Wine visitors spent an estimated $145 million in the Walla Walla Valley in 2018, helping generate about $17.4 million in tax revenue along the way, results of a study concluded.
“Economic Impact of the Walla Walla Wine Industry,” released this week, also estimates the industry supports 2,484 jobs, directly and indirectly, with total labor income at $114 million a year.
“The big news is the impact,” said project leader Nick Velluzzi, acting assistant vice president for enrollment management at Walla Walla Community College. “The industry here still punches above its weight class.”
The 18-month research and report helps provide perspective on one of Walla Walla’s growth industries.
Conducted in partnership between Walla Walla Community College, the city of Walla Walla, Port of Walla Walla, Visit Walla Walla and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, the research helps tell the story of what’s happening in the industry, how it affects the local economy, and how to target marketing, community events and development around it.
Of particular interest for those on the marketing side were responses to questions from consumers about attributes they associate with the Walla Walla Valley. Twenty-three choices were offered on that part of the survey, and participants could click on as many as they wanted. The vast majority — 496 responses, or 75.6 percent — said the “charming town” was an attribute.
Other attributes that garnered 60 percent or more responses: friendly, family-run wineries (62.7 percent); offers a great variety of wines worth trying (61.9 percent); and consistent and reliable quality wines (60.5 percent).
“The wine industry is indispensable to the Walla Walla tourism industry,” Visit Walla Walla CEO Ron Williams said in a prepared statement. “Not only does the wine industry directly attract thousands of visitors each year, it indirectly helps support Walla Walla’s innovative culinary scene and its robust arts and entertainment culture. That helps improve the quality of life for all of us in the Walla Walla Valley, which is also important in making Walla Walla such a unique destination.”
Added Ashley Mahan, chief operating officer of the membership-based Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance: “Our members take great pride in being a valuable contributor to Walla Walla and its surrounding areas. Through their hard work and passion, Walla Walla’s reputation as a world-class wine region has become internationally known. And that has helped the economy thrive for all of us in Walla Walla.”
This is not the first study of the wine economy. It’s not the first with Velluzzi at the helm either.
In 2011 and 2007, wine cluster studies provided their own data on the industry and its value to the economy.
This time, however, Velluzzi said the methodology for calculating data was drastically different. Previous studies generated the data based on core inputs and outputs that included suppliers.
This time around, the information was gleaned from two surveys conducted side by side with the wineries and independent tasting rooms (the latter being businesses where wine is sold here but not produced here), and wine tourists. The surveys were offered for about a year.
The work was done with Bill Beyers, professor emeritus in the University of Washington’s geography department, and Don Morgan, senior partner at Bellevue-based GMA Research Corp.
The industry has experienced numerous changes since the last study. The establishment of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater as a sub-appellation of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticulture Area, is one example.
More recently, the area has begun what Velluzzi called “the next evolutionary phase,” where many of the early winery founders are now beginning to retire or sell their businesses. The Valley is also seeing international investment, such as the construction and opening of Valdemar Estates as the community’s first nonAmerican-based winery, and the Chinese investment that helped turn Eritage Resort into reality.
Other details that emerged from the study:
The wine industry directly employed 519 people in 2018, generating $25.62 million in labor income.
Direct-to-consumer sales from the tasting rooms, wine clubs and e-commerce accounted for more than half of winery revenue at 56 percent.
Wine purchases accounted for $60 million of the $145 million spent here by visitors.
Velluzzi said a deeper dive into the wine economy helps to understand the industry and plan for the future.
“There is a lot of perception out there about what is going on in the industry, and that needs to be reconciled,” he said.
For instance, he said, if you were to stand on a busy downtown corner on a weekend and ask people how many wineries are in Walla Walla, you would likely get answers all over the board.
Anecdotally, they can see the development around them. “People want to try to get a sense of what’s going on here,” he said.