The Rest of Us

This weekend, leadership of the Washington Wine Commission (WWC) passes from Steve Burns to Jane Baxter Lynn. Burns is passing on a well-oiled machine, a promotional powerhouse that accomplishes far more than its small staff and $1.5 million annual budget might suggest. The commission's road shows in other states and cities have helped Washington winemakers break into ever wider markets in the U.S. and even abroad. Baxter Lynn's capsule vita—"a wide range of international work experiences in tourism, wine and franchising fields, along with a proven track record in raising awareness for consumer brands, brand building, strategic counsel, crisis communications and membership relations"—makes her seem like a natural to continue the work Burns and his chief aides, Jamie Peha and Stacie Jacob, have begun. I hope it won't seem ungracious of me to suggest that there's one area neglected by the outgoing administration where Baxter Lynn's promotional experience is vitally needed: getting the Washington wine message out right here at home. How can I say such a thing, you ask: What about Washington Wine Month, soon drawing to a close? What about Taste Washington Wine Month in March, what about the accompanying Wine Restaurant Awards? More than 3,000 people attend the food-and-wine bash in April that concludes the Taste Washington festivities. How many more promotions can one organization, one industry, do? It's not that I think Washington wine is underpromoted; I'd just like to see it promoted to Washingtonians who might conceivably profit from the promotion. Let me couch my criticism in dollars and cents. Tickets for the Taste Washington blow-off cost $85 to $125. Too much? Not for what you get: a shot at samples from 150 wineries and 90 restaurants. But too much for the average consumer? Indubitably. Taste Washington is only one symptom of the problem. Tickets for this weekend's annual Auction of Washington Wines are $500 apiece. It's for charity, true; but 500 bucks is 500 bucks. Even the auction, which operates under WWC auspices, seems to have a slightly guilty conscience about it. That's why PICNIC was created: a less formal event the Friday before the auction, with tickets costing "only" $125. Do we see a pattern emerging here? I hope Baxter Lynn does. When the commission promotes Washington wines to ordinary Washington citizens, it does so by flyer, brochure, and press release. When it celebrates Washington wine, it does so behind closed doors, in black tie and high heels, among celebrants who are feeling no pain even before the first magnum's popped. What's glaringly absent from the commission's programs, looked at this way, is an entry-level event to encourage people with limited disposable income to look at wine as something accessible, something fun, something, yes, ordinary, the way beer is ordinary: just a pleasurable, no-big-deal aspect of the good life. An event like the Bite of Seattle, absent the dyspepsia. How about it, Baxter Lynn? A party for the rest of us?

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