Northwest vineyards squeeze profits from concerts

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

STATEWIDE— First, grow the grapes. Then make the wine. And next, book Bob Dylan? With an increasing number of players in the winery business, several vineyards are relying on hosted concerts to market and create an outlet for their food and drink.

McMenamins jumped on the trend last month as it began an outdoor summer concert series at its Edgefield property in Troutdale, where it has operated a winery since 1990. The 4,500-person venue will share grass with the golf course before moving in 2008 to a permanent location across the street as part of a new complex to include more guest rooms and meeting spaces. “There is not a lot of options for large outdoor music venues in the Portland area,” says marketing director Renee Rank. McMenamins sells its food and alcohol during the concerts. “It’s good marketing,” Rank adds.

Secret House Vineyards in Veneta has hit its stride after four years of hosting summer concerts promoted by Square Peg Concerts. The vineyard produces about 5,000 cases of wine per year, selling nearly all of it on-site during concerts, murder mystery dinners and other events such as bird watching festivals. “We’re a shoestring operation,” says co-owner Patti Chappel. “Concerts help us make ends meet.” Secret House does not take a percentage of the gate from the 10 or so summer concerts at its 3,000-person outdoor venue, relying on the food and beverage sales to bring in the revenue. Chappel has not been able to produce enough of her own wine to satisfy the growing demand from more vineyard visitors, so now she also sells beer and wine from other producers at the concerts.

Outdoor concerts were part of the original concept since Maryhill Winery, overlooking the Columbia River in Goldendale, Wash., opened in 2001. The winery has put its concerts on hiatus this summer while it builds a permanent stage and box seats to improve its 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. “The concerts create good cash flow,” says co-owner Craig Leuthold. The House of Blues will continue to promote four to six concerts at the vineyard each summer. “People remember the good memories at specific events, and remember us when picking wines at the grocery store,” Leuthold says. The winery produces 40,000 cases of wine each year. Leuthold intends to expand the vineyard’s 18-state distribution territory by three to five states a year.

— Robert H. Hamrick


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