This year, for the first time in North Carolina State Fair history, alcohol will be permitted exclusively at the new Our State Public House, featuring dozens of rotating beers and wines from around North Carolina. Our State Editor in Chief Elizabeth Hudson held a Q&A with N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler about why it’s important to showcase our craft breweries and wineries, and how North Carolinians can get a taste.
Watch the interview from Facebook Live here (please excuse technical difficulties), and read the full transcript below.
Elizabeth Hudson [EH]: Hey everybody, I’m Elizabeth Hudson; I’m the editor in chief of Our State magazine. I’m here live at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds today in Raleigh getting prepared for the State Fair, which is in a couple of weeks on October 12th. I’m with the Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, we’re gonna talk about some really interesting things that are going on at the State Fair this year. We’ve got construction going on, and there’s noise, and it’s a beautiful day, and we’re standing in mud — which is a little different, but some exciting things happening in the State Fair this year, right?
Steve Troxler [ST]: There are! We’re standing in the Our State Public House — one of them — and this is where we’re going to introduce wine and beer tastings sales. We’re going to have North Carolina wine, and North Carolina craft beer at the State Fair for the first time. And we’re celebrating our 150th anniversary.
EH: That’s incredible! So, [for] the first time ever in the State Fair’s history, people can come to this spot, this location, and sample some of our commodities that we have here?
ST: I think it’s appropriate that we celebrate 150 years in the past with introducing people to some of our newest agriculture business enterprises in North Carolina, which is the North Carolina wine industry and the craft beer industry.
EH: Right, it’s exploded! I mean, I’ve never seen an industry that has taken off like the Grape Council and the brewery industry in North Carolina. It really is just amazing what’s happened just in 10 years, you would say?
ST: It’s even exploded within the past four years. I looked at some statistics and [in] 2013 I think we had around 100 wineries in North Carolina producing half a million cases of wine a year. This past year that was up to 200, and about a million cases of wine, just in a four-year period of time.
EH: Unbelievable, why do you think that is?
ST: I think it’s because we do have the resources in North Carolina to produce really good wines, and it takes a while for people to develop taste preferences for the type of product we’re producing here in North Carolina, and the same thing with the craft beer industry. We are fast approaching being the craft beer state in the nation and it just happened!
EH: Right, and you know everything about the State Fair is intended to celebrate the things we grow, the things we make, and certainly that is one of the things we do really, really well here. And, it’s so pretty to go visit wineries and breweries. The landscape of North Carolina — you know, working with Our State Magazine, I know first-hand what a gorgeous state this is and I’m so proud that we’re going to offer something like that here now. So we’re standing in a really interesting structure, and I want you to tell me a little bit about what this is.
ST: Well this is a log building that probably goes back the mid 1800s and it’s reputed that this building was the stagecoach station at Rockingham County. The Dent family of Rockingham County donated these two buildings for this purpose, and we want to thank them for their generosity. This is Heritage [Circle] — I guess I never got out of the Lincoln log stage, but I’ve never seen a log structure that I didn’t like. So, this will be our fourth log structure we’ve put up in the past two years, so it’s absolutely wonderful.
EH: How large is this? What are we looking at size wise?
ST: This building is about 18 [feet], and then with the porches and the dog trot here, the other building, and we have brand new restroom facilities in the rear of this that we really needed in this area of the fairgrounds, so this is wonderful.
EH: This is just a stunning structure, absolutely beautiful. How did you decide on this spot in the Fair? I think we’re at such a great location where we are.
ST: I wanted to locate this facility in a very special spot that was scenic. You’re going to be able to sit on the porch and sample the craft beers and wines, overlook the flower show which is something that very few fairs in the country can equal, this is absolutely wonderful. The lake is off to our left — you’ll be able to overlook the lake and the tobacco pavilion and we have a laser light show over the lake at dark so I don’t think there could be a better location.
EH: It’s going to be the best year ever, it’s gonna be so good!
ST: It absolutely is.
EH: I’m so happy to see this, it really feels like this movement into a new era and I’m so proud we get to be a part of it too, it’s just amazing. So, think about when people get here. When the building’s finished, which it will be in a couple weeks, what is the experience people will have? How is it all going to work when they come in here?
