NEWS / FEATURES

Danowski Sketches Success

Oregon Wine Board/Oregon Winegrowers Association Executive Director Tom Danowski enjoys a glass of Big Fire Red at R. Stuart & Company’s downtown McMinnville wine bar.

Story by Hilary Berg/Photo by Marcus Larson

On Dec. 6, the Oregon Wine Board (OWB) and Oregon Winegrowers Association (OWA) announced Tom Danowski as the new executive director of the state’s largest wine industry organization.

Danowski, a native of Beaverton and graduate of Sunset High School in 1979 and University of Oregon in 1983, was chosen by the OWB’s board of directors from a field of more than 120 candidates.

While the Oregon connection was a plus, perhaps his other attributes most impressed the board: Outgoing personality? Check. Commanding presence? Check. Ability to communicate? Check. Impressive résumé?  Double check.

For the past two years, Danowski managed a successful strategic marketing consulting business in the Seattle area; previously he was director of winery marketing at Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest Wine Estates, the Northwest’s largest wine producer and one of the industry’s most respected brands.

Add to his credentials chief operating officer for Seattle’s Best Coffee (until it was acquired by Starbucks Coffee), vice president of global marketing for Cutter & Buck and chief marketing officer of Gene Juarez Salons & Spas, and it’s clear to see OWB chose a great candidate.

From his vast experience in consumer marketing, Danowski hopes to continue enriching the $2.7 billion Oregon wine industry. As executive director, he is the strategic leader for OWB’s and OWA’s marketing, education and research programs.

With 420 wineries and 850 vineyard owners, Danowski has a fair number of constituents to appease and many varying personalities to unite, but from his experience, he knows no one can always please everyone.

“When I was hired, I [told the board], ‘There are no silver bullets when it comes to uniting everybody,’ and so I am not going to spend any time looking for them.

“As I hear people out, and as they are willing to hear me ask questions and think about some of the strategies we need to move forward with, there isn’t anybody who disagrees with what is good for Oregon is good for everybody,” Danowski said. “We will continue to fight to raise the esteem and awareness and acceptance of Oregon wines around the world. Everyone is united around that.”

From the day he was hired, Danowski has been hitting the road, re-familiarizing himself with and re-engaging in Oregon.

“During December, I was able to get over to the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, as well as visit some wineries in Lane County and up and down the Willamette Valley. Before January is done, I'll have visited Umpqua Valley and the Rogue, too.

“People are so gracious with their invitations,” Danowski continued. “They are anxious to have this office continue the momentum that has been started the last few months and accelerate it further.”

In the coming months, especially at the Oregon Wine Symposium held in Portland in late February, Danowski will have many opportunities to meet winery owners and winegrowers from across the state. But in the near-term, his focus is on implementing the robust calendar impressively organized by Interim Director Steve Burns, Burns’ assistant, Stacy Jacob, and full-time staffers Charles Humble and Katie Bray.

The upcoming calendar includes: the Seattle Wine & Food Experience, Feb. 26, at which 30 Oregon wineries are expected to pour; and Unwine’d: Celebrating Oregon Wine, an Oregon wine grand tasting, April 29, involving 100 wineries or more in downtown Portland with food provided by Superior Wine Cellar award-winning restaurants. This new event will kick-off the newly declared Oregon Wine Month of May.

“Oregon Wine Month will be heavily promoted at retailers and in the media,” Danowski said. “We expect it will attract some people from outside the area but probably more on a regional basis than national. This is the first year, and we hope to make it one that every year gets on people’s calendars.”

OWB has plans to join Travel Oregon on a trip to New York City, where there will be a tasting of Oregon wines, and has secured editorial appointments and opportunities that they will take advantage of, too. Throw in the Wine Bloggers Conference, Aug. 17–19, and the American Wine Society National Conference, Nov. 8–10, and the Oregon wine industry is already prepared to have a fantastic year of national attention.

Raising awareness of Oregon wine is a major goal of the OWB. Danowski’s fully aware of what insiders have called “Brand Oregon” in the past. He says the marketing of the state as whole is important, but it’s only one piece of the marketing pie.

“Remember, as with any consumer product, we deal with many segments of the market,” Danowski said. “The person who shops at Costco is different from the customer at a fine wine bottle shop, who is different from a trade representative. We have multiple audiences, so the concept of “Brand Oregon” is certainly relevant to some parts of that audience to whom the idea of Oregon wine is brand new. But once you get past that level of initial awareness, then I think there is an opportunity to message more deeply about the individual geographies and certainly about other varieties.”

Danowski says the intial introduction to Oregon wine is, and should be, Pinot Noir.

“It’s foolish to ignore and foolish to not take advantage of [Pinot’s success],” Danowski explained. “If we are introducing Oregon to a wine consumer for the first time, Pinot Noir will be a big part of that discussion. Pinot gives us great credibility to talk about the other wines we have to offer.”

Varying levels of messaging for different audiences is crucial to Danowski’s overall strategy.

“Segmentation is absolutely VITAL to making the most of a modest budget,” he said. “We will spend very little time thinking about the general market; instead, we will spend a lot of time thinking about specific media, trade and consumer segments. We need to be as efficient as we can with our money and messaging to those audiences.”

At the heart of successful and meaningful marketing strategies is research and analysis, an area in which Danowski has much experience.

“Everybody is hungry for some shared understanding based on research. Everybody is very excited to do more with Pinot but to do more with the other things Pinot enabled us to do, which is to get people talking about Oregon wine.”

 “We need to build connective tissue across the geographies within Oregon in order to share a little bit more market intelligence and how we are perceived. We will try to reach agreements based on mutual understandings of how our business is viewed.”

As 2012 gets underway, Danowski is energized to continue the momentum at the OWB and OWA. But, as with most successful endeavors, acknowledging the past is an important part of a prosperous future.

“We have the shoulders of all these great founding fathers to stand on,” Danowski said. “We have a business that many growing regions in the world would kill for, as far as a Pinot Noir reputation. Anybody in Southern Oregon or the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley would agree that we should stand on those pioneers’ shoulders and build from there.”

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