Woodinville Wine Country to Focus on Tourism

Group's events are popular with the public; new goal is luring visitors from region and beyond

by Peter Mitham
mike stevens woodinville
Mike Stevens of Brian Carter Cellars says the goal of a strategic plan proposed by Woodinville Wine Country is to increase tourism.
Woodinville, Wash.—Northwest wineries no longer have to worry about getting people into their tasting rooms, what is changing is how they attract those visitors.

On July 10 Woodinville Wine Country, the local association that has been the de facto organization for the Seattle suburb’s 97 tasting rooms and wineries, announced that it was shifting its focus to marketing the destination rather than coordinating events.

Originally established in 2002, the organization fueled the growth of a vibrant cluster of tasting rooms that attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually through festivities such as the spring Passport to Woodinville tasting event and December’s St. Nicholas Open House.

“The structure of the organization as it grew was dependent primarily on our two major events, our spring Passport event and our holiday St. Nick’s event. And those were events that, again, brought consumers to those wineries that really weren’t open on a daily basis,” explained Mike Stevens, general manager of Brian Carter Cellars and president of Woodinville Wine Country. “It was more of that direct consumer rather than just tourists, per se.”

Today, the city’s tasting rooms have become so popular that three roundabouts were installed at key intersections to help manage traffic. A significant contingent of Eastern Washington wineries have also set up shop in the area to establish a presence near the key Seattle market. Lachini Vineyards from Newberg, Ore., even opened a tasting room last year to take advantage of local traffic.

“That tremendous amount of growth has caused us to say, we need to take a look at what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it,” Stevens told Wines & Vines. “We’re just trying to make sure that we’re keeping up with that and trying to stay focused on our strategy for attracting local, regional and then…other tourists that are coming to the Seattle area.”

The reorientation to tourist traffic is a major recommendation of a strategic plan developed this spring by Steve Burns, a former executive director of the Washington Wine Commission who now works as an industry consultant.

The plan, which is set for final approval later this month, will use Woodinville’s proximity to Seattle to build its profile as a destination. Partnerships with the city of Woodinville and the local business community will develop ongoing programs for cultivating and tracking visitor volumes.

The strategic plan “defines (Woodinville Wine Country’s) role in establishing Woodinville as a world-class wine travel destination, something consultant Katie Sims—who worked on the plan—says will address present realities.

“‘Come to Woodinville’ was part of getting the wine sold, but it was really a direct-to-consumer kind of focus,” she says of the events the association coordinated in the past. “Woodinville has become a tourist destination.”

The shift in focus is also timely, given last summer’s abrupt closure of Washington state’s tourism office. (See “Washington Wineries Pick Up the Tab” from Aug. 3, 2011.)

“We’ll step in and we’ll work on promoting (Woodinville) directly to consumers both here and in other parts of the country, but we need to do that on a more year-round basis than just those two or three times a year,” Stevens said. “We can do that now because we have that critical mass of wineries and tasting rooms.”

The new marketing efforts will emphasize wine, but they’ll also look at the broader range of activities Woodinville has to offer.

“We want to make sure there’s plenty of things for them to do besides wineries,” he said. “Woodinville is more than just wine country. We’ve got some wonderful restaurants and accommodations, and it’s very scenic. So it’s really a nice concentrated tourism experience.”

The shift in Woodinville parallels adjustments the Naramata Bench Winery Association in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has pursued during the past two years.

Miranda Halladay, president of the association’s board of directors and general manager of Elephant Island Orchard Wines, said the success of the association’s popular tasting events in Vancouver and other cities has helped boost tourist traffic, which is also attracted by a growing number of wineries—22 today versus six in 2002. Many winery owners are no longer in their wine shops daily; in her case, she has five staffers on hand daily to serve visitors.

“The wineries have been a creature of their own success, because lots of us used to…interact with consumers on a daily basis in our own tasting rooms,” Halladay said. “It just becomes not feasible at a certain level.”

To preserve the level of familiarity that made the Naramata Bench a charming destination, member wineries worked together to ensure small-scale events were taking place every weekend—from picnics to fashion shows.

It “provides a way to have that very distinctive, authentic interaction with our customers,” she said. “These smaller events throughout the May to October season…(lets) people know there’s always something cool and unique happening on the bench.”

Currently no comments posted for this article.