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Internship | Web Update

UR students involved with Virginia’s expanding wine industry

Published: March 4, 2013, 2:14 am ET
Collegian Reporter

The Virginia wine industry is growing on both a national and international level, as well as benefitting the local community, a recent Richmond graduate said.

Patt Eagan graduated from Richmond in 2012 and now works at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Va., which is about 30 minutes outside of Charlottesville, he said. Eagan is a “wine maker’s apprentice” and is involved in the production process, he said.

The Virginia wine industry has been gaining both national and international press the past few years, Eagan said. Virginia has more than 200 wineries, and last year Wine Enthusiast magazine rated Virginia as one of the 10 best wine travel destinations, the only location in the United States aside from two wineries in California. Virginia shared the list with regions of Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Hungary, Germany, France and Chile.

According to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s website, where the article was mentioned, the reason for Virginia’s inclusion on the list is due to the commonwealth’s “rich history, natural beauty and its wine makers.” The governor and his wife have been championing Virginia wine all across the country and internationally, and are trying to spread the word, Eagan said.

Early Mountain Vineyards produces a few thousand cases of wine a year, Eagan said, and plans to increase its production of high-quality wine in the future. Virginia wineries began exporting recently because of international demand, Eagan said, and recently sent a few thousand bottles of wine to China, the first Virginia export to the country. These international exports will play an important role as the industry continues to expand, Eagan said.

The industry’s growth was evident at the sixth annual Virginia Wine Expo, which was held Feb. 19-24 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. One of the event’s sponsors was Yelp, junior Murph Grainger said. Yelp is a review website that rates events and businesses, Grainger said. The website also sponsors local events, such as the expo. Grainger is interning with the company this semester.

The event featured about 300 booths where vineyards and restaurants offered samplings of wine, cheese and other specialty foods, Grainger said. Attendees wore wine glasses around their necks for the tastings and to keep their hands free as they maneuvered through the crowd, which was “shoulder to shoulder,” Grainger said.

Grainger attended the event to promote Yelp, and was “sandwiched” in between a wine booth and a cheese booth and learned a great deal about both industries, she said. Proceeds from the event went to FeedMore, the organization that benefits Central Virginia Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and the Community Kitchen, according to the event’s website.

Early Mountain Vineyards did not participate in the expo this year, Eagan said, but the winery also shares the desire to give back to the community. Through a program known as the “Best of Virginia,” it is the first vineyard in Virginia to create a partnership with other wineries to showcase their wine in Early Mountain Vineyard’s tasting room, Eagan said. Because the Early Mountain is run as a social enterprise, all profits will go back to Virginia viticulture, Eagan said. the partnership benefits Virginia as a whole and not just the wine industry.

Eagan’s interest in the wine industry began while he was still in college, he said. While studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, Eagan visited family members who were in the champagne business. At that point, Eagan said he was old enough to appreciate wine as both a drink and a business.

After returning to Richmond, Eagan began searching for an internship and learned of an opportunity with the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. He was unaware that the Virginia wine industry was in Richmond, Eagan said. The office was established in 1984 as part of Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and “promotes the interests of vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth through research, education and marketing,” according to the office’s website.

The internship coincided well with his marketing major and his classes at the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, Eagan said. But more than that, it was during the internship that he became interested in how the process starts in the vineyards and how the wine makes its way to the store.

After he finished his internship, Eagan was offered a job at Early Mountain Vineyards, which had just been reopened by Jean and Steve Case, former AOL executives.

His background in the business school enabled him to better understand and appreciate the business environment that he was entering after graduation, he said. One of the things Eagan learned at Richmond was to think strategically and to look at a given set of circumstances to consider how to make a company better, as well as enhance the brand as much as possible, Eagan said.

Eagan said that while he was at Richmond he had been “100 percent sure” that he would follow a more traditional, post-business school career path. He was excited about the unexpected turn his plan has taken with learning about wine production because he always expected his role after graduation to be in the form of marketing the product rather than helping to produce it. Eagan said wine making is a “new found passion” that has surprised him. He said he could see himself being involved in the wine business, and Virginia wine in particular, for a long time to come. He would love to own his own small vineyard on the side one day, but for the moment is trying to do his best to help expand the Virginia wine industry and absorb as much as he can, Eagan said.

Grainger, a business administration major with concentrations in marketing and finance as well as a film minor, said she had found the internship at Yelp by herself.  Her responsibilities as an intern include updating the company’s website and helping to plan the three to four events Yelp holds monthly, either to promote the company or for the site’s most active reviewers. Although many of her tasks are marketing and client-based, there is a large writing and communications component, Grainger said.

Being at Richmond has helped her develop the necessary communication skills that Grainger said are needed to excel in the field. She said she had learned more about the city of Richmond by constantly being up to date about what is going on in the city and new businesses.

Yelp connects to the local Richmond community, she said, and tries to focus on and promote local business. The internship has allowed her to meet many people, so that when she walks into a restaurant or business with her friends, she oftentimes knows the manager, Grainger said. She said she hoped to intern for Yelp again next semester.

Contact reporter Renee Ruggeri at renee.ruggeri@richmond.edu

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