By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Oregon wine racks up record run

The Oregon Wine Board recently announced the 483 wineries under its umbrella sold more than 2 million cases of wine in a single calendar year for the first time in the industry’s 50-year history.

Underscoring that growth, the announcement noted that over the past 11 years, Oregon wine sales have doubled. The industry just surpassed the 1 million case mark in 2001, it reported.

Those of us who live in the Yamhill Valley have the good fortune to be right in the middle of this wine phenomenon. We can observe first-hand what it means to the state’s economy.

Economists tell us that if all aspects of the Oregon wine industry were taken into account, its influence on business activity would actually exceed $3 billion. That’s a pretty big number when you consider it takes only $7 billion a year to fund state government in Oregon.

Oregon’s gross annual domestic product is estimated at $169 billion, which works out to $43,650 for each of its 3.87 million residents. That represents more than 1 percent of the total American gross domestic product of $14.6 trillion, which translates to $38,670 for each of the nation’s 311.6 million residents.

But I digress. Let’s get back to earth — the kind of earth suited for winegrape growing.

In Oregon, it’s all about terroir. The way a wine tastes is directly related to where the grapes were grown.

Charles Humble, communications director for the Oregon Wine Board, acknowledged a commitment to broadcasting that story. “It’s an important aspect of our public education efforts,” he said.

OWB lends support to AVA associations whose promotional efforts center around geographical and geological advantages. In fact, its new website features links to every AVA website in the state.

Tom Danowski took over as executive director at OWB in December 2011. And he can point to several significant accomplishments during his tenure.

In February 2012, the annual Oregon Wine Symposium was held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland for the first time. It had outgrown the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Eugene.

Just two months after the industry’s largest-ever annual symposium, OWB staged UnWined, a major public event in Portland, featuring 100 wineries from around the state.

UnWined offered wine appreciators an unprecedented opportunity to taste the wines and talk with the folks who made them. It was the kind of personal encounter for which Oregon wine is becoming renowned.

Just launched in December, the Oregon Wine Board’s new website allows visitors to access every Oregon wine industry organization through a single online source.

Around the state, winery associations have been put in place for the purpose of promoting areas with similar interests. Currently there are 12 of them, based quite literally on common ground.

Additionally, the OWB site features a month-by-month calendar of events around the state, a history of the industry and links to visitors associations and overviews of all 12 regional associations.

Despite these positive steps, Danowski says he is redoubling his efforts to gain greater distribution for Oregon wines, both within and outside the state’s borders.

“Fans of Oregon wine would like to see it more available at retail and on wine lists,” Danowski said. “The primary challenge is to get the word out about Oregon wine and expand its distribution.”

A University of Oregon graduate, Danowski has put his emphasis on strategic marketing planning.

His career path took him to Seattle where he worked for Ste. Michelle Estates, which accounts for half of Washington’s wine production.

Taking advantage of the contacts he established during those years, he has reinforced his strong relationship with the Washington State Wine Commission ever since joining OWB.

These endeavors are beginning to bear fruit. “In conjunction with the Washington commission, we go to international markets as a joint Northwest force,” he said.

Danowski is also working closely with representatives of Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism arm.

“They’re talking to people all over the world about coming to Oregon,” he said in an interview with Wines & Vines. “And my ability to drive them to communicate more of the winery itinerary as part of that travel pitch is helpful.”

Danowski noted that as part of its promotional efforts, Travel Oregon recently produced a TV commercial devoted entirely to the Oregon wine industry.

Although the role of the Oregon Wine Board is to help promote the industry statewide, when one region garners major accolades, it’s something to celebrate.

In its most recent issue, the nationally distributed Wine Enthusiast magazine selected its “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2013.” And Oregon’s Willamette Valley was one.

Humble said, “This is another feather in the Willamette Valley’s cap. It’s the heart of pinot noir country and the variety leads the way in Oregon.

“In fact,” he said, “this area is receiving so much attention that Portland has been selected to host the third annual Wine Tourism Conference. It’s scheduled for the Doubletree Inn on Nov. 14 and 15, 2013, with attendees coming from all over the country.”

Coupled with Wine Spectator’s glowing coverage of Oregon in 2012, the industry seems to be on a roll approaching its annual symposium, which is scheduled for Feb. 19-20, 2013 at the Oregon Convention Center.

The symposium is the Oregon Wine Board’s showcase event of the year, and Danowski’s team is putting final preparations on what appears to be another stellar event. Exhibitor spaces are sold out.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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