This is a very good question. Oregon’s wines have competed with the best wines from other regions – and even beat out top French wines – so you would think they could be found everywhere. However, few shops or restaurants outside of the Pacific Northwest carry Oregon wines. Here are a few points to consider.
1. Distribution challenges.
From a winemaker’s perspective, it can be difficult to find a distributor willing to carry their wines, especially in light of the flood of new wines that have overstocked the market in recent years. The distributor will only purchase as much wine as they can sell to wine shops and restaurants, and if the market is already glutted, it is unlikely they will want to begin carrying a new set of wines, because they could end up with a lot of wines, with no one to buy them.
2. Competition from other states.
Oregon lies directly between two larger wine markets – California and Washington – whose wineries produce far more wine. Compared with Napa Valley, Oregon’s largest of wineries would only be considered a “medium” sized winery in California. Oregon’s advantages in having many smaller-production, “handcrafted” wineries come at a price – in that what wines are produced, are hard to find outside the local area. Washington and California wines are produced larger quantity, and are more likely to be found stocking shelves in wine shops throughout the Pacific Northwest.
3. State shipping laws and restrictions.
Additionally, there are many Federal laws in the United States that make it extremely difficult to ship wines to some states. Some states would consider it a felony offense! Some of the shipping laws harken back to Prohibition days, and, even though current legislation is opening up these states to accept wine shipments from Oregon wineries, there are still many limitations, restrictions, licenses and permits that would make it very expensive to ship these wines to consumers outside the Pacific Northwest.
4. International shipping costs.
Similarly, the problem exists for shipping wines internationally. Costly permits and licenses aside, it simply costs a lot of money to ship heavy products (such as wine bottles) overseas, even in large quantities where a volume discount might apply.
5. Volume production.
Many Oregon wineries produce limited stocks of up to 10,000 or 15,000 cases, and while that may be enough to stock Oregon area wine shops, it is barely enough to ship to other states, let alone to international shops.
The key to shipping wines may lie in sheer volume. The more wine you produce, the less profit margin on each bottle you need, in order to make a profit. This allows you to sell the wines for less, and if you ship them overseas, eat much of the cost of shipping the wine without raising the wine’s price too much.
The only places we have ever seen Oregon wines, outside the United States, were at large wine shops in London, and then, the prices were outrageous. A Pinot Noir that would normally sell for $18 in Oregon, was priced at nearly $30 in London. We compared this to other “foreign” wines on the shelves, including Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa or Australia – which retailed at only $15. It was clear that these other wines came from large-name producers who bottle wines by millions of cases. These producers are able to make lots of wine at very low prices, pay for shipping them to England and other countries, and still sell them at competitive prices.
Oregon produces many great wines, but there can be just as many challenges in getting those wines shipped and stocked in markets outside of the state. Competition from other markets, legal restrictions, permits, shipping costs, and distribution arrangements are making it difficult for consumers to learn about Oregon wines. In this way, Oregon is like a well-kept secret – but this is a secret that is preventing the local wine industry from gaining the national and international recognition it so deserves.
To overcome these challenges, additional marketing needs to be done that will help get Oregon’s wines out in the spotlight, get consumers across the planet to start asking for Oregon wines, and result in Oregon wines being stocked globally. OregonWines.com is one such marketing vehicle. It was designed to help spread the word to consumers everywhere, and help improve brand recognition for Oregon’s wineries. If you have suggestions on how Oregon wineries could better position themselve to gain added business, write to us with your thoughts.