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I have the good fortune of meeting lots of winemakers. I have met some of the icons in the industry, people who helped establish their regions and set trends. But, when I was in the Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour, we attended a seminar with the Willamette Valley wine pioneers. This was not just a discussion of the people or a tasting of their wines but they, the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley, were there. It was not lost on me how legendary this panel was. These are the people who built the Willamette Valley and they shared their stories which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and you can read here. “It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I am the kid,” declared Jason Lett as he welcomed a group of wine writers to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jason’s father, David Lett, first saw the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon.
A Utah native, David Lett moved to San Francisco for dental school in 1963 and was introduced to Napa Valley. He decided instead to study viticulture at UC Davis and after graduating, he moved to Oregon. According to Willamette Valley Wine, Pinot Noir was the first post-Prohibition vitis vinifera variety planted in the north Willamette Valley and the reason Lett came to Oregon. After studying the geography and climate of western Oregon, he had an idea of what would do well in the cool climate. Lett planted his vines in the Dundee Hills, establishing the Eyrie Vineyard, and produced his first wine in 1970.
As Jason spoke about his father, he sat alongside Richard and Nancy Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry and Susan Sokol-Blosser.
This story originally appeared in Wine Industry Advisor. Across the entire wine industry, there are significant challenges, stated Robert McMillan, executive vice president and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division at the recent forum of Santa Barbara’s wine industry. Premiumization is the dominant trend, but continuing consolidation of distribution is significantly limiting wineries access to consumers. To address this issue, McMillan stressed the need for direct-to-consumer sales. While direct sales are not necessarily more profitable than through wholesalers, explained McMillan, “it is more about necessity.” However, direct to consumer sales have their own constraints and require an investment in hospitality to attract consumers and make the emotional connection. “In the past year, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of regulations gone haywire. They are frustrating family winery owners across the country, increasing the cost of doing business and reaching the point where some of the regulations will put family-run wineries out of business. The problem can’t be ignored, and it’s not going away by itself.” McMillan wrote in his State of the Wine Industry 2017 report (p55).
This story originally appeared in Wine Industry Network Advisor. Running a wine association takes a tireless multi-tasker. The job is a combination of strategy, business development, marketing, finance and politics. It takes understanding the needs of the association, as well as the community as a whole. It is about managing the desires of a diverse group, from large producers to small producers. morgenprofilepicture2 Morgen McLaughlin knows this all too well. She has spent time on both coasts running wine associations, first working with the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association in Upstate New York and now on the west coast as the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. McLaughlin was raised in Connecticut, not exactly in wine country. But, in 1978, when she was six years old, her parents started a winery and vineyard on the family property. With a farm on the property, a winery was a value add to their lifestyle. From that point on, she grew up riding tractors and working harvest and all associated wine activities. In response, McLaughlin had no interest in working in the wine industry. “I wanted to do the opposite,” she explained. “I wanted to get off the farm and get away from family so I went to school in Boston and studied to be high school English teacher.”
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