Organic grapes: A natural tourist attraction

The growing number of organic grape-growing regions in the Northwest provide new opportunities for wine marketing around the popular buzzword “terroir,” according to a new study by a Washington State University Tri-Cities researcher.

Derived from the French word “terre,” meaning “land,” “terroir” is used to denote the special characteristics of a place, said Byron Marlowe, WSU Tri-Cities program coordinator and clinical assistant professor of hospitality and wine and beverage business management.

Older wine growing regions in Europe have capitalized on marketing terroir characteristics like climate, storytelling and the history of their region.

For newer wine regions like Washington and Oregon, an opportunity also exists in developing wine tourism by marketing terroir characteristics such as natural vineyards, organic practices and the wineries that call them home, according to a study Marlowe published in Beverages, an international peer-reviewed journal on beverage research and development.

This kind of marketing may be currently underutilized in the region, he said.

Marlowe said Washington wine country in the Tri-Cities, Prosser and Walla Walla already highlight the sensory terroir experience stemming from unique storytelling attributes of the region.

He said Badger Mountain Vineyard in the Tri-Cities and Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain both feature biodynamic farming practices, which have attracted a new brand of wine tourists to the area. That market, he said, only stands to grow as awareness of sustainable practices continues to spread around the world.

Marlowe said terroir can drive consumers to wine regions for the sense of place and environmental experience of wine, in addition to classic wine country attributes.

In Oregon, more than 50 percent of grape growing operations are certified organic, he said, which presents a unique wine cultural experience.

“There is a theme that is being set first among terroir factors in Oregon, and that theme is sustainable agricultural practices,” he said. “It has everything to do with how they treat the vines, the soil. These are vineyards that aren’t manipulating or pressuring the growing process, and people are responding to that by wanting to visit the sites of these vineyards and wineries, and by wanting to observe the sensory experiences of more natural vineyards.”

While it is harder to achieve a consistent flavor profile using natural practices, Marlowe said the attention to the growing process is what fascinates and excites tourists about the wine region and ultimately leads to them buying the state’s wines. He said within the beauty of natural wine lie flaws and inconsistent vintages, yet it is what is closest to the historical practices of traditional winemaking and true to the terroir of a region.

“There is a real new movement toward natural wines,” Marlowe said. “Organic vinicultural practices seek to preserve and protect the natural environment, as well as maintain the naturalistic qualities of the wine produced from the region. Both Oregon and Washington could capitalize on these characteristics in how they market their wine regions, which gives them a unique attraction point that stands to grow their wine economy.”

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