Washington Wines Get Star Power

In a slow economy, northwest winemakers drop prices, turn to celebrities and get savvy with bloggers.
By Anna King |   October 2010   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Photograph by Sarah Prout
Geoff Tate Insania
Geoff Tate, of the local band Queensrÿche, has launched his own wine label, Insania, with Three Rivers Winery.

For a while, it seemed as if a new winery was opening every few days in Washington.

Glamorous winery launch parties featured lush catering, Cirque du Soleil-caliber entertainment and expensive gifts for guests. Pro golfers, dentists and movie stars were making the drive over the Cascades or flying to eastern Washington to rack their new barrels and watch over the crush. Owning a winery appeared to be the new yacht among many affluent. In the space of one year, 2005 to 2006, 100 wineries were launched. Now, there are about 680 wineries in Washington state alone, according to the Washington Wine Commission.

But, along with the booming economy, the grape rush is over—for now. Commission officials say they’ve seen a slowing of new license applications and it’s become more difficult to sell the thousands of cases those wine houses produce.

“I haven’t heard of as many wineries for sure starting up right now,” says Gilles Nicault, who makes some of the most prestigious wine in Washington state for Long Shadows Wineries. “It’s pretty easy to see right now there are enough wineries for the moment.”

But he adds that wineries and vineyards are quietly putting themselves up for sale—and they’re not just small players. Still, winemakers have to be an optimistic bunch. They work years ahead of themselves, ordering barrels and contracting vineyards. And wine experts say it’s not bad for everyone: Consumers can get their hands on great wine for less these days.

To survive in this increasingly tough market, shrewd winemakers are using new marketing tactics to sell off vintages before the next batch of juice comes in fresh from the vines. Some things wineries are trying: lower prices, celebrities and social media.

Juice Dump

Nowadays, vineyard managers are actively pursuing new winemakers they wouldn’t have considered selling their A-list grapes to a few years ago. And some grapes are going unsold.

For oenophiles, now is the time to buy. Once-expensive bottles are coming down to more affordable price points and affordable wines are getting slashed, too.

“They are making a wine that was supposed to be a $30 and it’s going to be $15,” says Paul Gregutt, a well-known wine writer and blogger who splits his time

    Subscribe Free     Free Insight Newsletter