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The Third Annual Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery Set Out New Marketing Directions

On Thursday, June 13, The Third Annual Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery set out new marketing directions. At each and every turn, presenters took on the challenges before them, while exploring Oregon’s internal strengths and weakness, as well as their external opportunities and threats, as regards Oregon’s Pinot Gris.

The leader of this movement, each symposium has focused on different aspects of Oregon’s Pinot Gris.

The stage to have an Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium was set ahead of time by Oak Knoll Winery’s President Greg Lint. Oak Knoll’s leadership in this movement was actually inspired by the Oregon Wine Board’s Executive Director Tom Danowski. When Tom began his assignment, Greg Lint remembers him stating that “Oregon needs to be known for more than just Pinot Noir.” Lint took this statement heart, but was also well aware of what Tom had stated, through the challenges he was personally meeting during  his own national travels.

The stage was set three years ago, with the first symposium, when it was declared that Oregon was still no more than a one trick pony, only known for its Pinot Noir. There were audible gasps…. How could that be? I made a brief statement that I had just had dinner with a friend who’s a Master Sommelier. When Jose and I told him that we were headed to Oregon to produce an Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, he didn’t even realize that Oregon grew Pinot Gris. It was a reality check for some, but it was also understandable. If you live, work, and love life in only one state, you have no idea that the other 49 each have their own cultures, histories, understandings, and ways of living that might not include the “Other 49.” (I’ve traveled to almost every one of the 50 states, and this is what I’ve come to learn about the rest of our country… Each state is a bit protectionist about and for its own.)

Oregon’s wine industry was founded on the belief that Oregon could produce world class Pinot Noir, putting themselves squarely on the map. Forty years later, these gentlemen and ladies deserve a huge debt of gratitude for that Pinot Noir recognition. They very successfully did what they set out to do. The only caveat is that Oregon grows much more than Pinot Noir. Imagine, if you will, visiting Oregon Wine County, and as you go from one winery to the next, the only wine offered is Pinot Noir? For a few, this might be heaven. For the masses, however, this just wouldn’t fly. And so, Oregon got on with planting other varieties, too, but has never made a concerted effort to let the world know that this was going on. Now imagine being a sales person and going on the road to other states to market your wine… But, you’re hit full on with the objection that the other states might not even know you make Pinot Noir, much less produce any other varieties. That’s what Greg Lint discovered, and so the Pinot Gris Symposiums were born. Without the backing of other wineries to help promote their Pinot Gris, Oregon would move forward at a snail’s pace, and eventually never be known for much else… even though they also produce other cool weather crops v-e-r-y successfully.

So, here’s the S.W.O.T. analysis, in a nut shell, and I thank Kimberly Conyers for taking these notes for me:

STRENGTHS of Oregon Pinot Gris

  • AVA place of origin
  • Tag along with Oregon Pinot Noir
  • Purity of fruit, acidity, and brightness
  • Extremely aromatic variety
  • Price that works in restaurateurs for a glass pour
  • Pinot Gris is an excellent wine for seafood
  • Palate texture is full and long, versus the Pinot Grigio style
  • Perfect wine to introduce to tasting room customers ~ “Gris Greet them”

WEAKNESSES

  • Too oaky or sweet styles
  • Too ripe and alcoholic
  • “Tastes like Chardonnay”
  • “Too expensive”
  • The rest of the world doesn’t know about Pinot Gris
  • People know Grigio, but not Gris
  • Consumers expect Gris to be priced as Grigio
  • Not enough cases are produced for chain placements

OPPORTUNITIES

  • TIE-IN: When selling Oregon Pinot Noir, always discuss  Pinot Gris as “our ‘other’ Pinot”
  • WORK-withs
    • Work closely with distributors and buyers to get the back story of your Oregon Pinot Gris
  • Education: Wineries and wholesalers and teaching the difference between  Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, justify why Oregon Pinot are more expensive to make than Italian Pinot Grigio
    •  “Place of origin”
    • Process of crafting this wine
  • Comparative tastings:
    • Conduct tastings with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to help consumers to understand the differences of both wines
    • Gather their comments and  concerns, so you can address any objections in the future
  • Create a Reserve Pinot Gris; focus on single vineyard, barrel treatments, vintages, etc.
  • Have an Oregon Pinot Gris day, weekend, or month long celebrations

THREATS

  • Cost of Production
  • Lack of consistency
  • Lack of unified story
  • The growth rate of Pinot Gris from Washington state
  • Wineries do not explain points of differentiation between Oregon Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio

FINAL THOUGHT: An Oregon Pinot Gris weekend has been created, as a result of this year’s Symposium. More on that to follow as my next blog post…. Get ready to “Get Your Gris On!™” — Oregon Pinot Gris, that is….

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2 Responses to “The Third Annual Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery Set Out New Marketing Directions”

  1. Kimberly Conyers says:

    Thank you Jo for bringing focus to the Oregon Wine Industry! You truly have a sense of knowing which grape, region & state will be the next up & coming star. Your palate truly knows therefore you seek to find the “hidden gems” within the industry. I’m looking forward to the 2014 Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium. Cheers, Kimberly

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Me, too, Kimberley. It just continues to evolve. I’ve long been a champion of the underdog. those were my shoes to fill, which growing up. those of us who have that lesson early on, know how to take on big challenges that others miss. #sensitivity

    Thanks for noticing! I love challenges. You help each year is so appreciated, too.

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