Wineries form group to raise area’s profile

Southwest Washington Winery Association has 10 members

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After months of preparatory meetings, 10 local wineries have formed the Southwest Washington Winery Association.

The association’s 10 charter members hope to strengthen their visibility in Washington and brand Southwest Washington as the newest emerging wine region. Those charter members are Burnt Bridge Cellars, Confluence Winery, English Estate Winery, Heisen House Vineyards, Koi Pond Cellars, Moulton Falls Winery, Olequa Cellars, Rezabek Vineyards, Rusty Grape Vineyards and Stavalaura Vineyards.

Members say they’ve identified collaborative marketing and advertising as the most immediate needs of local wineries. They plan to spread the word to area businesses and individuals that they can join in the industry partnership. Currently, Clark County supports 17 wineries, with another eight operating up the Interstate 5 corridor from Longview to Tenino. More wineries are slated to open throughout 2016.

The most ambitious long-term work of the new association is the establishment of an American Viticultural Area that could conceivably stretch east to White Salmon, where the Columbia Gorge AVA begins, and as far north as just Olympia’s southern border, where the Puget Sound AVA begins.

Roger Rezabek, owner of Rezabek Vineyards and president of the new association, believes that Clark County has good land for grape production but conceded that an AVA needs to reach beyond the county to capture enough agricultural acreage to be viable.

Rezabek said the organization will follow the industry standard by offering tiers of membership, with the marked differences from one tier to another being voting power and dues rates.

Ultimately, these tiers will allow opportunity for businesses, organizations and individuals interested in supporting the future growth of the wine industry to be part of the association. Examples include new and existing wineries, grape growers, cideries, distilleries, meaderies, hotels, restaurants and higher education. It will be the primary focus of the membership committee to further identify and actively market to these sectors.

The next step is to assemble a number of efficient think tanks in key areas of winemaking and grape growing, Rezabek said. “The organization has a number of committees that will be staffed with members, and that is where the real work of the organization will be done,” he said.

Along with the membership committee, panels will focus on marketing, education, ecology (wastewater), budget, audit, nominations areas.

Averyl Dunn, communications manager for the Washington State Wine Commission, weighed in on the recently formed association.

“(Our associations) are the voice in a collective way really speaking to the sense of place and AVA. Individual winery communication is, of course, still a part of our jobs and what we love to do, but an association really maximizes our connection between every winery,” Dunn said.

Barbara Glover, executive director for Wine Yakima Valley, said the recently formed association will raise the visibility of Southwest Washington wineries. “To have ten wineries sharing the same basic message about their region, in their own voice, is more credible than having everyone talking in a more disjointed way about their winery or neighborhood.”

Not all Clark County wineries joined on initially. Mark Mahan, vice president of the new association and co-owner of Burnt Bridge Cellars, understands that hesitation.

“There are other wineries who want to see how it goes and see the value,” Mahan said. “My goal is to help make it so good that you really have to question why you’re not doing it.”