PINE LEVEL, N.C. — At a time when some industries such as tobacco and textiles are shrinking, the state's wine industry is flourishing. State lawmakers want to help it grow even more.
Across North Carolina, fields once covered with crops of corn and tobacco are now lined with vines -- grapevines quenching the thirst of farmers and factory workers whose industries are drying up.
"As we lost textiles, tobacco and furniture, we started searching for something to get excited about and we fell upon vineyards," said Rep. Jim Harrell, D-Surry County.
Vineyards, like the one started by Williard Hinnant in eastern Johnston county, are feeding a wine industry that is bursting. Twenty years ago, there was one winery in the state; now, there are 48. At least 20 more are in the process of opening.
From Biltmore, the country's most visited winery, to Childress, the brainchild of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the wine industry generates nearly $80 million in revenue for North Carolina.
Hinnant Family Vineyards has been growing grapes for more than 30 years, but it was only three years ago that the owners decided to start a winery.
"I just saw the growth in other small wineries in North Carolina and it just so happened that we had the largest Muscadine vineyard in the state," said Bob Hinnant. "So, I figured we might as well move up the food chain and be a major player in the North Carolina wine business."
The Hinnant family plans to bottle and sell 5,000 cases of wine this year and wants to triple its production in five years.
Lawmakers want to help with legislation.
One proposed bill would move the North Carolina Grape Council from the Agriculture Department to the Commerce Department, which promotes tourism. Another bill would promote shipping to other states.
"It just means that people who come through here try our wines, like our wines, go back home and say, 'Let's call up and order some more wine,' and so we can ship it," Williard Hinnant said.
Another bill close to final approval would bring wine tasting to more grocery stores.
"We're trying to do everything we can to give exposure to North Carolina wines," Harrell said.
Lawmakers believe with that kind of exposure, a bottle of red and a bottle of white could pump more green into North Carolina coffers.