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Drink Washington Wines, Campaign Suggests

Wine commission's campaign bears fruit across the state, as locals enjoy lower price-points

by Peter Mitham
Barking Frog
In wine-centric Woodinville, Wash., the Barking Frog restaurant in the Willows Lodge is one of more than 70 restaurants statewide participating in the Washington Wine Commission's two-month promotion.
Seattle, Wash  -- The first in-state marketing campaign by the Washington Wine Commission coincides with an upswing in interest among local bars and restaurants in the state’s wine, as recessionary influences have driven declines in prices.

While promotions designed to attract consumers to some of the state’s fine wines roll out, some of those wines have been finding a home at establishments such as Seattle’s Black Bottle Gastro-Tavern. “Washington wine, in my mind, used to be very boutique-y,” said Noah Goldman, who oversees wine purchases at the Belltown wine bar.

But during his five years working at the Black Bottle he’s observed a shift. Many producers, prompted in part by the recession, have reduced the prices of upper-tier wines, while others are releasing wines that are approachable in both style and price.

  • Ste. Michelle Wine Estates continues to produce its Stimson Estate Cellars brand, contrary to information published in a news brief in the October issue. Wines & Vines regrets the error.

The industry has seen Chateau Ste. Michelle abandon plans to discontinue its Stimson Estate Cellars brand, which offers 1.5-liter bottles for about $10 (see Wines & Vines headline, “Value Drives Northwest Wine Sales”), restaurants are finding value in unique premium brands that fit the cost-quality equation they’re crunching.

Goldman pointed to a blend such as Walla Walla-based Gifford Hirlinger’s Stateline Red among the wines that deliver value at the $32 to $36 per bottle price range it targets. “For a long time, Washington didn’t work in that equation. When the recession came and the economy changed, the marketplace changed,” Goldman said. “There was a lot more value in Washington wine -- and not just the high-end aspects.”

Washington state wines now account for about 18 of the 45 to 50 wines on the Black Bottle’s list. Its regionally oriented Pacific Northwest list features nine wines from the state, and it plans to expand with the addition of several whites in the run-up to the opening of its new location in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue in early 2011.

Commission’s campaign

The wine commission’s new promotion aims to further whet the Evergreen State’s palate for Washingtonian wines. The two-month “World-Class Wine in Your Own Backyard” promotion is backed by more than $100,000 in radio, print, online and mobile advertising. Among the initiatives designed to increase the profile -- and sales -- of Washington wines are prix-fixe dinners for $25, savings of up to 50% per bottle and various special events. Participants include more than 70 restaurants across the state, 50-plus winery tasting rooms and nine retail stores.

“As of the end of March, Washington’s share of the wine market in Washington state stood at 25%,” Ryan Pennington, senior communications manager with the Washington Wine Commission told Wines & Vines. “We believe that there is significant room for growth there, which is one of the driving factors behind our new local campaign. We know that this will require a sustained effort over the long term, however.”

The effort is already paying off. While the Black Bottle isn’t on the wine commission’s list of participating restaurants, Goldman said the commission’s efforts have helped boost awareness of Washington wine. “I’ve become a lot more educated about local wine, and I think that has a lot to do with the Washington Wine Commission,” Goldman said. “They are everywhere and there are a great deal of events.”

But he was clear that price is the winning point for value-oriented restaurants and consumers, and was the decisive factor in translating his knowledge into purchase decisions. “Washington wine came to us, and we were able to use it,” Goldman said.

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