COMMENTARY

Generic vs. Geographic

By Karl Klooster

Formed in October of last year, the Southern Willamette Wineries Association has been gearing up to launch a promotional campaign on behalf of its member wineries.

SWWA joins nine other intra-Oregon winery associations, all operating independently of the statewide Oregon Wine Board. Each is trying to attract visitors to their areas in general and their wineries in particular.

Eugene-based Rossetti Marketing has been hired by SWWA to devise strategies aimed at achieving that goal. Association president Buzz Kawders of Domaine Meriwether said they were impressed by the company’s strength in social media and event coordination.

 The desire of SWWA members to build their own distinct identity is certainly understandable. Being lumped into the Willamette Valley AVA since its establishment in 1984 made them play second fiddle to the boys farther north for much too long.

But, as the newest among these associations, SWWA has a long road ahead in its journey to achieve anything approaching the awareness enjoyed by the well-aestablished areas and noted sub-AVAs within them.

This is not to say they aren’t deserving of greater recognition. Among the association’s members are producers whose wines are among the state’s best. But they’ll need to come out strong and show staying power in order to gain ground.

Current membership includes Benton-Lane Winery, Chateau Lorane, Domaine Meriwether, High Pass Winery, Iris Vineyards, King Estate Winery, LaVelle Vineyards, Noble Estate, Pfeiffer Winery, Rainsong Vineyard, Saginaw Vineyard, Sweet Cheeks Winery, Shadow Mountain Winery, Territorial Vineyards, Capitello Wines and Sarver Vineyard.

Kawders said additional new member wineries are expected to join the association over the next few months. He further emphasized the importance of having a clear message.

Rossetti Marketing president Denise Vendley said, “SWWA members want to raise interest in our region and to position the brand from Central California to Northern Washington State as the premier destination location for high caliber wines, intimate boutique winery experiences, premier wine events as well as overall region enjoyment.”

Targeting the contiguous geographic swath from Seattle to San Francisco makes perfect sense. Most Southern Willamette Valley wineries are situated within a few miles of the I-5 corridor, providing convenient driving access from both major metro areas and, of course, everywhere in between.

The wine experience offered to visitors ranges from Oregon’s largest winery, King Estate, with a hilltop presence rivaling any Napa Valley’s most elaborate edifices, to boutique producers epitomizing the state’s tradition of dedicated hands-on owners.

King Estate’s Gris has set the standard nationwide and can be credited with making the varietal a signature wine for Oregon.

At Domaine Meriwether, they’ll be treated to sparkling wine that comes so close to the original, it’s almost like being in France’s Champagne District. Benton-Lane’s award-winning Pinot Noirs have consistently earned top rankings from Wine Spectator magazine.

Visitors using the city of Eugene as a base of operations have the best of both rural and urban at their bidding. Oregon’s second largest city and home to the University of Oregon offers culture, fine dining and diverse shopping in a relaxed but sophisticated environment.

A day trip out of Eugene would allow the average wine aficionado an opportunity to easily visit five or six SWWA member wineries by choosing ones clustered close together south and west of the city.

An ambitious buff might go farther away to ensure the total experience. But, in this case, “farther” means no more than about 20 miles to reach the most distant winery.

Underlying it all is excellent value. One look at the price lists of any of the association’s 16 members reveals the highly competitive mindset shared by this group. Pastoral settings framed by two mountain ranges complete the picture.

Even given these enticing attributes, marketplace realities make the task a challenging one for reasons that reach well beyond any single area of the state.

When Vendley mentioned positioning the “brand,” she was referring to this specific geographic area and the wineries located within it. But, the much more crucial factor in generating sales for the state’s wine industry is building Brand Oregon.

Winery owners will tell you this is the Oregon Wine Board’s job. Each winery is mandated by the state to pay into a fund supporting OWB’s efforts. It’s then up to the board to determine the most effective ways to spend those promotional funds.

In fact, it’s an effort that every Oregon winery should contribute to as an integral aspect of their marketing activities. Creating an image of world-class quality nationally and internationally would provide a sales tool surpassing all others.

Embracing Brand Oregon, not just Western, Southern, Eastern or any geographic locality within those broader regions, is the master key to success for the state’s wine industry. But, how best to do that remains the key question. 

For more information and to learn more about the wineries, events and region visit www.southwillamettewineries.com.

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