Pamplin professor’s course looks at winery marketing, wine's role in tourism

Hospitality and Tourism Management Professor Ken McCleary teaches Winery Tourism, a course with an unusual prerequisite: students must be 21 or older. That’s because wine tasting is on the syllabus.


Among Professor Ken McCleary's research interests is the role of social media in wine and winery marketing. Among Professor Ken McCleary's research interests is the role of social media in wine and winery marketing.

The course in the Pamplin College of Business seeks to give students an understanding of the problems and process of managing a winery; how basic tourism concepts apply to wineries; and the impact of winery tourism on local, regional, and national economies, including tax revenue and job creation.

Students not only learn about Virginia’s winery industry and its history but also identify and assess the tourism potential of various types of wineries, wine festivals, and wine education events. They also work on product development and marketing ideas for wineries.

The wine industry has become more competitive worldwide, said McCleary, whose research interests include marketing strategy and consumer behavior in the hospitality industry, international hospitality marketing, and cultural tourism, in addition to wine and winery management.


As of fall 2011, Virginia is home to 194 wineries, up from six in 1979. As of fall 2011, Virginia is home to 194 wineries, up from six in 1979.

On a study leave several years ago, he examined the winery tourism industry in Portugal, Tuscany, the Finger Lakes region of New York, and Napa, Calif. 

Currently, he is looking at the role of social media in wine and winery marketing.

“It’s a complex business, requiring a lot of management, marketing, and financial savvy, as well as agricultural and wine making skills, he said. “The old saying that a good way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a large fortune is somewhat true.”

The recent high-profile failure of the Kluge winery and vineyard (later bought by Donald Trump) near Charlottesville, Va., is representative of the challenges facing wineries in the state, said McCleary, who wrote about the problems, policies, and marketing practices of Virginia wineries in a co-authored article in the journal Tourism Analysis.

These challenges include:

  • Labor, including the shortage and high cost of knowledgeable employees
  • Money, including significant costs, cash flow, lengthy return-on-investment period
  • Marketing, including market access, working with wholesalers and retailers, and out-of-state shipping
  • Weather, which affects tasting room traffic as well as grape growing
  • Legal issues, such as zoning, regulations, and taxes
  • The “stigma of being a Virginia wine”

The wine industry worldwide, McCleary said, has grown rapidly in recent decades and in Virginia, particularly in recent years. The state had only six wineries in 1979. Twenty-five years later, the number had grown to 92. As of fall 2011, Virginia had 194 wineries, according to — behind New York, Oregon, Washington, and, of course, California, which, McCleary says, produces about 90 percent of the domestic wine sold in the U.S.


During the wine-tasting portion of class, students take notes on the bouquet and appearance of each wine. During the wine-tasting portion of class, students take notes on the bouquet and appearance of each wine.

Given that more than 100,000 wine brands are available in the market and that consumers increasingly prefer to buy well-known brands to minimize risk, small wineries in lesser-known producing areas need innovative and systematic marketing strategies. This allows them to compete effectively with both domestic and international wine makers with large operations and established brand reputations.

Festivals, tours, and tastings are an opportunity, McCleary said, to build brand awareness and develop tastes for local wines. “Alliances with local and regional bed and breakfasts, restaurants, or tour operators can allow local wineries to promote their products without incurring large marketing expenditures.”

Studies have shown the benefits of wine tourism to regional wineries. “One of the critical success factors for wine tourism is the actual experience at the winery.” Wineries, he said, must recognize the necessity of having good tasting room policies and providing wine tourists with the type of experience they are after.

Though Virginia wineries still face stiff competition from other domestic and foreign producers, “we are getting better and better wines and some good press,” McCleary said.

A writer with Travel and Leisure magazine notes that Virginia is now seen as an up-and-coming wine region that “should be on the must-visit list of any adventurous wine traveler.”

McCleary agrees. “From a winery tourism aspect, Virginia has a lot to offer.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at 540-231-5071.

Course gives students more than a taste of wine

    All students in Ken McCleary's Winery Tourism class must be 21 years old so they can participate in the wine tastings.

Ken McCleary’s Winery Tourism course includes two wine tastings, one for red wines and one for white, conducted during the fifth and 10th weeks of class at a local hotel.

Other wine courses

Ken McCleary encourages his students to explore other opportunities to learn about wine and the wine industry.

A popular course, Wines and Vines, is taught by Professor Emeritus Bruce Zoecklein, former head of Virginia Tech’s Enology-Grape Chemistry Group, which supports the growth and development of the wine industry through teaching, outreach, and research.

The geography department’s John Boyer has also taught an undergraduate course, the Geography of Wine, as a special study.

Alumnus teaches in California wine country

Pamplin College of Business graduate Kyuho Lee is Professor Ken McCleary’s co-author on an article in the journal Tourism Analysis that explores the problems, policies, and marketing practices of Virginia wineries.

Lee earned a doctorate in hospitality and tourism management in 2006.

He landed a job as an assistant professor of marketing at Sonoma State University in fall 2011 after teaching at Western Carolina University’s business school for five years. He wrote to thank McCleary for his guidance, noting that he is enjoying teaching “in this beautiful place.”

The university is near major wineries Robert Mondavi and Gallo.

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