Oregon winegrowers raised a glass Wednesday to state Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, presenting the 20-year lawmaker with the first Oregon Wine Leadership Award.
Jim Bernau, founder and winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards, gave the award on behalf of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, which wrapped up its annual meeting and legislative reception at the state Capitol.
The award recognized Winters for her role in promoting the Oregon wine industry, which now generates more than $3.35 billion in statewide economic impact.
“I’ve watched over the years an industry that has come into its very own,” Winters said. “I think it’s only going to get bigger and better.”
The Oregon Winegrowers Association represents 725 wineries and more than 1,000 vineyards, though Winters said she can remember the naysayers who insisted Oregon wines would never catch on.
“It’s been a growth industry that has done not only a tremendous job with economic development, but we can brag about our wines!” Winters said.
Bernau, who established Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1983, ran down a list of Winters’ contributions to the industry. Just last session, she helped to secure $500,000 for marketing and research, and in 2013 she was the chief sponsor for creating Oregon Wine Country license plates, with proceeds going to Travel Oregon for wine and culinary tourism programs.
Winters was also a force behind planning for Senate Bill 841 in 2013, a comprehensive winery land use bill that, in part, allows permitted use wineries to have professional kitchen facilities, and to pair food with wine.
“In a pretty big way, we are the creature of the changes in public policy that have been made over the last 40 years,” Bernau said.
Legislators like Winters are a big part of that momentum, Bernau added.
“They are shoulder-to-shoulder behind our industry,” he said.
The Oregon Winegrowers Association will continue to award the Oregon Wine Leadership Award to those who take a strong role in promoting, as well as advancing, the Oregon wine community, the group announced.