The Washington Wine Quality Alliance is set to get a makeover. Don Corson, owner of Camaraderie Cellars and a board member of the Washington Wine Commission, is organizing a task force to revitalize the seven-year-old arm of the commission that establishes standards of consistency and quality for wines produced in the state. He said his efforts coincide with the Wine Commission’s five-year strategic plan because improving quality will lead to greater awareness of Washington wines.
The Washington Wine Quality Alliance was created in 1999. “It was formed to begin to work toward common standards of quality for wines at all levels in the state,” Corson said. “It was envisioned as a consortium or vehicle for wines in Washington State to continue to rise in quality.” It defines the term “reserve” and its use on wine labels; requires all wines labeled “Washington wine” to be made entirely of grapes grown within the state; prohibits the use of the names Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, and Chablis; and requires members to follow best management practices, addressing sustainable grape production, environmental quality, human resources, and economic viability.
Participation in the Wine Quality Alliance, however, has been low, at only about 10 percent of the wineries in the state. Corson hopes to change that by assembling a task force of growers, winemakers, and academics who will breathe new life into the organization. Response to his first queries has been positive, he said.
The first step after forming a task force will be to develop a mission and structure for the alliance. “We don’t have a model yet,” he said. “My personal vision is that it will not be purely a policing agency, and not purely marketing. I’d like it to offer ongoing education to enhance future wine quality.”
The wine industry in Washington is growing rapidly, he said. As new wineries open at a breathtaking clip across the state, and existing producers continue to expand, it can become difficult to define standards of quality, Corson said. But those standards become more important as Washington wines compete in world markets.
Washington Wine Commission Executive Director Robin Pollard said she hopes the new alliance will be self-monitoring, and that more producers will participate. “We’re hanging our hats on the fact that our wines are world class in terms of quality,” she said.