N.C. Wines Get Exposure at Charlotte/Douglas Airport

There's no dirt on the floor, but you can consider a storefront in Charlotte/Douglas International Airport the same as standing in a vineyard.

"Welcome to the Yadkin Valley," is what Shelton Vineyards co-owner Charlie Shelton says.

The Yadkin Valley Wine Bar, between concourses D and E, opened in April with wines from nine Yadkin Valley wineries. The idea is to catch the attention of travelers, spreading the word -- and the wine.

You can order wine to be shipped home, same as you can at a winery, or you can buy bottles to go. You can also taste four wines for $3, or buy a glass for $5.

"This is an extension of the winery, right here," says Shelton.

With a location between concourses that handle regional and international flights, the store has had customers from Cambodia, England, France and Scandinavian countries. Two weeks ago, it shipped N.C. wine to four states.

The store stocks up to 54 wines, and tasting bottles are rotated through the day so all nine wineries get exposure. There's also room to add more Yadkin wineries. Eventually, Shelton hopes to feature a dozen.

While the state has almost 50 wineries spread from the mountains to the Outer Banks, the store carries only Yadkin Valley wines. Yadkin, near Winston-Salem, is the state's first AVA, or American Viticultural Area. A wine can carry the Yadkin label if 85 percent of the grapes are grown there. Some of the money to open the store came from a federal grant to help the Yadkin AVA.

However, Shelton says, there are efforts to open N.C. wine stores at the Raleigh-Durham airport and the Triad airport near Greensboro. If those are successful, the Charlotte store could expand to include wines from all over the state.

Rich Cartiere, editor and publisher of the Wine Market Report, a Napa Valley-based newsletter, says airport stores to promote state wines are fairly new. The only other one he knows about is at Dallas-Fort Worth. But wine can be a vivid tourist item.

Wine is a product of its environment, he says. "So it really is a reflection of where you live."

Buddy Norwood, who supervises the project for the Sheltons, says the store has held surprises.

He thought most customers would be local people arriving, but most sales actually have been to people who are leaving. He thought most of the business would be orders to ship wine, but most people buy bottles to go.

And he thought they'd get most of their business in tastings -- samples of multiple wines -- but they're actually selling more wines by the glass.

"The most interesting customer is the female business traveler," he says. Women often have a glass at the small wine bar, where there's no smoking and no pressure from male customers.

Visitors ebb and flow through the day, he says, with the heaviest traffic after 3 p.m. And the store gets popular during delays.

The store is designed so that when it's closed, only the bar is behind the gate. Faux barrel tops that feature winery brochures are always accessible.

Shelton won't reveal sales figures, other than to say the store is exceeding budget and sells more than 100 cases a month. Cartiere of the Wine Market Report says most support for state wineries comes from inside the state. A store that focuses on travelers is great exposure.

"People are going to find it interesting, and they're going to buy it as a novelty," he says. "Most people will buy it on impulse. And hopefully, if they like it, they'll find out how to buy it when they're not at the airport." Leigh