Observations on the Wine Market and Recession


There is no doubt that the economy has had an impact on wine sales and the market, but what kind of an impact? My observations last week while visiting wineries and talking with winemakers in Walla Walla gave me impressions that were sometimes contradictory. One winemaker who had attended the Friday Entwine Dinner and Auction to benefit the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture told me that attendance and winery participation was down by almost half, a clear indication of the times. Yet, on Saturday and Sunday, I observed a strong turnout of visitors at the wineries I stopped at while taking friends around. And sales were strong with almost everyone buying at least two or three bottles at each stop.


I have read in the news that wine consumers are still buying, but buying down. This has been confirmed to me by Chuck Lefevre, the owner of Esquin, who said many customers were spending between ten and fifteen dollars a bottle. Most winemakers seem to be edging around the subject of wine sales and the economy, although one has candidly stated that "the recession is clobbering the wine industry." Also, it is no accident that more wineries are offering blends for under $20 a bottle (I will be making a special report on Best Buys for the November issue of the Review). Some newer wineries are making "value" their marketing strategy.


The conclusion I draw from these observations is that interest in Washington wine is not waning (which is indicated by a recent surge in new subscribers to my Review) and that consumers are still buying, but not spending as much. What I do wonder is what the impact is on those wineries that specialize in the higher end of the market, the $40-$50 and up a bottle, especially when it is not possible to produce high quality wines cheaply.


Castillo de Feliciana Opens a New Winery


On Saturday, while taking friends around the South Valley, I was driving along Stateline Road and noticed that Castillo de Felicano whose Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo were reviewed in my October issue was open to the public. It turned out to be the second day of business there, and the winemaker, Ryan Raber, was on hand. The winery has a nice, spacious tasting room and the outdoor patio has a sweeping view of the Blue Mountains. To get there, drive east along Stateline and turn right at Telephone Pole Road onto the Oregon side of the border.