To focus mainly on consumers or to focus mainly on trade and media? That is the question answered in the Washington Wine Commission’s new five-year strategic plan.

For the past five years, the Commission – whose primary mission is to raise awareness and demand for Washington State wine – has focused its work largely at the consumer level. While these efforts have increased awareness and helped gain traction in various target markets, it is a labor – and perhaps more importantly capital – intensive approach.

In the Wine Commission’s new five year strategic plan, approved recently by the Board of Directors, this approach pivots to focusing mainly on trade and media. This will be done locally, nationally, and internationally through a variety of trade events; promotional and educational campaigns; and media and technology. Some of these programs are already in place, such as Taste Washington. Others will be created in the coming months and years.

“This shift in our strategic focus reflects the great importance of trade and media to the continued success of our industry,” Wine Commission President Steve Warner says. “Research shows that the most powerful influence on consumers’ ultimate purchasing decisions is the recommendation of a trusted retailer, sommelier or journalist. So speaking to the trade is actually the most effective way to speak to the consumer, and our modest resources can stretch farther with this smaller, more targeted audience.”

What message will the Commission bring to trade and media? The overall goal will be to drive a series of key messages – that Washington is a place for superior quality wines across a range of varietals and that Washington wines have a distinctive character that uniquely straddles the Old World and the New. These messages aim to reinforce and expand existing attitudes about Washington wine.

In addition to its focus on trade and media, the Commission’s new plan also has the goals of increasing industry unity; actively supporting wine tourism development; and supporting education and research. Progress against each of these goals will be measured and tracked over the next five years.

Though most of the Commission’s new strategic plan focuses on these objectives, there are other interesting aspects that provide a window into how the Commission sees the industry evolving over the next five years. One of these is ambitious growth of Washington wine in the marketplace.

While the U.S. wine market is currently growing at 3% annually, the Commission believes that Washington can outpace this by growing 5% annually. While this may seem like a minor shift, it is, in fact, quite aggressive. Remember that Washington is currently a very distant second to California in terms of production. To grow to 5% annually, Washington would need to plant nearly 20,000 acres of additional vineyards in the coming years. For perspective, there are currently a little over 43,000 acres planted in the state, so this would represent a 50% increase in the state’s plantings.

Is this type of rapid growth possible? With the industry continuing to expand and the entrance of new players like Gallo – who reportedly is looking to grow the production at Columbia to 1M cases annually – it is certainly possible. Additionally, a recent economic impact study supports the fact that the Washington wine industry is rapidly growing.

So what will the Washington wine landscape look like five years from now? If all goes to plan, key influencers in the trade and media will have increased interest in Washington wine. Meanwhile expanded production will have put more Washington wine into consumers’ hands. Here’s to that!