RICHMOND—The Virginia Tobacco Commission has awarded a grant to help grow Southern Virginia wineries. The commission awarded $811,000 to Pittsylvania County for its SOVA Vineyard Development and Expansion Program. The program will reimburse approved applicants for a third of their eligible expenses for expanding their vineyards, up to $3,000 per acre. Virginia wine production grew at about 6.7 percent annually for the first part of the decade but slowed to 2 percent in 2015. The drop is blamed on a lack of Virginia grapes. “This program offers an exciting opportunity for landowners in the Southside Region of the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission,” explained Ashley Nauta, a district agent and vineyards project coordinator for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “These cost-share funds are vitally important as our producers consider the capital investments associated with vineyard establishment.” The grant application deadline is Feb. 15. Virginia’s wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the 2015 Economic Impact Study of Wine and Wine Grapes on the Commonwealth of Virginia, commissioned by the Virginia Wine Board and completed in January. That’s an increase of 82 percent from findings of a previous impact study conducted in 2010. From 2010 to 2015, the number of Virginia wineries increased 35 percent, from 193 to 261. The number of full-time equivalent jobs at wineries and vineyards saw a 73 percent increase. “Virginia’s wine industry has experienced diverse, fast growth over the past couple of decades,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Demand has outpaced grape production. Additional Virginia-grown grapes are necessary to fulfill the demand. This grant program is a unique opportunity to establish new or expanded vineyards.” Media: Contact Nauta at 434-432-7770 or Banks at 804-290-1114.