WAugust Wine Promotion hits some Bumps


Last week marked the kickoff of a month-long Washington wine promotion under the rubric WAugust. My thoughts about the name aside, such events, whether it’s World Donut Day or Washington Wine Month, have become so commonplace that it’s difficult to know what if any positive impact on sales they achieve. Yes there are all kinds of discounts sparking quick sales, but discounted wines can do as much damage as good to a winery’s long-term sales and a region’s overall reputation for quality.

WAugust has also suffered from the extremely unfortunate timing of the revelation – also in the past couple of weeks – that the state’s largest winery – Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – is in the process of cancelling 40% of its long-term grape contracts (50% if you go back a few years). This has been called by more than one pundit a devastating blow.

I don’t think that is an exaggeration. For decades SMWE was the major force in producing, promoting and marketing the Washington brand. In tough times the winery, under the leadership of the late Allen Shoup and his successor Ted Baseler, lent essential support to growers and wineries both large and small. In good times they sponsored such globally important events as the semi-annual Riesling Rendezvous. With the sale of the wine business to an east coast investment firm two years ago, the writing was on the wall that things were about to change. There has already been a bit of a revolving door in top-level local management, sales of at least one marquee property, significant bottom line losses and now this announcement that roughly half of the contracted vineyard acreage from just six years ago will be/has already been jettisoned.

From my perspective, as one who has banged the drum for Washington wines and Ste. Michelle in particular over several decades, none of this is surprising. I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball to see what’s next, but it doesn’t feel good. For small growers and producers it’s time to batten down the hatches.

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 (davepaul5.com) Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine, paulgregutt.substack.com, and in the Waitsburg Times.


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