A Message from OWC

Working together to face wine’s many challenges

By Fawn Barrie

We can all agree: 2020 has been the most challenging year in the history of our industry. It’s hard not to focus on the devastation from COVID-19 and wildfires, but it’s also important we take a moment to reflect on the resilience of wineries and vineyards in Oregon that will make it through these trying times and continue to produce some of the best wines in the world. If there’s any silver lining to 2020, it’s that we know when things get tough, we can still find ways to come together to support one another and make our industry stronger.

The Governor’s recent two-week freeze announcement impacting tasting rooms and restaurants at such a key time was frustrating and devastating to everyone who relies on Thanksgiving sales to sustain business. Wineries are not the cause of COVID-19 spread, and closing them at this important time for businesses facing so many challenges already, without justified cause, was shocking and frankly unjustified. The Oregon Wine Council is fighting alongside other industry advocates to pressure the state to immediately lift tasting room restrictions. While tasting rooms are not officially closed by these restrictions, no tasting or consumption can occur on site, a key element for wineries during the Thanksgiving weekends. Our advocacy for you on this will remain unrelenting until the last tasting room has restrictions lifted.

Because the challenges of 2020 forced cohesive industry action, the disagreements that split the industry in 2019 and led to the formation of the OWC are a distant memory to many. OWC was formed as an advocacy organization in August 2019 and started 2020 planning to grow our association to provide a voice for wineries and vineyards who felt they weren’t being heard. Like everyone, 2020 plans were quickly abandoned as focus turned to responding and adapting to the situations brought on by COVID-19 and subsequent wildfires. OWC has been proud to play a leading role in shaping the wine industry response, and we have worked hard to advocate for solutions to help both our members and the entire industry.

Started by a small group of committed industry leaders, OWC has grown into a statewide advocacy organization with wineries and growers of all sizes and AVAs, and with membership representing over 50% of Oregon wine grapes grown, produced and sold. Our members are committed to helping the industry achieve success. As a new advocacy association, OWC has been nimble – because we weren’t tied down by “the way it’s always been done;” our board can react, respond and invest our time and energy on impactful industry solutions. OWC was formed to give a new voice to wineries and vineyards across Oregon, and our formation was timely because never before has our industry needed so much support.

In the short time since establishing OWC, we have made significant progress. OWC is proud of our work to ensure the Oregon Wine Board, which is responsible for spending our taxes in support of the entire industry, will not have conflicting roles with a private advocacy organization as in 2019. We want OWB to be strong partners working for the industry to spend limited tax dollars effectively and efficiently. This year has shown the important role research plays in navigating issues like smoke exposure and the economic realities of COVID-19. The pandemic has and will likely continue to change how we sell wine. As we rethink the approach we take to marketing and selling our products, OWC is committed to ensuring the role OWB plays in that process reflects the changing dynamics we face.

In 2021, OWC will continue to provide leadership to ensure wineries and growers have a voice at the table when decisions are made that impact us, as we did with COVID-19 reopening guidelines, agriculture housing guidelines and harvest guidelines. We will work to mitigate expanded regulation like the OSHA infectious disease standard and will continue to be a resource for members as they implement new COVID-19 requirements. Our team remains engaged with the legislature, state agencies and advocacy groups outside our industry to ensure your voice is heard. We are proud of our board chair, Elin Miller, who was appointed to the Board of Agriculture by the Governor and excited for the wine industry to have a voice at that table.

Most importantly, we will continue to fight the proposed 800% increase in the wine tax, which equates to 22 cents per 5 ounces of wine. The last thing we need after closures, wildfires and the resulting economic loss is an increased tax of this magnitude. OWC will fight this tax and any other measures that increase your costs or further impact your business because we know you need time to recover.

This has been a challenging year for all Oregonians, but especially for those in our prized wine industry. OWC is committed to telling the stories of our wineries and vineyards so legislators and policymakers understand the impact decisions have on your businesses, employees and customers. If you’re interested in learning more about OWC, please visit our website at

Fawn Barrie serves as the executive director of the Oregon Wine Council. With more than two decades of advocacy, government affairs and association management expertise, she has worked as a government affairs consultant, as communications director for two House Majority leaders and on several campaigns. In addition to her work with the OWC, Fawn is a partner at Legislative Advocates Government Affairs.

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