighboring states,” said State Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-District 77.
Sanderson, who’s also a winery owner, authored the bill that created the wine and grape board.
“The task of the board is simple and it's clear: increase the number of wineries and increase the quality of the wine produced in the state of Tennessee,” said Sanderson.
The seven-member board will be funded by the current wine tax.
Delta Blues Winery owner Jerry Michie said he hopes the board will also help wineries deal with pests and diseases that can devastate vineyards.
“I certainly think it's a step in the right direction,” said Michie.
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture said restrictive regulations, increasing competition from craft beer makers and limited consumer knowledge about what Tennessee offers have created big challenges for the wine industry.
But some of those challenges have also presented opportunities.
It’s one reason that the number of wineries in Tennessee have tripled since 1999.
“A changing legal environment, growth of local foods, regional efforts and a strong industry association are opportunities,” concluded a 2015 UT Institute of Agriculture study. “Opportunities outweigh challenges in terms of the ability of the Tennessee wine and grape industry to move forward.”