PORTLAND — The Oregon Winegrowers Association has named a new executive director heading into 2020, following a divisive year for the rapidly growing industry.
Jana McKamey, vice president of government affairs and operations for OWA, will take over the top job on Jan. 1. She replaces Tom Danowski, who is resigning after eight years leading the association.
OWA is the primary trade group representing Oregon wineries and vineyards, with more than 315 members across the state. It is separate from the Oregon Wine Board, a semi-independent government agency that promotes wine research and marketing.
Despite having different roles and responsibilities, both the OWA and OWB have shared the same administrator — Danowski — and the same nine-member board of directors, which some winemakers believed was creating confusion and conflict.
McKamey, who has spent seven years with OWA, will serve as executive director of the group going forward, while Danowski will remain as president of the OWB.
“This is a positive situation for both organizations,” McKamey said. “It allows us to really focus and deliver results for this rapidly growing and more complex industry.”
Kevin Chambers, incoming OWA president and owner of Koosah Farm in Amity, Ore., said McKamy is widely respected in the industry and was a natural choice to lead the group.
“She is a visionary and a diplomat who can harness the power of diverse voices and interests throughout the state,” Chambers said.
Lawmakers established the Oregon Wine Board in 2003, funded by a $25-per-ton winegrape tax collected by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Board members are appointed by the governor.
The Oregon Winegrowers Association, on the other hand, is a nonprofit advocacy group that lobbies for its members at the state Capitol in Salem and in Washington, D.C. However, rather than electing its own board of directors, the association has simply chosen in its bylaws to adopt the governor’s appointments to the OWB.
Chambers said this was done at the time because of the smaller size of the industry.
“We were having a hard time finding enough qualified, dedicated and capable industry volunteers to run these various boards,” he said. “It was a bit of a stretch, I’m willing to admit.”
Oregon now has 793 wineries compared to 275 a decade ago, and 1,165 vineyards compared to 835. McKamey said the OWA membership committee is currently evaluating its bylaws, and the group may consider changes within the next year to how it chooses its board members.
“We are evolving with the industry,” McKamey said. “The expectation is that our board will look different sometime (next) year.”
Industry growth has also revealed some cracks in unity over the past year, specifically over a proposal in the 2019 Oregon Legislature that some businesses felt put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Senate Bill 111 — which was sponsored by OWA — called for a review of enforcement measures for wine labeling standards, and increased maximum fines for violations from $5,000 to $25,000. Supporters of SB 111 claimed it was needed to protect the integrity and reputation of Oregon’s high-value wine regions.
A coalition of wineries rallied to defeat the bill, arguing it would have deterred out-of-state wineries from buying their grapes and crippling their bottom line. The coalition formed its own trade group opposite the OWA in October, called the Oregon Wine Council.
The council has called for no new wine-specific bills during the 2020 short legislative session. McKamey said she does not expect a repeat of this year’s contentious session.
Instead, McKamey said the group is focused on passing the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The bill, in part, would expand tax credits for small wineries. OWA is also working with industry groups in Washington and California seeking funding to study the impacts of wildfire smoke on winegrapes.
While the Oregon wine industry is growing more diverse and complex, McKamey said it is imperative for winegrowers and winemakers to speak with one voice.
“We are really much stronger together,” she said.