Free Trade in the Northwest

Washington wineries plant flags in Oregon--and vice versa

by Peter Mitham
wine va piano tasting room washington oregon
Va Piano Vineyards of Walla Walla, Wash., opened a tasting room in Bend, Ore., last month.
Dundee, Ore.—Oregon’s Lachini Vineyards broke new ground when it arrived in Woodinville, Wash., five years ago, opening a tasting room and sales outlet on Seattle’s doorstep. It has since been joined by Torii Mor, while wines from Archery Summit are being poured in Seattle’s Pioneer Square as part of the tasting room Crimson Wine Group opened earlier this year to showcase its properties including Washington-based producers Double Canyon and Seven Hills Winery.

But recently Washington state wineries have been turning their attention to Oregon, as producers in the two states forge closer relationships.

Westport Winery in Aberdeen, Wash., recently announced plans to open a tasting room in Cannon Beach, Ore., a move that follows Walla Walla producers Va Piano Vineyards opening in Bend, Ore., on Memorial Day weekend.

Va Piano’s owners, Justin and Liz Wylie, have long vacationed in Bend with their families, and when the opportunity arose to lease a 1,200-square-foot space in the town’s Old Mill District—an open-air shopping complex on a former mill site overlooking the Deschutes River—they leapt at the chance.

“Justin just thought it was time to make the move,” Derri Reid, general manager at Va Piano, told Wines & Vines. “It was a place they both love; we wanted to open up another tasting room, and that seemed like the best choice.”

With just one other vintner on site—Naked Winery from Hood River in the Columbia Gorge AVA—Reid said Va Piano had a chance to stand out in a way Woodinville wouldn’t have allowed.

“We didn’t want to be one of the hundred tasting rooms in Woodinville,” she said, while noting that the customer passing through Bend—better known for the beers of Deschutes Brewery—is different from those at the Walla Walla tasting room. A food menu (including beer) is available alongside its wines—a model the winery also has pursued in Spokane, where it has a location at the Davenport Hotel.

“We just kind of assumed it would be the same, but it’s definitely not—it’s a whole different customer,” she said. We’re “being seen as a wine bar—lots of glass pours, small plates and things like that, versus bottle sales.”

Selling bottles was the motivation for Jim O’Connell, principal of Walla Walla’s Tertulia Cellars, to open a second tasting room in the Inn at Red Hills complex in Dundee, Ore., in spring 2013.

“Most wineries know that the more you can have direct to consumer, the more chance you’ll have to make money, because you’re selling it at retail not to a distributor at 50% discount,” he said. Business has grown slowly but steadily over the past three years, drawing both existing wine club members as well as catering to people who want an alternative to the Willamette’s plentiful Pinot Noir offerings.

“After tasting Pinot for two or three days, you do get tired,” O’Connell said. “It’s not like Walla Walla, where you have Cabs. You’ve got Carmeneres, you’ve got Petit Verdots, you’ve got Merlots.”

By showcasing its work with distinctive varieties, Tertulia Cellars’ Dundee tasting room also has captured the attention of Willamette producers who want to diversify their own wine lists. “It’s introduced us to a few of the Pinot producers down there that want to buy grapes from the Walla Walla area,” O’Connell said. “We’ve been able to sell some of our excess grapes that we don’t use to some of the Pinot Noir producers that want to do other wines like Grenache and Syrah.”

The establishment last year of the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, a sub-appellation of the Walla Walla Valley AVA, has benefitted Tertulia, because Oregon producers can now buy fruit from the winery’s Riviere Galets vineyard and label them as Oregon grapes.

Tertulia has set up an Oregon winery to handle the fruit—primarily Grenache, as well as Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and others—with the first wines bearing the appellation set for release in 2017.

While wineries from Walla Walla have set the pace for Washington producers in Oregon, a reflection of closer collaboration between the Washington State Wine Commission and Oregon Wine Board to promote the region’s wines, the flow north from the Willamette is also likely to continue.

Willamette Valley Vineyards recently broke ground on Pambrun, a new winery in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. While situated on the Oregon side of the line, the development promises to raise the winery’s profile in Washington.

Milton-Freewater producer Castillo de Feliciana Vineyard & Winery saw the opportunity, and seized it, with the opening of a tasting room in Woodinville three years ago.

However, as O’Connell points out, the closer that wineries in Walla Walla—or anywhere, for that matter—can get to consumers, the better. Zerba Cellars of Milton-Freewater stayed in state while getting closer to Oregon wine tourists by opening a tasting room in Dundee in 2010; while Tertulia will join a host of its fellow Walla Walla wineries in Woodinville with a hotel and tasting room later this year.

“You have Woodinville wineries going to Walla Walla and Walla Walla wineries going to Woodinville,” O’Connell said. “It seems to be a trend of everyone wanting to get into tasting rooms and sell wine more direct.”

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