washington wines take the nation by storm!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

OK, I plead guilty. Sensationalist headline. But it’s been quite an exciting week for Washington wines. To re-cap a few highlights:

The Gov came out with a seemingly off-the-cuff anecdote about promoting Washington wines in the UK. Her inflammatory comment was something to the effect that California makes jug wines. Hoo boy, the s—t hit the fan quickly. Never mind that it’s a true statement. And why shouldn’t the Gov be allowed a partisan swipe? Is it any different from betting on your home team in sports? Governors do that all the time. I think we should push it a step further. How about putting up a case of fine Washington wine against a case of whatever California’s Gov wants to offer? Here’s the bet: at the end of the year, do a QPR analysis of wine ratings and prices from the major pubs (Spectator, Enthusiast, Parker) and see who comes out on top – Washington or California.

On Tuesday, the Washington Wine Commission unveiled a massive study on the Economic Impact of Washington State Wine. The numbers are impressive, and they have quickly been splashed all over the internet, so I won’t repeat them here. But I was at the live press conference, and had the opportunity to point a question or two at the participants (Executive Director Steve Warner, Sagemoor Vineyards Manager Kent Waliser, Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler, L’Ecole owner and Wine Institute President Marty Clubb, and Wine Grape Growers Chairwoman Lynne Chamberlain). I was curious to know what the long term uses of the study might be, after the initial ‘wow’ factor (woo hoo eight point six bazillion dineros!) had passed. Their answers were thoughtful and specific.

Kent Waliser: “On behalf of the 350+ growers we owe a debt of gratitude for these astounding numbers. It really demonstrates what we’ve accomplished over the last 30 or 40 years in this industry. We’ve been a part of the growth, the trials and tribulations of this industry. This study now puts an imprint on our accomplishments that we’ve worked so hard for.

While this is a great accomplishment, we are looking toward the next 40 years. We’ve hired a new Executive Director; we are embarking on a new 5 year plan. Our biggest effort is the vote to invest 7.5 million in the Wine Science Center in the Tri-Cities. We are putting our own money behind that effort, along with planting grapes, building wineries, and putting up tanks. We see a bright future.”

Ted Baseler: “We all suspected this was happening; but we are thrilled to see the positive impact on Washington state. I look back over the 30 years I’ve been associated with this industry, and the old days when we’d have great debates about which variety would be our signature variety. Remarkably, all those [riesling, merlot, etc.] have been planted and many more. We’ve found this state is an outstanding place to grow a broad array of grapes. Instead of the marketing spin for one or two grapes, we have the diversity to be excellent at producing many different varieties. At Ste. Michelle, we have built wineries in Woodinville, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Paterson, Prosser; there are so many great communities for wineries and for growing wine. I think the hallmark for Washington is premium varietal wines. We don’t make jug wines!”

Marty Clubb: I do think the Wine Institute has had a contributing role. We represent more than 95% of all the wine made in Washington. Part of our success has been in building relationships with the Legislature and Governor’s office. These have really transformed the laws of Washington state. 10 years ago we had post Prohibition wine laws; today we have the most modern wine laws of any state in the country.”

Lynne Chamberlin: “Everything we do is about quality; about creating great wines. We are constantly stepping it up. Trying to introduce new and exciting varieties that keep consumers excited, not just the standards. This report justifies and solidifies the things we have believed about where we are going with this industry – clean plant research, education programs, farm safety, the Wine Science Center, the Walter Clore Center... On the global scale, we are dealing with issues as a group. All the people in this room are pulling together, cooperating to do quality wine, and be good partners. We are meeting our strategic goals. This report proves it.”

Steve Warner: “This data comes in very handy as far as planning the next five years. We always want to know where we are going. We are a distant number two [in wine production]. How do we raise that bar? I look at this as a baseline for moving forward.”

PG: My own thoughts are essentially the same. This study puts a whole lot of meat on the bones of the industry. It should help motivate legislators to do whatever they possibly can to help this industry. Given the utter lack of any tourism promotion at the state level, the wine industry and its ancillary partners in tourism are our best hope to get visitors out to our restaurants, hotels, and B&Bs. Baseler went on to predict that we can double and triple the size of this industry over the next ten years. He sees “great growth ahead that will enhance jobs, revenue, and pride for the citizens of the state.”

How nice to have good news to share!

Yesterday I chatted for the better part of an hour with Alan Johnson, CEO of BevMo. They are one of the big national chains moving into Washington with plans to sell spirits, wine, beer and more in their stores. I will post up the notes from that interview on the next blog. Stay tuned!


Bill Smart said...

Paul - this is good news for WA wines for sure. As a California boy, I'm happy for WA. I think the wines up there are truly outstanding - the bloggers conference a few years ago really opened my eyes.

I'm not one of those CA people that says you should only drink CA wines. I say the more people drinking wine is good for all of us in the wine industry. Mondavi had this rising tides philosophy back in the 60's. Clearly it worked for Napa Valley. I like to learn from history.

John Skupny said...

Wow, your take is as snarky as your Governor's statement! The proposed competition serves the wine consumer no purpose... how about this for turning the other cheek,
"Washington State makes the Best Washington State wines and California makes the Best California Wines"
That is what is try to convince the Sonoma boyz to believe!

PaulG said...

John, give me a break! Does the word FUN ever enter your vocabulary? This is a FUN idea. Fun is good. I like fun.

ibglowin said...


Washington wine, what Washington wine, they don't make no wine in Washington, they only grow Apples and other fruits. Gorman, Ryan, Sparkman, Saviah, never heard of them...... Nope, no wine being made here in Washington, nothing to see here folks move along.....

At least let me finish filling my cellar to the max before letting the word out!

Anonymous said...

It's actually a shame Washington does not make "jug" wines. That implies a strong supply of grapes at a reasonable cost and sugar level that can be quickly turned into (somewhat) palatable wines. Heck, even Bordeaux has "jug" wines, although they are bottled in fifths. I remember well a comment you made a while back, Paul, about how to find Zinfandels like they used to be - namely, to look for inexpensive Zins from northern California. That is, what used to be jug wines - remember Pedroncelli? For me, that top-to-bottom range is the mark of a strong wine-making region.

PaulG said...

Anon, the reason CA can make jug wines is because they get 16 tons/acre from Central Valley grapes. No prospect of anything comparable coming from WA, nor would it do anything, in my opinion, to enhance the reputation of WA wines. There's quantity, and there's quality, and they don't have anything to do with each other.

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