Local beverage scene fueling tourism

From passport programs to annual festivals, tourists are raising a glass to Southwest Washington

Rusty Hoyle

In the last several years, Clark County has enjoyed significant growth in its presence of wineries, breweries and other craft beverages including spirits, mead and cider. Substantial numbers compiled by market research leave little doubt that alcohol is good for tourism.

Natalie Zadak, marketing manager for Visit Vancouver USA, said, “According to the Dean Runyan Associates report, on behalf of the Washington State Department of Commerce, Clark County brought in $481 million in visitor spending in 2014, which generated $12.5 million in local tourism-related taxes and provided 4,220 tourism-related jobs. Tourism is a huge economic generator for our community and unique breweries, wineries and festivals really assist in strengthening our destination.”

These numbers include money spent at restaurants, gas purchases, hotel accommodations, transportation expenses and the like.

Following the trend of such wildly successful events like the Oregon Brewers Festival which, in its 27th year, generated over $32 million in revenue for the Portland metropolitan area, Visit Vancouver USA set about planning a calendar of opportunities to give visitors and residents multiple reasons to view Vancouver, Washington as a destination.

Burnt Bridge CellarsZadak shared that most recently Visit Vancouver USA has focused heavily on marketing the local craft brew scene with a beer festival for every season. Meanwhile, wine is showcased at annual events that have experienced increased attendance year over year. This years’ Craft Winefest – featuring artisan wineries throughout Washington state – welcomed travelers from California, Idaho, Canada and as far away as England. Sip & Stroll introduces event goers to businesses in Uptown Village as well as downtown, and the Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival has drawn tourists from 19 states and Canada since its inception in 1998.

Drink This! Vancouver – held three times a year since 2012 – is slightly unique in that it incorporates nonalcoholic artisan beverage makers like coffee roasters, tea blenders and kombucha brewers in addition to the predominant wine and beer theme. Participants download or pick up a walking map that highlights downtown businesses pouring drinks often by the actual winemaker or brewmaster.

“The walking maps (for Drink This! Vancouver) encourage people to try new places, new drinks and meet the makers of the beverages,” said Rusty Hoyle, event producer for the Craft Winefest and Drink This! Vancouver. “We feel the more places people visit, the more variety there will be available to those people and downtown will continue to become a destination for more and more people. I think we’re on to something great here in Vancouver.”

Strategic advertising in lifestyle magazines such as Portland Monthly, Seattle Met and beverage-focused publications like WinePress NW is another key component in Visit Vancouver USA’s broad vision to promote tourism through the local beverage industry.

Clark County wineries are keenly aware that there’s power in numbers as theymeet regularly to establish an association that will give them even greater unity moving forward to brand the region as a wine destination. With 15 wineries to date, a handful poised to open by the end of the year and the support of area tasting rooms, winemakers are focusing on inclusivity even as smaller groups explore different marketing ideas.

Recently nine wineries, including Cellar 55 which is a co-operative tasting room of four Eastern Washington wineries, unveiled a 2015-2016 Passport that sells for $22 and covers tasting fees at all participating locations.

In a press release, Michelle Parker, co-owner and winemaker at Koi Pond Cellars in Ridgefield, said, “Collectively, we (Clark County wineries) produce more than 30 different varietals of wines which makes wine tasting in Clark County a lot of fun. We felt a passport program similar to the one for Portland’s Distillery Row would be a good fit.”

The city of Battle Ground features a passport program all its own. Launched in 2013 with support from the local chamber of commerce, “Passport To Battle Ground” takes participants on a tour of the area, including a number of wineries.

Amphitheatre Northwest also appreciates the benefits to showcasing the burgeoning craft beverage scene. Kathy Russo, director of sales for Amphitheater Northwest, shared that through their concessionaire, Ovations, they’ve partnered with Confluence Vineyards & Winery to offer a local wine option for VIP seating.

Russo said, “They come because of Van Halen (for example) but they walk away saying ‘Wow, did you know that Ridgefield has this great winery and Vancouver has this great restaurant?’ and that’s what we’re trying to do is be a good community partner and share what else is out there in the community.”

In addition to Confluence, the Amphitheatre has approached Bethany Vineyard & Winery, Three Brothers Vineyard & Winery, Gougér Cellars Winery and Burnt Bridge Cellars to pour wine in the Star Lounge – a private lounge for up to 300 premium ticketholders.

Promoting the county’s wine scene is so important to Amphitheatre Northwest that, for the July Van Halen concert, brochures introducing Confluence and briefly describing the featured wines were sent to all 300 box holders. Depending on the success of this first season and wine volume each winery is able to supply, the program could expand and, at 18,000 patrons per show, that’s considerable exposure.

“There’s a lot of people coming to the area, a lot of people visiting the area, and this is a place where we can tell them what they can expect from it,” Russo said.