wagga wagga washington?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Beer has again overtaken wine as the nation’s number one escape valve of choice, and it’s no secret that the global wine industry is locked in a titanic battle for survival. Wineries around the world are singing the blues, because there’s an ocean of cheap wine out there, and the competition for buyers is cut-throat.

Unless you are Chateau Mouton, Lafite or Latour, your Bordeaux wine is probably going to be converted into biodiesel fuel before you’ll ever sell it all. Are you Australian? Better have a yellow-tailed kangaroo on the label or toss your shiraz in the garaze; it’s not going anywhere. California? – hoo boy. Ever hear of global warming? If you’re a California grape grower, it’s time to switch to raisins. Here in Washington, these dire circumstances have not gone unnoticed.

Up until now, the home team wineries have been somewhat protected by what marketers call “industry bandwidth.” In other words, apart from Ste. Michelle’s portfolio of wineries, Washington’s other 650 wineries each produce an average of just 137 cases of wine annually. They can price it as high as they like and sell it all to friends and family, or trade it like currency if things get really tight.

But things are changing. Production is ramping up dramatically – vineyard acreage in the state has grown from 29,000 to 30,000 acres in just the past six years. Sniffing a problem, the Washington Wine Commission, along with the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, is about to float a bold new plan to market the coming surplus.

In top secret talks with representatives of the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia, the two sides have come up with a marketing effort that is eerily reminiscent of this state’s short-lived ‘Say WA’ campaign. The Western Australians, eager to sell their wines in the U.S. market, at first considered calling themselves “the other WA.” But when told that Washington D.C. and Washington state were already at odds over which was actually the genuine “other” WA, the Australians went back to the drawing board.

A proposal to call themselves ‘The Other Other WA’ was quickly scratched. Ditto with ‘Do WA’ (too close to doo-wop, which conjured up images of Frankie Avalon). Next, the Aussies came up with ‘Drink WA’ and were just about to roll it out when the Washington execs arrived on the scene. It seemed clear that the two campaigns were on a collision course, with the Australians saying ‘Drink WA’ and the Washingtonians talking up ‘The Perfect Climate For Wine.’ Then, the light bulb burst into flame. Why not combine the two, in a joint marketing effort!

‘Drink WA In The Perfect Climate For Wine’ will be the theme of a newly-minted joint venture between the two WA’s. It is believed to be the first time in history that the sister city concept has been applied to entire wine regions.

Large billboards in both regions will show happy consumers drinking Syrah/Shiraz, Unoaked/Unwooded Chardonnay, Wet/Dry Riesling and other popular varietals. Wines will be tied into local menus, but in an effort to bring new ideas to the forefront, the menus will be flipped. Australians will learn about the pleasures of Lemberger with geoduck, while Washington residents will be invited to enjoy their fried Red Emperor and Dhufish with a crisp SBS blend.

An exchange of vintners is also planned, although the initial idea to trade winemakers straight across – Walla Walla for Wagga Wagga – had to be scrapped when it was discovered that Wagga Wagga, though home to a fine winemaking university, is unfortunately located in New South Wales.

Happily, both regions boast perfect climates for growing wine grapes, although each has its own unique challenges. Here in Washington, winemakers must contend with periodic Arctic blasts that can kill grapevines down to their roots. In Western Australia, the winters are mild, but rampaging kangaroos can create havoc in vineyards. It’s a well-documented fact that no one there drives in wine country after dark, because a deranged marsupial, seven feet tall and sporting a glazed, ’roo-in-the-headlights’ look on its face, may jump out of the bush at any moment and land in the front seat of your car.

The centerpiece of the upcoming campaign will be a contest asking consumers to write their own tasting notes for the other region’s wines. Washington wine drinkers will be able to choose from a list of typical Australian wine descriptors including gooseberry, passion fruit, cat’s pee, marmalade, kerosene, bath salts, lanolin, tomato bush, lantana, nettles, quince, loquat and treacle. Australian entrants will be asked to select from among these standard descriptors for Washington wines: cherry, coffee and buttered toast.

Winning entries will be published in the Wine Expectorator.


Anonymous said...

You had me going for a few lines Paul. I was like why haven't I heard about this? -Anna

Anonymous said...

"Washington’s other 650 wineries each produce an average of just 137 cases of wine annually. They can price it as high as they like and sell it all to friends and family, or trade it like currency if things get really tight."

You got that right! I'd say out of the 650 wineries about 90% of them are supported by a spouse, retirement or trust fund...

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