Washington Wine Commission eyes closer-to-home promotions

The statewide agency is more typically associated with efforts nationwide and abroad.

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Call it a double shot of wine tourism promotions.

Communities from Walla Walla to Woodinville are expected to get an extra boost in their wine marketing through partnerships with the Seattle-based Washington Wine Commission.

The agency that markets Washington wines and vineyards across the country and globe plans to work with local promotional agencies to target consumers in their own back yards.

Specifics of the partnerships have not yet been determined but will likely include a dual-approach of marketing to both trade and consumer groups, said Ryan Pennington, senior communications manager for the commission. Pennington was in town this week to attend Tourism Walla Walla's annual meeting in a fact-finding mission of sorts.

"Mostly I'm here to listen," he said. "We just really want to hear people's goals for tourism and use that to formulate our plan."

Pennington said the wine commission, funded almost entirely by the industry through assessments on grape and wine sales, will continue its mission of promoting Washington wines nationally and internationally. The focus on local -- meaning regions throughout the state -- consumer promotions and local partnerships is intended as a re-investment in Washington communities.

As recently as three to five years ago only 10 to 15 percent of the wines sold in the state were actually produced in Washington, Pennington said. Now that number is more like 40 percent. But compared to major wine markets around the world, the figure is still small. The commission believes it can help build that number.

Part of the strategy will likely include marketing to the "millennial generation."

Pennington said about a quarter of Washington's core wine consumers -- those who drink wine four times a week -- are between 21 and 30 years old. He said another 20 million people in that generation have not yet reached drinking age. But they will ultimately make up an even greater percentage of "core consumers."

As a result, the commission is considering how best to reach the demographic. Social media is likely to play a role, Pennington said.

Though the wine commission is in the middle of its budget cycle, Pennington said officials are trying to determine how to proceed with at least a test run of marketing efforts this fiscal year. A more solidified approach to marketing will likely be implemented during the next fiscal year, which starts July 2010.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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