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Oregon Wine Board Holds Promise
for a New Era of Oregon Wine Marketing

Cole Danehower

Oregon GovernorTed Kulongoski

When I told a California friend of mine that I was going to meet Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongowski, he said “Wow, that really means something . . . not like meeting our Governor!”

And in the context of meeting Oregon’s Governor, it did mean something: he was signing one of the most important pieces of legislation to the Oregon wine industry—and potentially to Oregon wine consumers—of recent years.

The law that Governor Kulongoski signed on September 23, 2003, established a new and independent Oregon Wine Board to help manage and oversee Oregon wine marketing and viticultural research. The intent of the legislation is to give the state’s wine industry greater autonomy, authority, and ability to develop, market, and promote Oregon wine.

Standing on the back lawn of Mahonia Hall, the Governor’s residence, the Governor talked to the assembled Oregon wine industry representatives about the importance of the industry and the new legislation.

As the sun set on the first day of Fall (and the first week of the vintage 2003 grape harvest), Governor Kulongoski pointed out that Oregon’s wine industry had grown dramatically over the years, adding significant economic impact to the state. He also remarked that it was an integral part of Oregon’s third most economically important industry: tourism.

Saying that he was working with other agencies to develop a new “Brand Oregon” campaign, the Governor told the assembly that Oregon’s wine industry should be an important part of what attracts tourists and businesses to the state.

Speaking of how tourists tend to view the different regions of America, the Governor saw marketing potential in Brand Oregon for Oregon’s wineries. “If New England ‘owns’ the autumn, and states like Colorado ‘own’ the winter,” he said, “then Oregon can ‘own’ the summer and that will be very important for Oregon’s wine industry.”

The new legislation is important to consumers as well as industry insiders. Getting the story of Oregon’s wines to a wider audience, with important messages about quality and variety, will result in more people buying and enjoying Oregon’s wines. As the market grows, it will help fuel further development and expansion, which will in turn result in wider choice and better quality for the consumer.

If the new legislation is successful, it will mean that everybody—Oregon wine buyers and Oregon wine makers win!

The new law replaces the old structure of an Oregon Wine Advisory Board (OWAB) that focused on research and promotion, and a separate lobbying body, the Oregon Winegrowers’ Association (OWA).

In the old regime, OWAB was a part of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and was responsible for managing monies raised from taxes paid by vineyards and wineries to fund research, marketing, and administration. But, hobbled by having to follow state operating rules, and by the terms of old legislation that no longer reflected the size and importance of the industry, OWAB had, essentially, outlived its usefulness.

Taking up the reins themselves, a number of key industry members began to develop a new plan that would replace OWAB and OWA with an updated structure that had more power. Though a source of great controversy within the industry—any change creates controversy—the potential benefits of the new idea were compelling, and during the summer a draft law successfully made the rounds of the state legislature.

The new law establishes an independent Oregon Wine Board (OWB) whose nine members—coming from within the wine industry—are appointed by the Governor. Removed from the state’s bureaucracy, the new organization will consolidate all sources of revenue, have the flexibility to raise new funds themselves, and be able to hire a professional staff independent of the state employment system.

A key intent of the new organization is to raise the effectiveness and presence of Oregon wine marketing. A consistent source of frustration—to both industry members and consumers—the lack of an effective marketing strategy for Oregon wine has been widely seen as an inhibitor to growth. While other wine producing regions—some larger, some smaller—have successfully promoted their products and seen concomitant growth, Oregon wine marketing has languished.

Compared with other wine producing regions, the market awareness of Oregon wine’s variety, quality, and innovation is not commensurate with its worldwide importance and impact. The new Oregon Wine Board has the potential to revolutionize how Oregon wines are promoted to a global marketplace.

The OWB will have the power to seek out and hire a marketing professional to serve as Executive Director, charged with developing and executing a compelling and effective marketing campaign for Oregon wines. And, OWB will wield the funding power to enable an increased—and hopefully sustained—level of marketing spending.

All of this is great news! The new organization reflects a new sophistication—and a renewed commitment—from Oregon’s winemakers to step up to the plate and finally make whole-industry marketing a vital and ongoing part of their lives.

Now we can only hope that the OWB (whose members will shortly be announced) does not shy away from the realities of what effective marketing means: deep thinking, true research, lots of money, and a sustained long-term view.

Consumers should keep their fingers crossed that the OWB is successful in raising the bar of promotion for Oregon wines! If they are successful, we’ll all be enjoying more and better Oregon wine!



About Cole Danehower

Cole Danehower is a wine writer specializing in the Pacific Northwest.
Since 1999 he has edited and published the Oregon Wine Report, the newsletter of record for Oregon wine consumers. In 2003 the Oregon Wine Report was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award as one of the three best food and wine newsletters in North America.

In addition to his column for Avalon, Cole also writes the "Inside
Northwest Wine" column for Northwest Palate magazine, and his wine writing has appeared in The Oregonian, as well other newspapers and websites.

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