Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Four Wine Questions For: Amy Mumma

Welcome to my sixth interview in my 4WQ4 blog feature. This is the first 4WQ4 for 2010 and if you are not familiar, this is a quarterly article where I ask four Q&A’s to a “celebrity” in the wine industry. However, I have to admit I failed in 2009 and was short three interviews. But hey - this is a new year and I have another chance to meet my goal!

To start 2010 off, I decided to interview a woman - a wine woman - a Washington Wine Woman! (You know how I love those "W's") I was first introduced to Amy Mumma from the movie documentary, Washington State: Get the Dirt on Wine. A few years later I would meet Amy in person - - in fact, I met Amy at my house a few months ago! And of course, I poured her some good stuff - a lovely Merlot from Walla Walla!

Amy Mumma is the coordinator and instructor for the World of Wine Program at Central Washington University at Ellensberg and is internationally recognized for her knowledge of wines. She holds an MBA in Wine from the University of Bordeaux Business School, the Advanced Certificate of Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London, and a Diploma of Tasting from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France.

A biochemist in protein-chemistry research, Amy's scientific background provided a foundation for her strong knowledge of the science of wine. Her business background includes nine years in international business with experience in sales, manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, retail, import, export and international finance.

Amy was awarded the prestigious title, Professional Wine Woman 2005-2006, the top award of the International Wine Women Awards in Paris, France. She lived and studied in France for several years and continues to enjoy traveling and learning about vineyards and winemaking regions around the world.

W5: At what point in your life did it all come clear for you that the wine industry was what you wanted to be a part of?

AM: I was at the University of Burgundy while doing my undergraduate studies in Foreign Languages and International Affairs and it is there where I earned my Diploma of Wine Studies. It was much more interesting than 18th century French grammar!

I lived with a French family who worked in the wine business. The father of the family worked with negociants and both large and small estates. I was exposed to the world of domestic as well as export sales and was able to participate in many facets of the wine industry. And during my time there I was lucky to be able to travel and visit the major wine regions of Europe

I also studied overseas and received my Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London. I think it's great to expand your horizons beyond wine to the wider world. I learned a lot about Scotch and other drinks that is very applicable to tasting in the wine business. Another example was a tasting put on by Herradura tequila down in Tequila, Mexico which was very informative. It all works to improve your palate and tasting skills. My MBA comes from the Bordeaux Business School in France and that was certainly and eye-opener. The Bordelais are quite closed when it comes to wine tourism and are steeped in tradition. I was fortunate to visit many of the esteemed growths, view the winemaking process and talk with the owners and feel even though they have a strong hold on the market, they still are attempting to maintain and increase the quality of their wines. There is also a lot of innovation going on in the south of France where old vines are being pulled up and replanted to higher quality varieites.

W5: When you were at the University of Burgundy, was it common for women to be in wine studies?

AM: It was a humbling experience. I was one of just a handful of women in the program and the only one that was not French. Fortunately at the time I was fluent in French, but it was still very difficult. I remember our first blind tasting exam which was a Santenay (Pinot Noir) 1984. The instructor handed the test back to me and said "At least you got the color right mademoiselle".

W5: What's the most interesting development you've seen in the Washington State wine industry over the past five years?

AM: Of course we've seen the rise of many small family wineries, but what I think is exciting is the rise in overall quality for Washington wines. Although, I think we still have a long road ahead on recognition of Washington wines around the world.

W5: How much larger can the Washington State wine industry grow, do you think? Is there a limit somewhere that will inevitable be reached? Have we reached it and how do you feel the State of Washington could expand their recognition around the world

AM: That is a very good question which I am not sure has an easy answer. For one thing, we are limited by water supply for irrigation so that may limit our vineyard plantings. Currently we have enough grapes and are not undersupplied. Can we add more wineries? I am sure we can, but as an industry grows there will be consolidation which we have already seen. In addition those wineries not producing wines up to quality will eventually fade out as consumers chooses higher quality wines.

I think Washington State can expand their reach in a number of ways. The first and foremost is to have consistently high quality. Just one winery can bring down the others, but fortunately, quality has increased dramatically. Then of course there is the inevitable marketing. The wine industry is a 3 legged stool: wine, vineyard and marketing. Forget the marketing and the stool does not stand. It can be expensive to market, so it's important to work smarter rather than spending a lot of money and wasted effort. Be creative, look for a niche, find a target market. You can't be everything to everybody.

If wanting to work out of state, a winery has to take the time to research the market, the consumers, key buyers and distributors. Visits to the marketplace are essential to meet with key players and get a pulse on the industry. It is also crucial to have large players in the industry that can spread the word on Washington. It's expensive to go out of state for many small producers, so it's a good idea to support the bigger wineries in spreading the word.

Many studies have shown that to be successful, it is important to be in the UK market. The UK market has often been a gauge for global success. But it is a fiercely competitive market where retailers are squeezing suppliers. It makes sense to also put effort into new emerging markets such as Asia. Washington State already has trade ties to Asia and wineries should leverage that. Washington wines are considered in the premium price category which is what many Asians buy on as wine is considered a luxury and often a symbol of status. Washington has a long way to go. Relationships take time to develop. We are a young industry and it is important in the world of wine tradition to be patient, smart and look for new opportunities.

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