Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walla Walla Wineries: It’s all your fault!

Every so often, my sense of logic gets insulted and when that happens I find myself climbing on my soapbox for a rant. Here’s my rant.

For several years now (and especially last week), as I live and breath in the Walla Walla Valley, I hear, more than I want to, negative remarks about wineries and tourism in Walla Walla. And more than often the words uttered are narrow-minded opinions that have not been researched. The opinions may be phrased a little different, but it all focuses on one topic: Everything "bad" (whatever that means) about Walla Walla is the fault (and responsibility) of the wineries.

Just when I think I have heard it all, and every time I hear a new one, my mouth drops to the floor and I can’t seem to find the strength to pick up my bottom jaw due to the fact I am blown away at the ignorance of the statements.

“They should build more chain restaurants and big box stores instead of building another winery.”

Excuse me. But could you clarify for me who “They” exactly are? Is there a clandestine committee here in town by the name of “They” that decides to shut out potential businesses and only allow wineries to open a business? I don’t think so. So should property managers not rent space and realtors not sell buildings and land to wineries and wait for some non-winery business to come along? Who would win at that kind of business proposition? No one. We've been there. Done that.

“Instead of building more wineries, “They” (there’s that darn pesky clandestine committee again) should fix the potholes on our city streets.”

Unfortunately, my SUV takes on a few new rattles every time I hit an unavoidable pothole. It doesn’t make me happy, either. One of the worst looking streets in Walla Walla bears the name, Walla Walla Avenue. Ironic, huh? However, tell me again what a privately owned winery has to do with fixing our potholes? Repairing and maintaining the streets in Walla Walla is the responsibility of City of Walla Walla’s Administration of the Public Works Department. The wineries and the City of Walla Walla are not working together to create potholes to make your lives miserable. Besides, haven’t you heard that a winery is no different than any other business? If you think privately owned wineries should be responsible for fixing potholes, then so should your private and locally owned plumbers, dry cleaners, restaurants, etc. be responsible, too. Oh and by the way - these local businesses are going to adjust the prices a bit higher so they can pitch in to pay for repair of those potholes and still make a profit to pay their employees and overhead it takes to run their business. Many wineries in the Walla Walla Valley are independent "mom & pop" family-owned businesses.

Every bottle of wine that is sold in the city or county of Walla Walla is charged a revenue tax, as well as tax is charged on prepared food and lodging. The standard revenue tax rate charged on every of bottle of wine is 8.0% (county) or 8.3% cents (city) on the dollar with .015 or .018 being local and of course, comes back to our area. There are a lot of bottles of wine being sold that the city and county of Walla Walla are benefiting from.

"Why don't "They" use winery money (or instead of building another winery) to clean up the Blue Mountain Mall?”

I live near the Blue Mountain Mall (BMM) and I hate-hate-hate that eyesore. It is shameful. But here's the deal folks - - the wineries are not responsible for cleaning it up. The BMM is a privately owned corporation. Expecting wineries (or any other private business) to be responsible for clean-up of another private business is no different than expecting wineries to clean up your neighbor's lawn or house that is in need of weed-pulling and repair. Let me guess, you also expect Burger King to buy you a bigger size pair of pants, too?

"Why don't "They" spend more time promoting the Walla Walla Sweet Onion instead of wine? Wine has taken over the status of the onion."

Well gosh boys and girls, guess what? Wine tourism has actually helped the status of our beloved Walla Walla Sweet Onion. Growing up in Walla Walla, the house I was raised in was surrounded by sweet onions. Family and family friends are or have been Walla Walla Sweet Onions farmers. Unlike wineries, Walla Walla Sweet Onions are seasonal. The harvest is short as well as the shelf life of the onions. Most wineries are working all the year round. However, when onions are available wine tourists buy their share either from the road-side stands or at the downtown Farmer's Market. The years I spent working in winery tasting rooms, several tourist's plans included the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival in July.

We got the Walla Walla Sweet Onion voted as the official vegetable of Washington. What else do you want?

"Wineries do not create very many jobs."

They don't? Wineries not only need staff, but they rely on services from other local businesses (banks, attorneys, advertisers, computer techs, office supplies, lawn and ag services, food and catering, automotive repair, electricians, plumbers, etc.) Wineries create tourism. Tourists need gasoline, accommodations and food.

The Marcus Whitman Hotel is one of many accommodations in the area and a large employer creating jobs from wait staff, housekeeping, maintenance and even their own staff that keeps the furniture repaired and upholstered. The hotel provides employment almost 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And it wasn't always that way. I hear many yammer on about how they want Walla Walla back to the way it "use to be." When? Back in the 1970-80's when the downtown was full of empty store fronts and the Marcus Whitman Hotel was on its way to have a date with the wrecking ball? Out-of-towners owned the building and could have cared less about our history. The building and it's furnishings were pillaged. In 1999, Kyle Mussman and company bought the historic structure. It was restored, expanded and once again, the hotel is the way it "use to be" providing more jobs than ever.

Besides creating jobs, Walla Walla wineries give back to the community. They donate a lot of money and goods to many of our local charities. You can bet if there is a fund raising campaign or a charity event, several wineries are going to be there donating their wine or a special party. Many wineries create the expensive large formats of wine just to give away for fundraisers knowing that the larger bottles of wine can bring in big dollars.

Change is hard and I am not immune to it. But I have realized to keep things that are important to us, sometimes we have to bend and open the mind. I am of the attitude, if you don't like something then either put up or shut up. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but instead of yammering incessantly about something, understand the real problem and find the proper channel to voice your opinions to - - and stop blaming everything on "They!"


The Simply Luxurious Life said...

I'm with you on all accounts. I enjoyed your venting. =) The main reason I love Walla Walla and all of the wineries is because it something you can't find anywhere else. I don't want chain restaurants, some originality please. The more refined, classy establishments the better.

PaulG said...

Of course you are absolutely right. But the meatheads doing the yammering are not going to read this, let alone be swayed by it. Don't waste your energy punching a brick wall. Support the people doing the good work, and let the nitwits yowl. The best thing you or anyone can do is to ignore them. They are clueless, ignorant, fearful and ultimately powerless.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Paul, you are right of course. It's just like writing a letter to the local paper about some idiot or something idiotic, chances are great the idiot won't be reading the paper. But just case, it is still food for thought and besides - a good vent.

Anonymous said...

In the short time I have been a Walla Walla resident (4 years), I have experienced the comments you have expressed in your blog. I totally agree these people have their heads stuck in the sand. I also agree with Paul that no matter what you say you are not going to change their opinion (I have tried). But, I do bet that writing this vent made you feel better. It made me feel better. Thanks Katie!

Unknown said...

Correct in every word you've written. As Board President of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, may I add that the many social service agencies operating in Walla Walla are very grateful for the generous support given by the wineries and those associated with them. BMH2H has been the beneficiary of gifts from K Vintners, Reininger, Waterbrook, Buty, L'Ecole, Three Rivers, Dusted Valley, Forgeron, Foundry, and others, relationships with all of whom we cherish. Indeed, the wine industry has been one of the most consistently community-service oriented I can think of.

chrisp509 said...

I heard one that went something like, "They should focus more on being known for one exquisite varietal (such as the european model, oregon pinot, australian shiraz) rather than embracing the patchwork of many varietals in order to become a major player in international markets."

I can see this one from both sides.

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