welcoming the new guy and setting priorities

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yesterday the Washington Wine Commission made the announcement that we have been patiently anticipating since last November – the appointment of a new Executive Director. The Commission has been in transition since Robin Pollard announced she was leaving. Along with her went Shayn Bjornholm, the face and voice of the educational initiatives, and Madeleine Dow, who handled many of the out of state marketing efforts. One can only assume that the remaining staff members have felt a bit rudderless. One indication of the stasis that set in – the Commission handed over management of their premier event – Taste Washington – to the Seattle Visitors and Convention Bureau.

After a lengthy search, that turned up over 200 resumés, many of them from exceptionally well-qualified applicants, the Commission selected Steve Warner as their new Executive Director. Here is the official press release. I look forward to meeting and working with Mr. Warner, who, I am told, is reading my book as part of his preparation for his new role (joining David Schildknecht, the new reviewer for Parker, who has told me the same thing).

Being a West Seattle boy myself, I am pleased to see that Warner graduated from West Seattle High School, then went on to serve in the United States military’s Special Operations Command, first as a Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and then as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy.

Along with the appointment of Schildknecht, who will make his first-ever visit to Washington about the time that Warner takes over his new office, the twin appointments would seem to signal the beginning of a new era for the awareness and promotion of WA wines.

Allow me to butt in briefly. From where I sit, totally outside the insider point of view, here are some important priorities for the new, shiny, re-directed Commission to consider.

1) Do a thorough overview of the existing website. Among the areas that could be improved are the “Wine Industry Resources” (merely a group of links to other websites); “Vineyards” (not really a vineyard listing at all); and “Trade” (more links). Where are the updated and comprehensive materials for members of the press, for example?

2) Work with the various governmental and industry groups such as WAWGG to develop universal signage for wineries, vineyards, and wine roads across the state. Wouldn’t it be helpful, for example, while driving along I-82 through the Yakima valley, to have signage showing the boundaries of the sub-AVAs, and the names of the vineyards you are passing as you go?

3) Emphasize four key varieties - riesling, merlot, cabernet and syrah – as distinctive and exceptional when grown here in Washington. The state has never been able to shed its reputation as a place where everything can be grown, so nothing stands out. Whether deserved or not, that is how it is perceived. Focus on these four varieties during road shows and in promo materials, and you will slowly but surely turn those perceptions around.

4) Find new ways to work closely with retailers to promote Washington wines. As of June 1, the state is out of retail. What will happen to Washington Wine Month? As part of this effort, you might consider expanding the restaurant awards to include retailers who do creative promotions.

5) More Fam trips for select influencers among writers, bloggers, retailers and somms. (See the recent list of the Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Wine People for ideas.)

6) Focus key messaging to emphasize the value of all Washington wines, in all price ranges, relative to competing wine regions (especially California!).

7) Last but not least, think outside the box. For example, instead of regionally-based road shows, how about Big Winery road shows and Boutique Winery road shows, separate but aimed at specific markets and retail niches? Consider adding a craft distillery event to the annual schedule, to attract more mixologists and bar owners. Work on setting meaningful guidelines for estate, reserve and old vine designations.

I am delighted at the prospect of new blood and fresh perspectives to move things forward. I congratulate everyone who contributed to the selection process. I hope that Mr. Warner will have a very long and very successful tenure in this demanding new position. Let’s go!


Anonymous said...

In addition to those priorities, I'd like to suggest the following:

Despite the "Washington: the perfect climate for wine" promotion, We need to do a better job of articulating how Washington is different from other wine regions and how those differences are reflected in the wines. We can't just keep saying "we make good wines too", or "our wines are as good as theirs, but cheaper". Market the terroir, the landscape, the reason why our wines are fabulous and distinctive... As Paul suggests, road signs announcing that you are "entering the xyz American Viticultural Area" would be a great way to help both locals and visitors tune in to their terroir...

Madeline Puckette said...

Thanks Paul for your thoughts and suggestions. I particularly agree with the focus on key grape varieties! Also, niche markets... smart!

Other things to consider:
Cultivate better national distribution. Incentives (like the fedex shipping incentive on TheWineInstitute.org).

Look at ways to cultivate wineries looking to break the 5k case barrier into larger production.

Work with writers, bloggers, social media folks to create interest with Washington Wines such as #wawine hashtag.

Look at innovative startups that do tailored online sale of products (like shopify) and internal structure (like Shipcompliant) to encourage startup wineries to get hip with the internet scene.

Chris said...

Very nice welcome and list of suggestions, Mr. G. I agree their website is a mess.

Also really like your suggestion for more and consistent signage. The only AVA signage I've ever seen in Washington is on Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills. Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail has signage but that doesn't follow the AVA boundary. Sure the AVA associations could/should do more to promote and distinguish themselves, but a coordinated statewide system would do wonders, and existing DOT blue signage could be integrated pretty readily I'd think.

David Larsen said...

To promote Washington wines, use more photos of the gorgeous landscape and vineyards in eastern Washington. Especially, take Mr Warner and Mr Schildknecht to see The Benches, aka Wallula, vineyard. It has to be one of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. There's no way you won't lust for Washington wine, when you see it.

David Schildknecht said...

"take ... Mr Schildknecht to see The Benches, aka Wallula, vineyard ... "
Been told this repeatedly, thanks! It looks to have made it onto my March agenda, but if not then certainly in July.

Re signage - and without gowing into any detailed examples as I's short on time - I have over my nearly 30 years of traveling diverse wine growing regions been very impressed with the many who just in the past decade have evolved on a regional or statewide basis a uniform means of pointing motorists toward winery locations. I realize that in Washington this will only be practical on a certain level of specificity (at that of Interstate Highway exit signs you might have to pull over for several minutes just to read the names of all the relevant facilities!)but nonetheless. The notion of marking entry and departure from A.V.A.s is also terrific, and I find it amazing that even in some of the States and foreign countries that have been most nomenclature-happy to my knowledge noboby has done anything like this.

PaulG said...

David Schildknecht has requested that I amend the last line of his post to read "... I find it amazing that even in some of the States and foreign countries that have been most nomenclature-happy to my knowledge nobody outside of Burgundy has done anything like this."

Anonymous said...

As a former (and native) Washingtonian who has lived on the East Coast since 2006, I am constantly searching for Washington wines at local stores (I refuse to pay shipping except in extreme circumstances). Thankfully, I regularly travel the Mid-Atlantic region, and I've come across some great stuff, including Abeja, Amavi, Buty, Delille, Sleight, Rasa, and of course everything Charles Smith. However, almost all of my favorite sub-$20 wines are unavailable (e.g. Firehouse Red and all those other kitchen sink blends) as are many of my favorite cellar bottles (e.g. Cadence and Boudreaux) and others (Forgeron, OS, etc). While I realize that many of these wineries are either not interested or unable to distribute on the East Coast, I would love to see WWC think creatively about getting a wider selection of Washington wine to the East Coast. Perhaps 1-2 weeks of Washington wine tasting and selling events along the coast would be a good fist step.

Chris said...

Dear Anonymous,
3 words, Full Pull Wines.

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