By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Wine symposium centers on Portland

Karl Klooster/News-RegisterGiant earth-moving machines loom over the Pihl Excavating booth at the Oregon Convention Center.
Karl Klooster/News-Register
Giant earth-moving machines loom over the Pihl Excavating booth at the Oregon Convention Center.

Of course, wine is much more than sophisticated farming, as crucial as that may be to the outcome. The ambrosial end product conjures up all manner of intense interest and copious comment.

In his address to luncheon attendees, the Oregon Wine Board’s executive director, Tom Danowsky, concluded, “There has never been a better time for Oregon wine.” And so it would seem, as the industry emerges from the economic doldrums that never reached the depths some feared.

One look at the sprawling Convention Center hall, filled to capacity with vendors, left no doubt that Oregon wine is on a roll.

Interestingly, while vineyard and winery owners hosted the event, they were also the main beneficiaries. They came, more than anything else, to show their wares.

Some 160 vendors offered everything from labels to legal assistance, nurseries to shipping services, corks to cooperage, bottles to insurance coverage were eager to interact with these potential clients.

The trade show, held in the big hall, was the main attraction. A series of seminars targeted various aspects of the industry in more depth.

Highly regarded speakers led business, viticulture and oenology tracks ranging in topic from brand definition to spray technology.

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Estates, keynoted the event with a presentation titled, “The Importance of the Oregon Brand.” His company, long a major player in Washington, entered the Oregon market in 2006 with the purchase of Erath Vineyards.

Since Baseler went to work for Ste. Michelle in 1984, the company has grown from $14 million to $561 million in annual sales, making it the seventh largest wine company in the country.

Baseler said that the potential for Oregon wine is virtually unlimited. He said its growth is outpacing that of such major producing areas as Italy, Australia and, indeed, neighboring Washington.

He stressed the value of cooperation among the Pacific Northwest wine growing states — Oregon, Washington and Idaho — in drawing attention to the merits of the region both nationally and internationally.

It was interesting to get the take of those who set up a booth and stand by waiting for prospects to come to them.

Most of them don’t attend the seminars. They may not even catch the splashy dinner that highlights the affair, a sold-out affair catered by preeminent Portland restauranteur Bruce Carey at the Doubletree Lloyd Center.

Let’s take a brief look at just three of these vendors — Pihl Excavating, Ship Compliant and American Family Insurance. They perform vital but very different services.

When a winery wants to put up a new building or put in a new vineyard, site preparation is essential. When it wants to ship wine directly to a distant customer, compliance with rules and regulations is essential. When it employs people working with machinery, maintenance of insurance is essential.

Matt Pihl, owner of Pihl Excavating, did his first winery project in 1998.

“Willamette Valley Vineyards had just bought Tualatin Estate outside of Forest Grove,” he recalled. “We were nearby in Banks, did a good job and started getting referrals from there.”

Pihl, pronounced “peal,” has since helped dozens of wineries around northwestern Oregon plan and execute site preparation. His massive moving and reshaping equipment has also been used to prepare thousands of acres for vineyard planting.

Ken Vasko, marketing director at Denver-based Ship Compliant, promotes a service that has helped hundreds of wineries keep on the straight and narrow. He facilitates the sending of hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine to customers in the 38 states that allow it

Vasko said, “The Supreme Court decision of 2005 opened the floodgates for interstate wine shipping. We’ve been going at top speed to serve clients around the country ever since.”

Agents of American Family Insurance offer coverage specifically tailored to the wine industry in states where wine is important. Quoting from the company’s message to agrarian clients, Oregon sales director Rob Quesnel said, “Let American Family protect your land-based legacy with coverage that works as hard as you do.”

It’s all part of the dynamic business activity that makes the industry continue its climb to world prominence in America’s fourth-largest winemaking state.

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

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