As Oregon Wine Board president, Tom Danowski serves an industry that includes 800 wineries and nearly 1,200 vineyard owners.
Danowski describes his state’s wine industry as a thing of envy, as it has been attracting investors and consumers from around the world.
“The marketplace is asking for Oregon,” he said. “We now have Oregon wines more broadly available across the country than ever.”
Research shows that people look for Oregon wines, and the demand is often greater than supply. As Oregon producers tend to be small, they are not able to keep up with consumer demand.
The state’s industry is growing five times faster than the category average, according to Danowski. Also, Oregon wines are priced to reflect their quality and wine reviewers’ scores, with highly regarded “entry point” wines in the $11 to $13 range but also bottles with higher average prices than wines from other states — $16.41 vs. $7.62, as sourced from Nielsen national retail scanner data. Despite the price, Oregon wine sales grew 12% over the year before COVID-19, compared to the U.S. average of 1%.
“That kind of growth momentum is driven by quality,” he said. “Also, we are filling distribution gaps that had existed.”
The recent pandemic has negatively affected the industry, especially on-premise sales, which have diminished by 69%, Danowski said. Still, curbside pickup and wine club memberships have helped to nearly balance out the loss of sales.
Born in the Northwest and raised in Beaverton, Ore., Danowski has deep roots in the region. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in journalism with a concentration in advertising. He also completed executive education coursework over the years at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“My professional background is rooted in brand management and consumer packaged goods marketing,” he said. He trained at Kraft Foods in New York, Coca-Cola and Chateau Ste. Michelle, as well as the Seattle’s Best Coffee division of Starbucks.
This has been a “balanced” career to date, he said, though the wine industry has a special place in his heart. He calls it a “fascinating category” that people have trouble leaving for long, if they ever leave it at all. There is always something new to learn in the industry, he said.
“Not many work experiences or hobbies have the level of texture or dimension that wine does,” he said. “It’s centuries old, made around the world, and links to food and culture in every country where it’s grown.”
As a manager, there is also a great deal to find exciting and challenging about the wine industry. He lists five distinct management dimensions: agriculture, winemaking, hospitality, sales/marketing and everything else (accounting, information technology and compliance).
However, it’s not just the business, but the people that make the industry great, he said. He places individuals such as former Chateau Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler on a short list of influential people, along with his Kraft Foods manager in New York, Peter Dolan, who went on to become CEO at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Also, he has encountered many people in Oregon who inspire him with their entrepreneurial drive and business sophistication.
It was in 2011 that he was hired to be head of the Wine Board. He credits his “understanding of Oregon’s unique attributes and my global category knowledge based on eight previous years of wine experience serving as marketing director at Chateau Ste. Michelle.”
“My commitment to restoring momentum to the Oregon Wine Board, along with my other management and consumer marketing assignments, enabled me to assess the competitive landscape and assemble a management team that was up to the challenges,” he said.
“The Wine Board first needed organizational stability and my position specifically required redefinition and refocusing for our organization,” he said.
He says that he enjoys the position, as it involves working with a professional staff of seven full-time colleagues and nine governor-appointed board members to “design and deliver educational, media relations, marketing and research programming for Oregon’s $6 billion wine industry.”