By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer
Jack and Maureen Leyden, who’ve operated Big John’s Christmas Tree Farm in West Greenwich since 1970, last year incorporated wine production into their business.
Leyden Farm Vineyards and Winery officially opened in October 2011, offering five wines.
“[Christmas trees] are only a month out of the year,” Jack Leyden said. “We needed something that could be more of a year-round business. We had been making wine for years on our own. We thought it would be a great opportunity to start growing our own grapes and start selling.”
Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island are home to a small but by all accounts strong group of vineyards, some of which, with little fanfare, consistently produce award-winning wines.
The Rhode Island “big four” – Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, Newport Vineyards in Middletown, and Diamond Hill Vineyards in Cumberland – generate more than $20 million annually for the state’s economy, inclusive of indirect impacts to other industries, according to the Economic Impact Study for Rhode Island Green-Related Industries, a collaborative study released in May by the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the University of Rhode Island and several industry organizations.
The Leyden winery this past winter ventured into online discount-coupon territory, offering a Living Social deal for a tasting for two to generate product interest.
The Leyden family also has been spreading the word through contacts both professional and personal.
“Nothing’s really easy. Everywhere we go we promote and push it,” Leyden said. “People do know about our Christmas trees, but we have to get them to know about our wines.”
That’s a problem afflicting far more than these industry newcomers.
California, New York, and, to some extent Virginia and Washington state, are all well-known throughout the country as great wine-producing states.
Rhode Island wineries, despite welcoming at some locations hundreds of visitors on a summer afternoon, do not enjoy such acclaim.
“For so long, people really frowned on regional wines, [and] it takes a long time to establish a reputation,” said Nancy Parker Wilson, general manager at Greenvale Vineyards. “People are proud of [our] wines, but not every wine shop carries our wine. Quite frankly, we survive on tourism.”