It Was A Good Year For....The Alcohol Industry

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One of the wettest, coolest years on record has made things tough at the Ferrante Winery in Geneva. But that doesn’t keep Nick Ferrante from pouring a celebratory glass of his favorite dry white.

“This is our Vina della Castle White," he says, tipping the bottle's contents into a fluted glass at the Ferrante wine bar. "It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Cayuga."

Ferrante says in the 30 years his family’s been operating the winery, he’s never seen so much rain. The soggy climate has disrupted the grapes’ fermentation process a bit, but he says it’s not kept the winery from meeting strong and growing demand from customers.

“We just loaded 15 cases of wine into a gentleman’s car, so I think we’ll finish strongly."

Ferrante projects final sales will be up by 5 to 6 percent compared to his winery's 2010 figures.

Interest in winemaking isn’t limited to just time-honored establishments like the Ferrante Winery. The Ohio Department of Commerce says right now there are at least 164 licensed wine makers, up from 148 the year before. There’s also 79 licensed beer makers, up from 70 in 2010. Commerce Department head David Goodman adds overall sales of wine, beer, and spirits in the state are at record highs.

“So far this year, we’re at approximately $770-million in revenue," says Goodman. "Which is historic.”

That growth jibes with the national figures Sam Zippin is seeing for alcohol sales. Zippin works with financial analysis firm Sageworks, based in North Carolina.

“In 2011, the sales growth was 5.2 percent so that is obviously still positive and growing from 3.3 percent in 2010," she says. "So we have seen it go up a little bit, from 2008 to 2011, always staying positive, so sales have not gone down."

Zippin points out one interesting trend: for beer, craft breweries have seen sales improve over the last two years, while big breweries have seen sales drop.

That’s good news for companies like the Great Lakes Brewing Company, based in Cleveland. Its kegging line rolls silver barrel after silver barrel almost non-stop. Co-owner Patrick Conway says while people are still trying to pinch pennies during these shaky economic times, they still want a quality drink.

“Now it will cost you more than the mass-produced -- what we call “fizzy beers” -- says Conway. "But the flavors and robust characters of them are worth every penny.”

Conway says the Great Lakes Brewing Company has had record sales of 30-percent growth over last year, and added nearly two dozen new positions when many other companies were laying off workers. And he projects another healthy double-digit growth again for next year, around 20 to 25-percent.

Not that there won’t be any fresh competition. Local entrepreneurs like Tom Lix are planning to enter the market in 2012. Lix started a distillery that will feature his patented whiskey that’s been scientifically aged at a faster rate than other brands. While many start-ups are still dealing with the post-recession jitters, Lix is confident the alcohol market will treat him and his Cleveland Whiskey brand well.

“Five years from now, I think we’ll be a $50-million company, employ about 35 to 40 people, and it’ll be a great success for us.“

State officials also believe 2012 will be another good year for alcohol sales, especially given legislation just signed by Governor Kasich. The new measure removes a cap on the number of specialized licenses that can be issued for micro-distilleries in Ohio, and lets breweries open tasting rooms and sell beer by the glass without buying an additional permit.

Between that and the recent steady sales, you could say spirits are up.

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