Washington Wine Month: A Rant and a Celebration

March is Washington wine month, and it's always something to be a little excited about because Washington wine is worth celebrating. There are special prices and displays at Washington State Liquor stores, and at a variety of chain stores, and at special Washington wine events all over the state. So this weekend, we went Washington wine shopping. We haven't made it to the state liquor store yet (more on that later), but we made two back-to-back visits, yesterday and today, to two Washington grocery stores from the same chain. It's very much a Pacific Northwest chain with a buy-local emphasis.

I've written about the first grocery store we went to before. They had end-caps up at the end of aisles near the wine section, featuring Washington wines, sort of. The problem was that the labels on the exhibit were wrong. Pacific Rim's Dry Riesling and Riesling were labeled as California wines. Hogue wines were labeled as California wines as well. When we walked back to the central wine section, it was dominated by imports from Europe, and organized by origin. I don't know about you, but when I shop for wine, most of the time, I'm interested in a particular wine, not wine from a particular country. The wine manager I'd dealt with before was there, so we turned right around and left.

This morning we went to another branch of the same store. I noticed as we passed the "ready to eat" section of the deli that there were Washington and California wines under $25.00 for sale right at the deli, and at the "broasted chicken" counter. Farther on there were several end-caps of Washington wine with promotional signs about Washington Wine month, and the labels were correct. But what was really interesting was that the wine manager had hand-written notes with personal recommendations, including his response to the wine, short references to reviews in Wine Spectator and similar publications, and a suggestion about food pairing. The main wine section was largely ordered by varietal, with a few "catch all" white wine, red wine, dessert wine, sub sections, and then two banks of shelves for international wines. Again, there were personal recommendations, as well as "shelf talkers," and there was one eye-level row of very high end ($100.00 or more a bottle) wines, locked against temptation but easily visible. There were European wines there, California wines, and several Washington wines.

The basic assumption of the second wine manager is that there is a lot of good wine available, wine goes well with food, and that Washington wine can compete with the best the world has to offer. We're going to be going to this store on a regular basis (by the way, the beer section was stellar too).

Comments

Sean P. Sullivan's picture

Sean P. Sullivan

I read this in horror.

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. . . were Haggen grocery stores; I'm not going to identify the locations.

On the bright side, one of them was absolutely fabulous.

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. . . it was horrific. I think in some ways, the haute couture pretensions around wine in terms of formal wine education are hurting New World wine, and particularly, Washington wine. We have such a wide variety of terrain and growing conditions, and are blessed with micro climates, so we can potentially compete with the best of the rest of the world. But I grow tired of seeing Washington retailers devote more space to European, Australian, and South African wines than they do to our own "local" wines. Ultimately, that's what it's about; a war over shelf-space. Buyers who don't or can't go out to the wineries are artificially limited by retail shelf-space.

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