Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, presented by and at Oak Knoll Winery, Willamette Valley

June 9, 2011

The Symposium sold-out by mid-May, as the industry was ripe for this one.

Paul Gregutt and I came together, realizing that we had a PG on PG going on…Paul Gregutt on Pinot Gris. I love great concepts, with a bit of kismet mixed in for good measure.

It couldn’t have happened without this most credible source (PG) and refreshing grape variety (PG), given the nature of both. Paul’s been writing about Northwest wines since the 80s. It’s his time to shine, and so he did.

When I asked Paul for his thoughts as the Keynote Speaker for the Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, which was going to be presented by Oak Knoll, I knew that we’d be hearing some interesting thoughts… Little did I know, though, that his thoughts would be so well formulated. I’m not completely surprised, given Paul’s talent. I just didn’t know that Paul obviously had formed some really well thought-out opinions over time on this subject. The symposium gave him the diving board he needed from which to spring. Meanwhile, we had filled the pool; so when he dove, he performed an excellent and exceptional dive, receiving a perfect score of 10 in my book.

The following are Paul Gregutt’s thoughts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Oregon wine industry would do well to pay attention. It’s important to note, the winemakers who were present were talking differently about Pinot Gris, before they had left the round table discussions. This proves that Paul’s points were well taken, even before the sessions were finished.

Paul Gregutt’s Remarks

With the other speakers, and especially each attendee’s input and comments, Paul mentioned that “we’d all be exploring the terroir, techniques, and marketing challenges around the making of Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (now legal!) in Oregon.”

From a media and marketing standpoint, Paul noted that his task was to begin to define the image, potential, awareness of Oregon PG:

I had to jump in and state that I had just been with a Sommelier in Sonoma County; when I told him that Jose and I were headed to the Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, he asked, “Do they even grow Pinot Gris in Oregon?” There were a few audible gasps, so I continued… “While you’re all in Oregon and know what you’re doing and what you have, when you step outside of the state, the awareness just isn’t there nationally.”

So, onto Style ~ According to Paul, “You cannot, and should not, define a single style for Oregon PG. On the other hand, I strongly urge you all to stop marketing your wines as ‘Alsatian,’ or ‘Friulian,’ or ‘Vegan,’ or whatever else you come up with. We are here to find out what Oregon PG is all about. Step one is having the confidence to say ‘We make Oregon PG. And here is what we can tell you about our take on this unique, stylish, versatile, etc. etc. wine!'”

It was also mentioned that when you compare yourself to others, you’re giving the “Others” the credibility that you need. Essentially, this is giving away your power. You’re the underdog. Bottom line, get over that and take your place center stage, if you’re to be a star you have to act like one. [Paraphrasing, but you get the point.]

Assets of Oregon PG in general

  • Higher acidity, lower alcohol than CA or WA versions
  • Bracing minerality
  • Purity of fruit
  • Minimal, often no, new oak flavors
  • Genuine vintage expression (as a subset of terroir)

How do you differentiate 1) the category and 2) your wine(s)? You need to do the following:

  • Some sort of over-reaching organization to consolidate efforts. It can be ad hoc, informal, whatever.
  • Agree on such basics as always calling it Oregon Pinot Gris.
  • Tie it into the concept of Oregon flavors, Oregon style, build the brand that way.
  • As a category you need more high end examples.
    • Push the envelope.
    • It’s a chicken and egg situation.
    • If all you make is a $15 wine, all you will sell is a $15 wine.
  • Stop with the Alsace and Italy comparisons. It’s time to talk Oregon!
  • If you want to establish OR PG as a viable category, you need a broad campaign such as PS – I Love You and the Riesling Renaissance campaigns.
    • That takes just two things.
    • Time and money.
  • Tie it into Oregon Pinot Noir with a snappy tagline:
    • Oregon Pinot Gris: the flavors Chardonnay can only dream of!
    • Oregon Pinot Gris: Not all Pinot is Noir!
    • Pinot Gris: The other Oregon Pinot
  • Don’t ever call your PG simple.
    • It’s not simple.
    • That is not a good idea.
  • Chefs love this wine.
    • Portland (and Oregon) has a terrific food culture.
    • Use it as part of your wine marketing.
  • Look for your own individual selling point of difference – your story:
    • Single vineyard/grower bottlings
    • “Tree-free” or unoaked
    • Barrel fermented
    • Old vines
  • Go with the trends – a little r.s.
    • But keep it tasting dry
    • And, moderate to low alcohol (13.5 and under is desirable)

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you emphasize the grape, or the AVA, or the vineyard?
  • Do you make comparisons to Italy (Pinot Grigio – confusing) and/or Alsace (really confusing!)?
  • Do you sell the simple concept that you make Oregon Pinot Gris – with these attributes?
  • Dry or off-dry?
  • Which of these selling points can I use effectively?
    • Low alcohol.
    • Versatile food wine.
    • Unoaked.
    • Non-interventionist winemaking.
    • Able to reflect the vineyard and AVA.
    • Ages nicely for four (4) to six (6) years.
    • Old vines.
    • Single vineyard wines.
    • Special clones.

Most of the sold-out group of winemakers and grape growers left the symposium all asking the question, “Where do we go from here?”

The answer, for the time being, is, “Take this information that was shared and begin to implement it at your own wineries, in your own marketing departments.”

There may be a need for a unified group, and the attendees will have a chance to weigh in on that shortly. Meanwhile, Paul’s keynote was certainly their immediate walking orders. Hopefully, a few of them are already off and running, because it’s theirs to lose, at this point in time.

For more thoughts on the Pinot Gris Symposium, you can visit OregonLive.com, written by Mark Hinton, (also of Enobytes.)

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