ST: This is kind of my area of the fairgrounds, I love Heritage [Circle], I love people being able to enjoy themselves. So they’ll be able to come in down through Heritage Circle; we have bluegrass music playing on the back of the ice cream shop, we will be carrying a barn of tobacco, the old-fashioned way, that we’ll put in Friday on opening day. Then, [people can] come down to the Tobacco Pavilion, that is another lounging place, and make their way here. And if they’re 21 years old, they will be able to buy a $10 ticket to come in and sample either wine or beer. They will be able to mix and match the beers or the wines, there will be all different types of wines. We’ve got 40 wineries and 40 breweries participating in this project.
EH: It’ll change everyday?
ST: It will, they will change out every day and we hope people will come back more than one time.
EH: Well it sounds like such a reflection of who we are and what we value in this day, and just really how to take advantage of our amazing commodities. We have so much to be proud of here!
ST: We are the third most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, so we have the ability to produce all kinds of crops. We’re excited that now we’re producing grapes for wine, and we’re trying to figure out how to grow hops locally here and malting barley for the beer. So we hope there’s a big opportunity to not only explode the wine and beer industry, but also more agriculture projects.
EH: That’s exactly right. Well I am so excited about it and cannot wait to get to the State Fair this year and see all the happenings and everything going on. I hope we have weather exactly like today, stunningly beautiful blue skies, and it’s gonna be a good time. We’re gonna walk outside so we can take a look around. They have shut the construction down briefly just so we can talk, which is good.
ST: Part of the view behind this is the flower show that people will be able to enjoy as they’re entering the building and the pavilion. Also the lake, the laser light show that we have is absolutely amazing so we look forward to people just coming and enjoying themselves.
EH: Just milling around, even, I can’t stop looking at this structure because it truly is an amazing feat that’s come together. To think about the history that’s in here is really something to be proud of. I know you called it a Lincoln log, it feels like that, it feels like we’re in the middle of my childhood right now which I love, so fun. So, what else is going on? You know, my favorite thing at the State Fair, I think I told you, the minute I get here, I go straight to the Apex Lions booth and I get my cheeseburger and my fry and then I’m set for the rest of the day to reel around and just see everything that’s here and really just have a good time.
ST: Here too, we are putting in a lot of new parking. We have a parking lot that we will have open during busy times at the corner of Reedy Creek and Edwards Mill Road and we’ll be running buses continuously — it’s about a mile and a half from here — so they’ll be able to conveniently park, get their ticket, ride in and ride back out when they want to without the congestion that they’re used to around the Fair.
EH: You’ve made it easy.
ST: I want to make it easy.
EH: Right, so people never leave, they’ll be here for the whole length of the Fair, all 12 days.
ST: Well, we always kind of set the goal of having at least a million people at the Fair so I hope for our 150th celebration, we have even more than that. The first day admission is $1.50 and we do have participating vendors that are going to offer food for $1.50 also.
EH: I mean there’s really no reason not to come.
ST: No, there’s every reason to come.
EH: Are you here every day during the Fair? Probably pretty close.
ST: Every day, all day, every day.
Facebook user question: Will be open certain hours or days during the Fair?
ST: It will be. It will be open from 12 to 8:30 p.m. every day, you’ve got to be 21 to come in and you’ve got to have a ticket and there’s only one time that you can come in one day. We do have 40 wineries and 40 breweries that will be participating in this, so there’s going to be ample opportunity to sample many different types of beers and wine from North Carolina.
EH: Depending on what your flavor preference is, if you’re a sweet wine or a hoppy beer, whichever, you’ll have all sorts of different styles to think about and really be exposed to things you maybe didn’t know we offer in this state otherwise, which I think is a great thing.
ST: This couldn’t have been possible without the North Carolina craft breweries and also the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, so it’s a great partnership.
EH: We are so excited to be a part of it too, here from Our State Magazine, talking to Steve Troxler, thank you for taking time to talk to us today. Love what’s going on here, and can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks.
To learn more, visit ncstatefair.org.