Oregon wines are hot these days—their share of the U.S. market, while still relatively small, is one of the market’s fastest growing segments. “We sold about twice as much Oregon Pinot Noir in dollar sales last year than the previous year,” says Kyle Meyer, managing partner of Wine Exchange in Santa Ana, California. Beaver State wines increased 16% for the 52-week period ended August 11, 2018, according to the Oregon Wine Board. Oregon Pinot Noir volume jumped 17% and Chardonnay grew 10%. With competitive pricing and high quality, abundant vintages have fueled these gains. “The wines have the right combination of Burgundian-style freshness and ripeness, with nice richness on the palate,” Meyer notes. “You get energy and vibrancy in the wine, but you still get silky, softer tannins.”
At Wine Exchange, Oregon labels are integrated with other wines on the retail shelves rather than in their own section. “We mix Oregon offerings in with the California Pinot Noirs and we make the customer work a little—it’s a good way to get into the wines,” Meyer says. “We’re pretty minimal with point-of-sale in the store. We do have an email program, and Oregon Pinot Noir is included at least once a month. It’s part of the family.”
This subtle approach works for Wine Exchange, which carries between 40 and 45 Oregon wine brands and roughly 100 SKUs. Oregon wine sales at the 14,000-square-foot store are dynamic. “We sell out of stuff all the time,” Meyer says.
In Connecticut, Oregon wines are well represented at the six M&R Liquors stores, where the wines receive p-o-s support and are integrated on the shelves by varietal. M&R has approximately 40 Oregon SKUs, including 25 Pinot Noirs, available, with the rest primarily Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. “Oregon definitely does Pinot Noir well,” says Patti Paul, manager and marketing director at M&R Liquors. “They’re a little more Burgundian in style—earthier, and the fruit is not in your face.”
Sales of Oregon wines are growing at more modest single-digit rates at M&R’s stores, and Paul considers them a niche market. Oregon Pinot Noir accounted for 7.6% of total Pinot Noir sales at M&R last year, while the state’s Pinot Gris comprised 8.8% of the store’s total sales of the white varietal. Paul notes that the pace of Oregon wine sales on the East Coast has not yet caught up with West Coast trends. “Wine trends happening in California usually catch on here about two years later,” she observes.
Popular Oregon wine brands at M&R include Willamette Valley Vineyards ($15-$22 a 750-ml.) and Second Growth ($18-$25). Top-selling labels at Wine Exchange include Colene Clemens ($25-$55), Cristom ($32-$130), and Drouhin Roserock ($30-$65). Meyer says that there have been some minor price increases recently, but values are still competitive.
While Pinot Noir dominates Oregon wine sales, Chardonnay shows promise. “Chardonnay will continue to emerge as a varietal up there,” Meyer says. “It’s a great place to grow Chardonnay. At the top end, they’re looking at the French Burgundy model, which is a reductive style of wine making.”
Retailers expect Oregon wines will maintain momentum as trends shift eastward. “Oregon will continue on a tear,” Meyer says. “Prices are still reasonable. California has done very well with Pinot Noir, but I like the consistency of Oregon Pinot Noir for the price.”