Open Letter to Oregon lawmakers on industry issues
To all Oregon winegrowers, winemakers and winery leaders:
Please consider adding your name to the Open Letter to the Eightieth Oregon Legislative Assembly protecting Oregon's integrity in winemaking and strengthening our truth-in-labeling laws.
Open Letter to the Eightieth Oregon Legislative Assembly
Oregon is a special place. Her topography, geology, soils, micro climates and native yeasts in our vineyards and cellars create opportunities for varietal wines to be uniquely expressive of where they are grown and made.
Through an arduous federal process designating American Viticultural Areas, unique geographic place names like the Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla Valley stated or inferred on wine labels, packaging and advertising are defined and protected. This allows consumers to know what they are purchasing and winegrowers to invest in them, thereby improving each AVA’s market value.
Very early in the development of the Oregon wine industry, winegrowers agreed to the highest standards in the nation regarding wine content by AVA and variety, and adopted the nation’s highest winegrape tonnage tax to support research and promotion for the development of our industry. We also agreed to respect the true variety and geographic place names of other growing regions by codifying those values into law. Oregon winegrowers’ respect for the law through their conduct in winemaking and marketing has produced adherence to these standards.
Over time, these high aspirations, collaborations and adherence to these standards resulted in Oregon’s reputation for growing and making wines of distinction. National and international reviewers frequently rank Oregon-produced wines among the highest quality.
Today, wines branded as “Oregon” have achieved the highest average bottle price in Nielsen scan data for the U.S. off-premise trade (primarily grocery channels) as well as the highest growth rate among countries and regions in the data set.
The Oregon Wine Industry has grown from a few pioneering Oregon winemakers fifty years ago to 1,114 commercial vineyards and 769 wineries employing 30,000 people and generating more than $5.61 billion dollars in statewide economic impact annually.
Still, we are just getting started. Although Oregon produces only 1% of the country’s wine, in 2015 and 2016, Oregon wines earned 20% of Wine Spectator’s 90+ ratings for U.S. wines. While wine and culinary tourist travel to our state is growing, it is a small fraction of the older wine regions in Europe and California.
Unique growing conditions are still being discovered on hundreds of hillsides and valleys in Oregon. More Oregonians are studying winegrape growing and winemaking. More talented individuals are moving here.
Oregon lawmakers have contributed greatly to our state’s success by funding viticultural and enological research, training and wine marketing efforts. New statutes protect farmland, allow for wineries as a permitted use, enable interstate shipment of wine to consumers, allow producers to facilitate in-store and restaurant tastings, and present wine and food pairings at wineries — all helping us tell the Oregon story to wine enthusiasts.
As climatic, labor and market conditions change, we face new challenges in grape growing and winemaking. As consumers value our geographic designations — especially our brand “Oregon” and AVAs, an effective effort is needed to protect their continued trustworthiness in labeling and promotion.
When a wine states “Oregon” on its label, the consumer assumes the wine is made according to the standards in Oregon law. When the wine is made in states outside of Oregon, there is no way to insure Oregon labeled wines are made to Oregon’s higher standards rather than the lower standards enforced there. Therefore, at the very least, the consumer should clearly see where the wine is produced.
This legislative session, on issues relating to the wine industry, please focus on these proposals:
• Requiring “truth in labeling,” including that the State of production be clearly listed with the advertised Oregon designation of the winegrapes.
• Protecting our collective investment in our state’s geographic brand equities and their continued enhancement.
• Requiring out-of-state producers using Oregon designations on their wine labels to pay the same winegrape tonnage tax that Oregon winemakers are required to pay.
• Supporting viticulture, enology, vineyard and winery business research and training at our academic institutions.
• Supporting governmental agencies engaged in serving and protecting wine consumers and law-abiding industry members including the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Oregon Wine Board, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Travel Oregon.
• Supporting market outreach and attracting culinary tourists to Oregon.
• Supporting the continued development of unique wine producing regions throughout our state.
We look forward to working with you to continue to create economic and cultural opportunities for Oregonians and building strong communities to serve all Oregonians.
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