The beginning of March marked the beginning of Washington Wine Month.
Not that some area retailers and restaurants noticed. They question the value or significance of the twice-a-year promotion, and many will not participate this year.
"It doesn’t all of a sudden spark a lot of sales for us,” said Adam Bernstein of in Kirkland. “It doesn’t bring a lot of interest. If we are going to do something it has to really spark interest.”
Tom Cottrell of Bellevue’s said most of his customers turn to him for special deals on wines from around the world, including Washington, regardless of the month.
“They are not going to buy more because it’s Washington Wine Month,” Cottrell said. “We don’t put signs up with Washington Wine Month. We don’t put stacks (of cases of wine) up. We don’t have room.”
Bernstein also said hosting two Washington Wine Months a year, the other in August, is confusing and too much.
"Pick a month and stick to it," Bernstein said. "I am not big on that."
Others, such as Mio Takagi of in , say the promotion raises sales of Washington wines by 20 percent to 30 percent. It is not clear, however, how to measure an increase in sales without a control sample. It is also unclear if the promotion is the variable responsible for the spike in sales.
“It’s hard to know what the sales would be without it,” said Ryan Pennington, communications director for the Washington Wine Commission, who organizes the promotion. “It is almost impossible to isolate all the variables. Washington Wine Month has been going on for years. If you see a spike in March you can attribute that to some of those promotions.”
Many agree that large producers and large retailers, who can stack cases of wine on their sales floor, gain the most from the promotion.
“The larger retailers have more of a spike for Washington Wine Month,” Pennington said. “The smaller retailers, in a sense, every month is Washington Wine Month for them. They are specialty retailers and they are promoting Washington wine every month.”
Yet Pennington insists that boutique retailers also benefit.
“What you see some of the smaller retailers take advantage of is the general buzz of Washington Wine Month to drive traffic to their stores,” Pennington said.
As part of the promotion, the Washington Wine Commission has set up a page on their website listing promotional events during March.
“The more we can continue to drive traffic to one central source, the better,” Pennington said.
The Wine Alley in Renton is one of the boutique retailers that pushes Washington wines all year long. About 80 percent of its inventory is wines from Washington.
“For us (Washington Wine Month) probably doesn’t make a difference,” said Allison Helfen, who has owned The Wine Alley for seven years.
She continues to participate enthusiastically, however. Helfen will be hosting wine tastings with Washington producers on Saturdays during March for a $2 fee for four tastes. The $2 can be applied as a credit on bottle purchases.
On Saturday, March 3, Helfen will be hosting Kent native Joel Goodwillie, winemaker at Wind River Cellars in the Columbia Gorge AVA. On Saturday, March 10, Leavenworth’s 37 Cellars will be the featured producer, followed by Jones of Washington on March 17, Kiona Winery on March 24 and JM Cellars on March 31.
At in Woodinville, Washington wines will be sold at a discount. Village Wines will be selling 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Petit Verdot for $30, 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Boreal (a 97 percent Syrah, 3 percent Viognier blend) for $30, 08 Mark Ryan Long Haul, a Merlot blend, for $45 and 07 Gamache Vintners Syrah for $30.
Fine Wine & Cigars will feature wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays, starting with a wine tasting on Friday, March 2, for $3 (free for wine club members) with wines led by Louis Skinner, the stores' wine buyer who doubles as DeLille Cellars' cellar master.
The monthlong promotion also ramps up to TASTE Washington, one of the largest consumer wine events in the country. This year’s TASTE Washington will be a two-day affair for the first time, stretching from Saturday, March 31, to Sunday, April 1.
Helfen and other retailers will be selling tickets to TASTE Washington at their stores.
Wine Pick of the Week: 2009 Board Track Racer The Vincent Red Wine, Columbia Valley
Board Track Racer is the second label for Mark McNielly of Mark Ryan Winery. McNielly devotes as much care to blending his Board Track Racer wines as he does his mainline Mark Ryan Winery wines.
The Board Track Racer Red Wine is an unorthodox blend of 45 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Syrah, 20 percent Merlot and 10 percent Lemberger. The result is a wine that is complex and balanced. Blueberry, blackberry and black cherry dominate the bouquet. The palate is soft and round yet broad. Cedar, spices, black pepper and a juicy finish complete this value wine retailing for around $20 at Grand Cru Wine Shop in Bellevue and Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle’s SoDo District.
Pair the Board Track Racer The Vincent Red Wine with the Grand Cru Kobe Beef Burger for $12 at Grand Cru Mixologie Lounge in Bellevue. A rich, juicy wine begs for a rich, juicy burger. Served with basil aioli, caramelized onions, Fontina cheese and a side of French fries, the bold flavors hold up to this broad wine.