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Glass half-full - Woodinville Wine Country expands vision

  • Written by Don Mann
Woodinville Wine Country members, who started as a small collective of neighbors but has grown exponentially, had its first look last Tuesday at the draft of a strategic plan designed to move the association from a modest bi-annual event-oriented group to a community-based marketing organization focusing on year-round wine tourism.

The WWC board presented the “comprehensive” plan to its current 67 members at a series of meetings July 10 — one afternoon and one night, for those who have day jobs. It will now go back to the seven-member board for final review and approval at the end of July.

“What we’re trying to do is create year-round promotional opportunities for our members to take advantage of,” WWC president Mike Stevens told the Woodinville Weekly at Brian Carter Cellars — at his invitation — about two hours before delivering the first pitch to its members. “We want to be the voice and the clearing house of information about new events and new releases.”

Over the last decade, WWC has experienced explosive growth from its founding 10 years ago when a dozen small wineries joined to produce the region’s first “Passport to Woodinville” event, to the 97 wineries and tasting rooms that today dot the local landscape and call the scenic rural community home.

“The board recognized that the association was at a critical juncture and had a unique opportunity to revamp its focus and programs to respond to the Woodinville wine community’s rapid growth and to  take a leadership role in shaping an identity not only for the wineries but for the Woodinville community at large,” Stevens said.

To that end, WWC hired veteran industry marketing consultant and former Washington Wine Commission executive director Steve Burns to develop a long-term strategic plan.

Said Burns: “We’re collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce and the city to have a comprehensive tourism vision for the whole community including gateway signage and a Web site that’s the information source for wine touring. It’s about raising the profile and tourism experience for all of Woodinville, and that includes Molbak’s, Redhook, concerts, food, everything …”

Stevens said the old days of traditional promotion tactics —brochures found at the Chamber of Commerce and the occasional newsletter — are over. “We’re getting much more savvy with Web sites and social media to get our message out, recognizing that we’re part of a bigger community and this is a new age. That system was a good start but it won’t work anymore because of growth and sheer numbers.”

Burns, who lives in California’s Sonoma County, said it’s the first time there’s been a strategic plan for the WWC, which aims to accentuate its assets: its proximity to the local metropolis and its accessibility.

“It’s the only region in Washington where you can (wine) tour year-round,” he said. “There are times in the winter you can’t get to Eastern Washington because you can’t get over the passes but you can get to Woodinville all year and Seattle’s only 20 miles away. Even in the winter it’s easy to get to.”

He said in the past WWC has been anchored by two events: Passport (int the spring) and St. Nick’s (in the winter).

“But now with almost 100 wineries right here in the valley it’s become an obvious place for year-round tourism that can offer different experiences. So instead of anchoring ourselves to two events we’re now talking about the four seasons …because our accessibility is 365 days a year. And that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state.” Stevens said the new promotional push — still in the draft phase in terms of specific events to be announced later — was about more than just award-winning aged and crushed grapes.

“It’s all about working together because everybody’s got limited resources and we can do more together than we can do on our own. These are small, family-run businesses that started with a dream to create their own small winery. The thing I love most is everybody has a story: how they got to where they are.

And that’s what brings people to tasting rooms. It’s not just the wine; it’s the stories, the memories, the connections. Those kinds of things. We want people to hear those stories and say ‘That’s where we gotta go!’ “

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