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City Club: Wine—Agriculture Or Entertainment?

Record date: July 15, 2016

This City Club will air in August.


  • Jim McGavin: President of the South Willamette Wineries Association, President of the Prairie Mountain Wineries Association, Owner of Walnut Ridge Vineyard, and Co-owner of Sass Winery.
  • Sandra Ericson: Former Planning Commissioner and Chair of the Climate Protection Task Force for the City of St. Helena, Napa Valley, and former President of the St. Helena Home Winemakers.

Coordinator: Sandra Ericson

The wine industry in California, Oregon, and Washington has embraced a marketing system known as DTC, Direct to Consumer. In this system, wineries bring people to their tasting rooms and vineyards rather than use other distribution channels. This has implications for community life as well as for economic development and land use.

In some cases, the DTC system has welcome social and economic side effects for the local community.  More people learn about rural life, and opportunities for related sales and workforce development increase. However, in other cases, wineries move from the “get to know the local farmer” model to one that adds entertainment unrelated to growing. Local communities may welcome the shift at first, and then discover that their rural infrastructure gets stretched thin and public funding cannot meet the need. Four large wine producing areas in California are currently in political turmoil because of this issue.

This is complicated by another transition in the winery industry, from the original owners to the next generation of ownership. Thirty-eight per cent of Oregon’s wineries are in succession transition. In the absence of willing heirs, wineries are often sold to large corporation. This may result in a shift in focus from making wine as part of a community’s economic sector to making money. The winery then may be sold off, devolve into just a commercial brand, developed into another business or simply discontinued if the market moves elsewhere. Again, local communities experience the unintended consequences.

This is an important issue as Oregon and many western states grapple with the impact of drought on agricultural areas, and the growing acreage affected.  Now other new agricultural industries, such as marijuana, are also seeking to adopt the ‘wine model’ of DTC marketing.

Copyright, 2016 KLCC