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Oregon Wine Board Consultant Steve Burns

Oregon Wine Board's Big Plans

New Strategy and
Search for a New Executive Director

An Interview with
Interim Executive Director Steve Burns

July 14, 2011
By Christina Kelly, Avalon Senior Editor

When Jeanette Morgan recently left the Oregon Wine Board (OWB) after serving only nine months as its executive director, there was a palpable shiver throughout the Oregon wine industry, an industry that has struggled with direction and a weak economy.

The shiver turned into a collective sigh of relief when the OWB recently announced that Steve Burns, a dynamic strategic planner and former executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, would be the interim executive director for the next six months. Burns successfully ran the Washington Wine Commission from the late 1990s through 2005, when Washington experienced a growth spurt in the industry and Washington wines soared in popularity and accessibility throughout the country. Burns left Washington to run his own wine-consulting business in Sonoma.

Stacie Jacob, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance executive director will join Burns as the two work with the OWB on a long-term strategy plan and finding a new executive director.

"The good news is we have a strong board, with diverse grape growers and representatives from large and small wineries," said Burns, who plans to crisscross the state seeking input from Oregon wineries on a new strategic marketing plan. "We've had a couple of legislative victories. We have the successful Oregon Pinot Camp and the IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration)."

But the affable wine consultant concedes that there is plenty of work to do and he intends to set the stage for success when the new executive director is selected sometime in September. A series of strategy sessions will begin this week with members of the OWB, to develop a result-oriented strategic and long-term plan for the wine industry. The OWB will vote on the draft plan and consider amendments at its Aug. 30 board meeting.

Listening Sessions With Winemakers, Annual Oregon Wine Tasting

In early August, both Burns and Jacob will travel throughout Oregon seeking input from winemakers and winery owners, dubbed "listening sessions," and rank the priorities in marketing, research and legislative policy/initiatives. The first listening session is scheduled Aug. 17 in the Milton-Freewater region. Other sessions will be held in Portland, Southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley.

"We'd like to see more vintners involved in the various wine boards to get a bigger voice out there throughout the state," Burns said. "We want to showcase the diversity in styles and varieties in Oregon - it isn't just Pinot Noir."

The long-term strategy plan includes re-branding of the OWB and the industry. A request for proposal has already been issued to come up with the creative aspects of rebranding. In addition, Burns said the board will re-define the way it communicates and incorporate more of social media tools such at Twitter, and Facebook.

"We can't get the word out if we don't communicate it well," said Burns.

Other plans include reinstating the annual Oregon wine tasting, similar to Taste Washington in Seattle, inviting media from around the world to taste Oregon wines in Oregon, and stressing Oregon's green credentials with biodynamic and organic farming and salmon-safe practices.

Part of the new strategy includes plans for wine tourism in Oregon, and examining the distribution and awareness of Oregon wines in other parts of the country.

Both Burns and Jacob recently sent a survey to wineries throughout Oregon and hope to have the results of that survey soon to share with board members. Jacob, who recently announced that she will be leaving her position with the Paso Robles wine board in August to start her on consulting business, said she is looking forward to spending time in Oregon to help develop a vision for the future.

Sam Tannahill, president of the OWB, said industry leaders are excited about the near-term and long-term plans for the industry.

"This is a huge opportunity, and I for one intend to make certain we take advantage of it," said Tannahill. "We haven't done a good job communicating how well we are actually doing, but we will get there."

The Oregon Wine Board is one of a dozen semi-independent state agencies. Its annual budget of about $2 million relies on revenues drawn, in large part, from a $25-a-ton tax on grapes crushed by Oregon wineries and a 2-cents-a-gallon tax on imported wines and certain wine sold within the state. The board also receives grant funding.

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