Change is coming to the Washington wine industry. In the coming months and years, look for these three changes in particular to have a profound impact on the state’s industry.

Big Box Liquor Stores are Coming

Last fall’s Initiative 1183 privatized spirits sales starting June 1st of this year. Scores of local Safeways, QFCs, and Fred Meyers have already applied to the Liquor Control Board for a spirits retailer license. Independent businesses that meet the initiative’s 10,000 square foot requirement – such as Seattle’s Wine World Warehouse – have also applied to sell spirits.

They will not be alone.

The state is poised for an influx of big box liquor retailers all across the region. Beverages and More (BevMo) has already filed liquor license applications for stores in Tukwila, Silverdale, and Tacoma. Seattle and other metropolitan areas seem sure to be added to that list. The Seattle Times recently reported that Total Wine & More also plans to open ten stores throughout Washington. Others, such as Liquor Depot, may follow suit.

The addition of spirits sales to grocery stores looks to shrink the footprint of the wine section. Simultaneously, big box stores like Total Wine will offer an expanded wine selection – stores in other regions carry an average of 8,000 wines – though competition, especially with volume discounting, looks to be intense. The result will be significantly increased competitive pressure on Washington’s wineries, distributors, and retailers. Stay tuned.

WSU invests in Wine Science Center

Washington State University plans to build a new Wine Science Center at its Tri-Cities campus. This $23M facility will be funded in part by the Washington Wine Commission, which committed to providing $7.4M via a levy on wineries and growers (read more about WSU’s Campaign for Wine here).

At last week’s Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers conference, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Altria – the parent company of Chateau Ste. Michelle – announced that they are donating $1M to help fund wine science and research at WSU.

While WSU already has approximately 30 faculty members working on viticulture and enology research, these investments will provide state-of-the-art facilities and research capabilities. This will make it easier to attract, train, and retain top quality faculty and students. It will also provide a wealth of research to inform the decisions of growers and winemakers across the state. The long-term effect on the industry cannot be overstated, with impacts from grape to glass.

Wine Commission Hires New Executive Director

Finally, last week the Washington Wine Commission announced the hiring of a new Executive Director, Steve Warner (see a post on the announcement here). Warner comes to the commission with a deep background in marketing, management, and international business.

After seeing astronomical growth over the last ten years in wineries, plantings, and accolades, Washington now stands poised to take the industry to the next level. Talking with several Commission board members in recent days, it is clear that they believe Warner is the perfect person to help accomplish this.

Of course, only time will tell how each of these three changes plays out and how immediately the impacts are seen. One thing, however, is already clear. The Washington wine industry will never be the same.