When I give presentations about the Washington wine industry, I often conclude with this trivia question: Out of every 100 bottles of wine sold in Washington, how many are made in Washington?
In other words, what is the Washington wine industry's market share in its own state? The answer always shocks the audience. According to the latest studies, it's around 25 percent.
Consider this: In California, about 70 percent of the wine sold is California wine. In traditional Old World countries, it's pretty much 100 percent. In fact, go to some little hilltown in Tuscany and walk into a restaurant or store: You will struggle to find a wine that was made from farther than about 10 miles away.
So why is it that just one in four bottles of wine sold in Washington is made here. What can we do to fix it? What should we do?
This is a difficult task, but we need to remember that not too many years ago, this number was around 18 percent, so improvements are being made.
There are many ways to look at the issue of Washington wine's market share at home. Here are a few of my thoughts:
There's lots of room for more vineyards, more wineries, more growth. The state has more than 60,000 acres, and that could grow by at least 50 percent and probably still not make it too big. If consumers are still buying that much California and imported wines, then the home team can get bigger to slake that thirst.
So let's leave the low-end stuff to California and, to a lesser extent, Australia and southern France. Washington should be competing with the likes of Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Mosel. We're in the big leagues now.
Yes, perhaps. But it isn't that easy. Washington state makes world-class wine and now enjoys a sliver of space on the world wine stage. It needs to play in that field if it wants to keep — and grow — that reputation. Washington needs to sell more wine at home, but it also needs to be in big national markets, including Florida, New York, Illinois, Texas, D.C., etc.
The same thing happens with many top-end Walla Walla wineries: Everything is sold directly to walk-in consumers or wine club members.
So this is good for business, but it's not great for building Washington as a wine brand.
The solution is to drink and enjoy wines from around the world. But keep portion control in mind: For every 10 bottles of Cab you buy, just make seven or eight of them from Washington.