examining oregon from afar

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two interesting perspectives on Oregon wines appeared yessterday. On the Jo Diaz blog – Juicy Tales – the headline “Oregon Is Not A One Trick Pony” led into a discussion (prompted largely by last summer’s Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, for which I was the keynote speaker) about her ongoing efforts to re-brand the state’s most important white grape.

Diaz wrote “Our client [Greg Lint of Oak Knoll] is constantly challenged when he visits the national market. When he makes presentations, all the buyers can think about is Oregon pinot noir. This is pretty frustrating, considering that they grow other grapes in Oregon and make other varietal wines. The thrust of this group is to focus on the fact that Oregon has more than one grape variety and they’d like to have buyers around the nation get used to Oregon being more than a one trick pony.”

Meanwhile, from the UK comes this story, with the disarming headline “Oregon Pinot Puzzles UK Trade”. The report went on to state that at something called the Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting, which goes by the acronym SIPNOT (I kid you not), some five dozen members of the UK wine trade did a 12 wine blind tasting of pinot noirs from around the world. Apparently, they were utterly boggled by the two entries from Oregon.

Writer Oz Clarke, one of the participants, is quoted as saying “You just don’t see enough of the top wines from Oregon over here.” So, what exactly were the two confusing (and presumably less than stellar) entries from Oregon? It turns out that the two oh-so-challenging Oregon Pinots in the 12-wine taste-off were the 2008 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noir. As it happens, I opened a 2002 Cristom Jessie just last week, and was so blown away by the wine’s vivid fruit, generous finish, and overall balance that I wrote a note of appreciation to the winemaker Steve Doerner.

Though I have not yet reviewed the 2008 Jessie, I would expect it to be an equally stunning wine, with excellent aging potential. The 2008 Chehalem Pinots I have already reviewed (see the Wine Enthusiast database for complete notes) include the Corral Creek (91 points), the Wind Ridge (90 points), and the 3 Vineyard (89 points). Somehow I missed the Ridgecrest, but I have to believe it would do as well as it has done previously – the 2006 got 92 points, the 2007 got 90.

Let’s face it. The UK wine trade has its eyes, ears, and nose firmly fixated on Burgundy when it comes to pinot noir. They might take a distant sniff at New Zealand which, after all, was a colony. And maybe even California because... well... it really SHOULD have been a colony. But Oregon? Pfah! As one taster reportedly proclaimed, Oregon “was often used as ‘a whipping boy’ when it came to placing the more difficult or divisive wines.” Ho ho ho! Those British boys sure know a good joke when they taste one!

The Northwest’s main event in the UK market, the Washington State and Oregon annual trade tasting, takes place tomorrow in London. I can’t wait to see what sort of headlines that inspires.

A larger, more important question is this. How should small but quite talented wine producing regions (such as Oregon and, for that matter, Washington) focus their marketing efforts? It is clearly not realistic to spray these wines across the entire wine-drinking universe. The Washington Wine Commission, apparently because some funding was available, sent a delegation to India last summer. I guess if there is guvmint money being waved around, the thinking goes it would be foolish to pass it by. But really?

State-wide marketing in Oregon has been essentially rudderless until recently. Jo Diaz’s small but important, privately-funded effort to promote Oregon pinot gris strikes me as not only focused but sensible. It has a clear goal, a reasonable objective, and the chance to break the state out of its one trick pony image. And if the UK trade doesn’t get it, do we really need to care?


Jo Diaz said...

I also noticed the UK story, and thought how disparate both stories were, and yet they both focus on Oregon. I really like and appreciate your telling us all (at the Pinot Gris Symposium) that Oregon needs to focus on NOT comparing themselves to any other style. I now get it totally... It's like one fish dish is made from salmon, another is made from lobster, and another is made from tuna... Don't compare the tuna to the salmon, or the salmon to the lobster, or any other configuration... They're all from the same family, but they're all separate siblings. For the Brits to be judging Oregon Pinot Noir (or even Gris) and trying to compare them on some European benchmark isn't hitting the mark. It's pretty much lost in space. Great post!

Anonymous said...

It's very simple. Brits are drowning in 4Euro/btl wines from nearly every wine producing region in the world. Can you give an example of a WA/OR wine of quality that might fit in this price category?

Certainly there are some excellent PN from OR, but I wonder how much 30+Euro/bottle could ever be sold in the UK, when there are thousands of options from Burgundy, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, Tasmania, and Australia that fall well below that price point.

In short, OR PN is way too expensive to gain much traction in the UK market.

david bricker said...

We sell WA red here in Switzerland, but I lived in London for 9 years. The heavies passing out points/stars and established sellers are partial to a certain style, be it Pinot or most reds: usually very restrained fruit, even somewhat green is ok, and of course, make it expensive please (so no Cotes du Rhone, rather Cote Rotie or Chateauneuf) and Burgundy, Bordeaux etc. However, the general public wants friendly, fruity Spanish & French, Austrlian etc. Oregon has a chance if it aims at Supermarket buyers, with value for money. The average buyer doesn't know or care who Parker/Spurrier/Tanzer is, but if the wine is good at a fair price you'll succeed.
D. Bricker

PaulG said...

Good point, Anon. Which speaks to my own point, which is that carefully focused marketing efforts need to take such things into account. Simply showing up and pouring wines doesn't accomplish much of anything these days.

Christian Miller said...

"The UK wine trade has its eyes, ears, and nose firmly fixated on Burgundy when it comes to pinot noir.... But Oregon? Pfah!"
Ironically, les familles Drouhin, Lafon and other Burgundians seem to have come to a different conclusion.

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