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Oregon Wine Leader Bullish About 2013

Wine board director claims strong ties with Washington, says biggest challenge is distribution

by Peter Mitham
Tom Danowski
Tom Danowski says fans of Oregon wine would like to see it more available at retail and on wine lists.
Portland, Ore.—A year into his role as executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, Tom Danowski is looking forward to a budding network of relationships to open doors for state wineries.

Danowski, who oversaw imported wine for Washington state’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and took several upscale clothing and lifestyle brands to market success prior to joining the Oregon Wine Board in December 2011, has spent the past year building connections.

He’s met with wineries and grapegrowers across the state and sought to cultivate ties with the Washington State Wine Commission and Travel Oregon (the state’s tourism body), both of which can support the international profile of Oregon’s wine industry.

“They’re talking to people all over the world about coming to Oregon, and my ability to drive them to communicate more of the winery itinerary as part of that travel pitch is helpful,” Danowski said.

The efforts are paying off: Travel Oregon currently has a television spot focusing exclusively on Oregon wine as part of its promotional materials.

Friends to the north
Work with his counterparts in Washington state also has been important.

“We both go to international markets as a joint Northwest force,” Danowski said.

Oregon Wine Board successfully applied for federal funds to support its international marketing efforts in 2013. Danowski told Wines & Vines the funds will be unaffected by the ongoing budget wrangling in Washington, D.C. (Danowski doesn’t expect any significant funding challenges for the industry in the foreseeable future.)

The relationships are carrying through on the optimism Danowski expressed during his first week on the job, when he told Wines & Vines that Oregon had a bright future with more to offer the world than Pinot Noir. Speaking to Wines & Vines this week, he said the primary challenge facing the industry is to get the word out about Oregon wine and expand its distribution.

“Oregon’s quality is well known among all us insiders,” he said. “We want to just go to the next two or three concentric circles out from the industry’s real insiders and get even more awareness for Oregon’s quality: more distributors, more importers, more restaurateurs.”

Distribution is a challenge
Statistics about distribution won’t be available until the Nielsen report card for the industry is released in late January, but the 2011 Oregon Winery Census Report prepared for the Oregon Wine Board by the Southern Oregon University Research Center recently pegged annual case sales at 2 million in 2011. Danowski sees an opportunity to grow that number through greater distribution that serves the growing awareness of Oregon wine among consumers.

“Our research tells us that those people who know Oregon wine and think highly of it would be just thrilled if it were a little easier to find sometimes on wine store shelves and restaurant wine lists,” he said.

Danowski continues to commute to Portland from Seattle, but the native of Beaverton, Ore., plans to make the move south permanently after his son finishes high school this spring.

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