I am fortunate to have graduated from Linfield College, even if only for the fellow alumni whom I’ve earned along with my degree. Charles Humble is not only a Linfield alumnus, but director of communications and interactive marketing at the Oregon Wine Board — and I was able to interview him this morning. Here are some rough notes.
What differentiates Oregon from other winegrowing regions, such as California or France?
- Our terroir and climate make us special. We are well suited to making pinot noir, and even with climate change we are in an area that will weather the weather fairly well. New York has been making wine longer than us, and they make some excellent wines, but they are a little less known for wine because we have a rare suitability for a fickle grape.
- It takes years to establish a winemaking region. Oregon has spent approximately 50 years developing wine, so we have the advantage of working from trial and error of our ancestors. Also, vines have been grown in Oregon for long enough that many of the adaptable vines have adapted to suit our weather. Ex. Chardonnay (this piece of information is something I learned wine tasting at Willamette Valley Vineyards)
- All the stars have sort of aligned for Oregon. The industry has been around for a while, we are getting pretty good at what we do, and we can grow pinot noir—something no one can really do that well.
What makes Oregon wine so easy to market?
- Oregon wine isn’t that easy to market. People who know about Oregon wine know that it’s good. Our wine is generally easier to market, but it’s harder than it is easy.
- One of the challenges we face is that we are small. It’s great to market small batches of wine that are sustainable, hand-crafted and that are good quality, but that size limits our distribution. The broad availability of the wine isn’t there, and when we try to get media from other states to cover Oregon wine, they want to know whether it’s distributed there. Not being able to give a definitive answer hinders our efforts to market, because the media needs their consumers to be able to reach the product for them to be interested. The “exclusivity” of the wines can help, to an extent.
- It’s all about quality. We let the wines speak, and it’s not easy or a slam dunk, but that’s why we do [marketing].
How do people distinguish one winery from another? There are hundreds of wineries in the area, what do people remember about a particular winery that makes the winery stand out?
- The people. Who are they? How interesting are they? What is their story?
- The wine itself. People all have different perceptions of what they like and don’t like in wine.
- People don’t join [wine] clubs because the wine is a bargain, or because the winery has a nice tasting room. They join because they like the wines and want to identify with that winery.
- Wineries don’t spend enough time crafting and communicating their story. That’s what brings people in; the wine and the story.
What advice can you give someone who is a new graduate getting into the field of media and the wine industry?
- It’s who you know and what you know. Get all the hands on experience you can.