Hi Everyone! My name is Meredith and I am a junior English major. I have been spending my summer as the Marketing Intern for the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, a non-profit in downtown Walla Walla dedicated to promoting the wineries of the Walla Walla Valley. The Alliance promotes the local wine industry through a variety of ways, including but not limited to hosting trade, media and consumer events, publishing press releases, utilizing social media, and by working closely with other tourism organizations to maximize visitation to the Valley and help broadcast the variety of activities (both wine-related and non wine related) available for visitors. It has been a sweet gig to help out with a variety of different projects because I have learned a variety of skills! Read on to hear about my experience.
The first exciting piece of my internship was the planning of 2016 Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine, a weekend long festival that happens each year in June. Consumers and media personnel are invited to the Valley for a weekend to learn, enjoy fabulous food, and of course, taste some good wine. This year the theme was “The World of Cabernet Sauvignon”, a particularly exciting theme because Cab is the most widely planted grape in the Walla Walla Valley. One fascinating fact that I learned is that in 1978, when Wine & Spirits called for samples of this wine, the very first winery in the Walla Walla Valley only reluctantly submitted and ended up winning the title of “best Cab in the country.” This publicity changed everything for Washington State wine and drew more attention to the state and to the Walla Walla Valley, setting a stage for almost forty years growth that continues to happen.
So, for the second piece of my internship, I was tasked with documenting the growth of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA) since August 2015. I was given a list of over 100 vineyards, and I spent nearly eight weeks tracking down each vineyard owner in order to have them create and update online vineyard profiles. Using these profiles, I would create a master list of acreage per wine grape varietal in the Walla Walla Valley that we would use when speaking to members of the media. This sounds like a simple task, and many vineyard owners were proficient with computers and were diligent with updating their profiles. However, a handful of vineyard owners did not feel comfortable with computers, were reluctant to make information about their vineyards public, lived out of the country and were inaccessible by phone or email, or were out working all day and never answered the phone. For several of these contacts, I had to get into the car, plug addresses into my GPS, and flag down people working in the vineyards or knock on doors.
The best part about this process was that I got to see beautiful vineyards. However, this was often scary because it involved introducing myself to complete strangers and asking them if they would interrupt whatever it is they were doing to update their vineyard profiles. Once, I walked onto someone’s property and her dog who had long nails jumped all over me and left a few scratches!
Despite these canine encounters, I did manage to update the information, and I even found some newly planted vineyards. My findings revealed that since August 2015 over 100 acres have been planted, and the Valley has seen an increase in acreage of nearly every kind of wine grape that it hosts. One key thing I have learned from this process is how to be concise and how to prepare information for people when you are interrupting their time in order to have them do you a favor. Before a vineyard visit, I had to prepare all my materials in advance: a vineyard map detailing their current profile, a pen so they could log any changes, and my laptop so that we could update changes online. Most importantly, I had to be confident and ensure vineyard owners that by creating profiles online, they would have access to automatically generated details about topography, rainfall, average temperatures during growing season, and a detailed profile of the soil upon which they were growing their grapes. Many vineyard owners already know these indices, but I wonder in the future if having access to automatically generated information will make viticulture and win emaking more accessible to people who do not have backgrounds in science. I find myself constantly rethinking the value of technology in our lives, and what the difference in product is when people are using knowledge that they have acquired through years of study, versus what technology and online services can calculate in a matter of seconds.