Wine writer Harvey Steiman writes: Oregon Group Pushes Pinot Gris, Will a new gang of wineries draw adherents to the unsung varietal?

Good question, Harvey, and I like that “unsung varietal” thing. I know I’ll be quoting you for years to come.

To answer that question, I’d say we’ve got a good buzz started: Media attention for the group so far, with a few mentions about the effort before the actual launch. Granted, there are a few stories on this page that I’ve written myself, so just don’t count those, because it is I just spouting off. However, the rest of them, including a link to Harvey’s story tells me we’ve at least got a good buzz started.

What you’re not yet going to see in this page are the 20 or so more stories being developed in the background. Once written, they’ll also be added to this page.

Harvey also makes some great points, as he leads his story:

Most wine drinkers know Oregon for its distinctive and often excellent Pinot Noirs. But what about its other wines, which represent nearly half of the state’s wine production?

I received an e-mail recently from a group of wineries banding together to promote Pinot Gris, the most widely planted white grape variety in Oregon, accounting for about 15 percent of the state’s total production. The proponents pointed out, correctly, that Pinot Gris is on the rise as a varietal from many regions around the world, that Oregon has some history with this varietal and that it’s a fruit-forward, food-friendly wine.

We all greatly respect his opinions and thoughts, so we’ll be closely watching his assessments as we continue to forge our new path.

Getting results are important. What will be more important, though, will be getting the results we’re looking for. This includes educating people in a positive way about what Oregon Pinot Gris has to offer in food friendly ways… reiterating Harvey Steiman’s take on our efforts, as outlined in our press release.

Look, we’re trying to turn a battle ship around here. For years, because there was no cohesive effort, everyone (trade, wineries, and media) have been comparing Oregon’s Pinot Gris to other regions. In the 1960s, I came across the Desiderata, which states:

…If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

I’ve since carried this in my heart, knowing that in my own life experiences, how easily true that could become. So, I hold to uniqueness in all things, because even identical twins have slight differences. (And, thank God we’re not all the same clone. I’d not want to live on a planet that has billions of “me.” There would be no original thoughts. Yikes!)

So, we struck out to be original, to find our own identity for Oregon’s Pinot Gris. As a result, my merry band of rebel rousers have come up with some pretty fascinating points. This is a great one from Sean Driggers of Pudding River wine Cellars:

Our Oregon style of Pinot Gris is light with bracing acidity to be sure but the major difference between our wines and Pinot Grigio is that they are not watery and wanting for fruit, the fruit intensity of Oregon Pinot Gris is extreme and absolutely beautiful and alluring. And more than Pinot Grigio it has that earthy element that its Pinot parentage has given it by nature making it the especially terrific food wine that it is!

Susanne Carlberg of Christopher Bridge Cellars & Satori Springs Estate wrote to me:

It’s an uphill battle, for sure, but just as the comments by Paul Gregutt on the recent showing of Oregon PN in London verified again, folks seem to adhere to the “tried and true” all over the world and an older demographic appears especially prone to sticking with old favorites, whether appellation, winemaking style or varietal. I personally don’t believe that the next generation of  serious wine drinkers will be quite as inflexible and monodimensional, but hey, we’ve got to cross that barrier somewhere, sometime and why not now!

I agree. There were my comments to Harvey, as I couldn’t resist weighing in on his important story:

Thank you for this provocative story, Harvey. Time will tell where it all goes.

No one was excluded from joining the marketing group’s launch for the www.Oregonpinotgris.org. And, as Oregonians go, they’re an independent bunch… So grouping together may not have “felt right” to the ones you’ve mentioned (and others). That didn’t stop the few brave souls who have stepped outside of the box for this one, however.

In your wisdom, you’ve given the right reason for why it’s expensive to produce Pinot Gris in Oregon. Thanks.

We do realize that comparisons give people benchmarks; however, the terroir for Oregon is very different from both Alsace and Italy, and we want to begin this educational path for blazing our own trail for what it is… beginning to establish it based on its own unique merits and flavors.

You know how it goes, when any region tries to compare itself to say… Napa… It’s like, “Yeah, right!” This may be part of why Oregon’s not having any traction yet, with anything besides PN.

For the 15 percent comment (thanks for bringing it up, really), Oregon’s second largest crop is Pinot Gris, second only to Oregon’s Pinot Noir. While another variety could have been chosen for this group, and might have even been more thought provoking, Pinot Gris just made more sense for now for some obvious marketing reasons.

As marketers, we’re needing to bring more immediate attention to Oregon being more than a one-trick-pony, which it currently is, when out in the sales arena of the other 49 states. We decided to go for a cultivar that already has some legs to it. It’s easier to educate those who already have a vague inkling of a product, than to try to get people first involved in understanding that the cultivar exists.

You’ve done a lot, Harvey, to build momentum, so we’re riding that wave, rather than trying to catch our own wave.

The initial impetus for this group came from a frustration that Oak Knoll’s president was having. When he would be on the road trying to sell his wine, wholesalers were keen to taste his Pinot Noir, some were dismissive of any other varieties. Their reason was/is that they’re not responsible for building grape variety awareness (and rightly so). They put on the shelves what will sell; and in the far flung islands of Langerhan, no one knows that Oregon produces anything else besides Pinot Noir, according to some national sales people.

I know that your readers are much more savvy than average wine consumers. When we look at statistics for really adept wine consumers in the US, we’re a small segment of the population.

According to Wine Opinions: 38 percent of US wine drinkers are high frequency, and they account for 85 percent of all wine sold, drinking wine several times a week or daily. The other 62 percent don’t know about Pinot Gris, and Oregon doesn’t make enough Chardonnay to put a big push behind it. Demand will outstrip supply, and that will frustrate people in the long run, has been my experience with another massive marketing thrust. (I could write an entire story about that one.)

This is why we chose Pinot Gris to champion; because there’s more of it than Chard, Riesling, etc.. This is not to say that this group can’t morph in the future. For now, we’re taking the path of least resistance, and enjoying the ride… Including this path you’ve given to us. Thanks, Harvey.

6 Responses to “Wine writer Harvey Steiman writes: Oregon Group Pushes Pinot Gris, Will a new gang of wineries draw adherents to the unsung varietal?”

  1. Seems to me that before Oregon [or any region] can be famous for Pinot Gris/Grigio, the variety has to catch fire with consumers. Of course PG has been a red hot [forgive the pun] white wine for years, but I think for most people it’s as a simple, crisp, fruity and above all inexpensive wine. The trick is to make it high quality and convince people to buy it instead of Chardonnay. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s oaked or not, but I think low cropping and lees aging are important. When well made, PG can be extraordinary. I wish I could try more of it from OR!

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    I’ll put you on the list for samples, Steve, so you can see what’s happening these days.

  3. Roger says:

    My favorites have come from New Zealand. It would be nice to see Oregon make a successful go of it. I agree with Mr. Heimoff on the low cropping, for quality control. Seems like PG is to white wine what Syrah is to the reds, phenomenal, yet insignificant to the population without proper marketing.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Well said, Roger.

  5. PaulG says:

    One of the main things I learned at last summer’s Symposium was that there is huge price resistance above $15. So OR winemakers are in a tough bind – they either make a wine that can turn a profit at $15 or under, or they make the best PG they can and risk either losing money on it or not being able to sell it at an appropriate price. There are some ways out of that trap, and perhaps we should talk about it at the next Symposium…

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m very much looking forward to it, Paul.

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