Oregon Chardonnay Symposium 2015

above, tasting at Oregon Chardonnay Celebration 2015 © Jean Yates Inc. 

The word is out. Oregon Chardonnay is the next big thing. Great news. So how does that translate to winery sales, and most importantly, to profit? And how does the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration compete with the branding efforts of other regions, specifically, Canada’s British Columbia?

Oregon is not the only region jumping on the cool climate bandwagon. The success and growth of Canada’s i4C (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration)  highlights a sales opportunity with tremendous growth potential. The time is now — catch the trend and make it Oregon’s own.

Canada’s Chardonnay Celebration:
It’s time for the re-birth of cool…

Wineries in Ontario, Canada have jumped ahead of Oregon in promoting cool climate Chardonnay. They even have their own slogan: “COOLChardonnay”. Since 2011, the annual cool climate Chardonnay conference “The Rebirth of COOL:  International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration”  has been held in Canada every summer.

Back in 2013 they headlined the event with a new slogan:

“In only 2 years, the i4c has already witnessed a “rebirth of cool”.  CoolChardonnay.”

i4C hosted over 50 cool climate Chardonnay producers in its first two years with a goal of having 50% of them from outside Ontario. By 2013 wineries from France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Turkey, Argentina, Chile, California, South Africa, New Zealand, and yes, two Oregon wineries (Adelsheim and Domaine Drouhin) attended.. Between 2011 and 2015, a total of ten Oregon wineries have participated.

below, classroom at the 2015 i4C



Perusing press materials from last year’s event, the parallels to the IPNC are remarkable. This is a younger version of IPNC complete with prestigious speakers, Chardonnay Camp, Barrel Bonfire Barbecue, and a World Tour Grand tasting and Dinner. Keynotes were Matt Kramer from Wine Spectator in 2011, Stephen Brook from Decanter in 2012 and Steven Spurrier from Decanter in 2013. Matt Kramer returned as keynote in 2015..

below, ad for the 2016 ip4 Chardonnay event

Canada's Chardonnay event, 2016


Oregon’ Chardonnay “Identity”

Chardonnay sells for less than Pinot noir, and high quality fruit is limited. To make it a viable profit center, wineries need a sustained and growing customer base. An investment in new vines is major and profit takes years. Will the customers be there?

To become as universal a concept as “Oregon Pinot noir”, Oregon Chardonnay needs an identity of its own — something that brands it as unique and better than the rest. And that message must be shared consistently with customers, the press, and social networks. It is time for a discussion among wineries about what that message will be.

My friend and PR expert Marilyn Hawkins hit the nail on its head when she asked: “What are the three must-know things about Oregon Chard?”

Last weekend we asked that question of a few Oregon winery owners. Bill Sweat of Winderlea immediately said: [it is a ] “cool climate Chardonnay”.  It was the number one response, reiterated over the weekend many times. A second quality mentioned was “Oregundian”  – an Oregon version of white Burgundy. Marilyn invented that phrase.

After “cool climate” and “Oregundian”, discussion tended towards the scent and flavor of the wine. But if you want to differentiate Oregon Chardonnay from the rest of the world,  we’ll have to go beyond lemon lime, green apple, minerals, higher acidity, honey, a hint of cream etc. You can find those phrases used to describe cool climate Chard from Mendocino to New Zealand.

Oregon Chardonnay needs to shine as a unique brand.

Oregon’s Chardonnay Celebration

If Oregon can have IPNC, the most successful Pinot noir celebration in the world, can those resources be harnessed to do the same for Chardonnay? Yes – and the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, started by the heroic efforts of Paul Durant and Erica Landon, has now become part of IPNC – a logical direction for the Celebration, hopefully resulting in greater national and international impact. Held in 2016 at the Alison Inn and Spa, the change of venue says a lot about the market position the organizers are heading for. With a focus on national and international promotion, the crowd may soon be as eclectic as that of the IPNC. And perhaps, as hard to get into?

Oregon's Chardonnay Celebration for 2016

Ways to promote your Chardonnay

–  International Chardonnay Day (May 22 in 2014, usually the week before Memorial Day weekend). Plan a coordinated marketing campaign. It could include a wine release, an event, and integrated digital promotion might include tweets, Facebook, google+ and LinkedIn posts, Instagram photos posted throughout the day, a blog post announcing your participation in the day and a followup article about your success, and an update to your website before the event and after.

Chardonnay on your website – add awards, photos and pictures, recipes and brief descriptions of Oregon Chardonnay – bullet points about your acreage, production, AVAs, style. Lots of images, text focused on what consumers want to know.

Chardonnay in the tasting room – start a separate flight, special promotion pricing for a weekend, guided tastings with reservation with the winemaker every Saturday at 2PM, free Chardonnay sample this weekend, grape tasting during harvest, next year promote a signup to win a free pair of tickets to the 2015 Chardonnay Symposium, etc.

Ways for Oregon Winery Associations to Promote Chardonnay

– Cross market by offering free Chardonnay taste at yours and neighbor wineries, coupon/cork/ given at each winery, all benefit.



2013 & 2015 Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Photos
all photos ©Jean Yates Inc.

Oregon Chardonnay Symposium bottles

After the event – empties


2013 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium speaker panel

Discussion panel 2013



At the tasting, 2015
tents at Stoller Vineyard, site of 2014 and 2015 events

The tasting tent on Stoller Estate, 2015



Chardonnay Symposium 2015 pouring wine at tasting

Tasting, 2015