Southern Willamette Wineries Say They're Tired of Being Ignored

Article excerpt

Byline: Ilene Aleshire The Register-Guard

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper posted a rave review of Willamette Valley wineries and winemakers on its Web site. The article spoke in glowing terms of pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay wines. It applauded "the individual passion of dedicated winemakers."

It didn't, however, mention a single winery from the southern Willamette Valley.

That's the kind of thing that drives Steve Girard, owner of Benton-Lane Winery, and Natalie Inouye, Lane County tourism promoter, slightly crazy.

It's not that they begrudge the northern Willamette growers and winemakers the attention. "We'd just like our share," said Inouye, who is vice president of tourism marketing for the Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County.

"It's about how we're looked at," Girard said. "We're looked at as the lost stepchild, standing in the shadows of our friends to the north."

He decided it was time to do something about that. A week ago, Girard called a meeting at his winery of local vineyards and wineries - `No one has pulled these people into a room' - to talk about a plan of action. Forty-four people attended. They enthusiastically agreed that it was time, in Girard's words, "to come out of the shadows and stand in the sunlight."

They further agreed to form a group with that goal and to make Girard president. The group, which is rooted in the old Southern Willamette Valley Oregon Winegrower Association, doesn't have a name yet, although Girard leans toward "Winegrowers of Eugene," or WE. "I think the new name has to have Eugene in it," he said. `The problem with Lane County is every state has a Lane County."

The group will be starting on a shoestring budget. Girard is estimating $12,000 to $20,000, depending on how many members sign on. But he said the group is hoping to leverage that by linking with other wine and tourism organizations.

They've already enlisted the support of Inouye, who met with representatives of the wine group on Friday and has already swung into action. …