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Oregon Agency Director Learns Wine

Newcomer discovers unique aspects of wine business

by Kate Lavin
Jeanette Morgan
Since taking over as executive director of the Oregon Wine Board in November, Jeanette Morgan has been contacting winegrowers and winemakers to discuss their needs.
Portland, Ore.—It’s been seven months since Jeanette Morgan signed on as executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, a small state agency charged with evangelizing Oregon wine inside and beyond state borders. During that time, the former vice president of global government affairs at California-based National Semiconductor Corp. has “been making lots of trips” to meet with the state’s winegrowers and winery owners and learning about their needs.

According to Morgan, the willingness to collaborate and share information took her by surprise, because it sets the Oregon wine industry apart from other business sectors. “They are so willing to help each other out, lend each other equipment…even some intellectual property—which isn’t true in a lot of other industries,” Morgan said. Wine business models tend to be different than those of other sectors, she observed.

Uncontrollable weather forces decision-makers to be innovative in their thinking, and Morgan said that the diverse backgrounds of some Oregon winemakers and growers—“everything from sales to rocket science”—bring a lot to the table.

Making priorities

After visiting vineyards and wineries across the state, Morgan summarized the industry’s main goals for the three agencies her position leads: the Oregon Wine Board, Oregon Winegrowers Association and the Trust for Oregon Wine Education.

• Investing in research and education
• Marketing Oregon wines
• Building and collaboration

As far as research, Morgan said the OWB invests about a quarter of a million dollars each year in research programs to benefit the wine industry. Growers and vintners would “like to see the continuation with the research. That’s what’s going to keep us a key differentiator,” she said.

In addition to the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium, which draws more than 900 attendees each year, Morgan said the board is working on creating webinar programs to educate Oregon winery staffers about topics such as social media and better business practices. A partnership with the Oregon Wine Research Institute bodes well for the possibility of more technological seminars.

Morgan added that her staff is working with the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine program to publicize information about the growing list of wineries with OCSW-certified wines (currently there are 21).

“We’re doing a lot of partnering and building and collaboration,” said Morgan, who is forging relationships with tourism sites such as Travel Oregon, an Oregon Tourism Commission program. 

On the move
As a state agency, the Oregon Wine Board’s board of directors is appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber; three board members will be termed out in December 2011. Additionally, personnel changes in the OWB staff have taken place since Morgan took over. For example, veteran public relations executive Charles Humble now serves as marketing and communications director, and Nicole Arrington was brought on board as the group’s operations manager. Morgan said that she participated in the interview process for other positions, but declined to specify which ones.

“Staff changes with any change in leadership,” she said. “The new people we’ve brought on board are terrific. We’re a small organization, and we’re a nimble organization.”

Up and coming
Morgan said the health of the Oregon wine industry, from the cool Willamette Valley to warm Southern Oregon, is the factor that excites her most about prospects for the OWB. “It has a vibrant future because of its quality focus. I’m excited to help drive that,” she said. “You have Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon really making progress and being up and coming. It’s a great story.”

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