Vineyards in Oregon and Washington share a state border but differ in many ways. They have different grape varieties, different climates and different production methods.
But they're teaming up to mount the largest promotion of Northwest wines so far on the world's premier wine stage &
With a $200,000 federal trade grant, about three dozen wineries from the two states will host a daylong professional tasting and education session Monday for restaurateurs, wine-shop owners and, importantly, the United Kingdom's internationally influential wine writers.
A weaker dollar is making American wines more affordable abroad, and the United Kingdom is a $20 billion wine market.
"London is the epicenter of worldwide wine influence," said Ted Farthing, Oregon Wine Board executive director. "You can't be a viable international brand without representation there."
Oregon sales to the United Kingdom and France have been modest, 2,052 cases in 2006, up from 1,419 the year before.
Domestically, Oregon winemakers made some 1.5 million cases in 2006. But with the growing popularity of Oregon pinot noir, producers sense it is time to spread out.
"People who really know their wines here already know about the Northwest," said Mike Coveney, the London-based wine distributor hired by the Oregon and Washington wine commissions to raise their profile in the U.K. "But for many others, who have never even heard of Oregon or Washington, the stars are really aligned to get their attention."
Two years ago, wines from 11 of Oregon's 350 commercial wineries were distributed in the U.K. That number has doubled and is growing.
"For us, there's really no downside to this," said Kristin Marchesi of Montinore Estate in Forest Grove, which is beginning to look abroad and will be represented in London.
"We're living in a global economy. It only makes sense to be part of that."
Oregon's pinot noir producers can sell all they make domestically but say trends can change.
"We can't assume it's always going to be this easy to sell Oregon wine," said winemaker Adam Campbell, whose family founded Elk Cove Vineyards in Gaston in 1974. "For the long term, for the next 50 years, we need to be prepared to get into new markets."
Elk Cove, which sells about 80 percent of its wines outside Oregon, has plenty of company seeking expansion.
Small crops in 2004 and 2005 left many wineries scrambling just to meet domestic distribution contracts. Some closed their tastings rooms or opened them only by appointment.
Harvests picked up in 2006 and 2007, meaning wineries can further age wines before shipping and use some of the surplus to explore new markets.
Dundee's A to Z' Winery's first 500-case shipment to the U.K. is barely a dent in its annual 130,000-case production. Deb Hatcher, a principal in the winery, said other international markets, such as Japan, Canada, South Korea and India, may be more lucrative.
"This is the first time I've had any wine to play with," Hatcher said. "But this is all about building relationships and being in this for the long term. We aren't expecting miracles."
"But the wine press is so influential in the U.K.," she said. "If you want to be successful elsewhere, you really need to get their attention first."
Consolidation of major U.S. wine distributors means a handful of them ship nearly 80 percent of the nation's domestic production. Small wineries, lacking volume and name recognition, face long odds.
"A lot of things are coming together to provide some real opportunities for all of us," said Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, which will be represented at the London tasting. "The timing is incredible right now."
Information from: The Oregonian, http:www.oregonlive.com
Northwest to promote wines in England