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Great Northwest Wine: Coronavirus outbreak prompts cancellation of Taste Washington wine festival

Taste Washington is the signature event of the Washington state wine industry and an annual public tasting in downtown Seattle that’s a collaboration between Visit Seattle and the Washington State Wine Commission. It began in 1998. (Richard Duval)
Taste Washington is the signature event of the Washington state wine industry and an annual public tasting in downtown Seattle that’s a collaboration between Visit Seattle and the Washington State Wine Commission. It began in 1998. (Richard Duval)
By Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

SEATTLE – The Washington State Wine Commission announced Thursday afternoon the cancellation of Taste Washington, a four-day festival in Seattle that last year attracted a record attendance of 8,479 wine lovers.

Taste Washington, staged each year in downtown Seattle since 1998, was scheduled to return to the CenturyLink Field Event Center on March 19-22.

“We sincerely regret to inform you that Taste Washington has been canceled this year due to the spread of COVID-19 in the greater Seattle area and across the U.S.,” the Washington State Wine Commission stated in a news release.

“This is extremely disappointing and the first time in its history that Taste Washington has been canceled,” it added. “However, this decision had to be made to ensure the health and safety of our guests, our industry members and their families, as well as the integrity of the festival moving forward. All ticket holders will be given full refunds and encouraged to attend next year.”

A longtime supporter of the state’s wine industry, Gov. Jay Inslee said, “We are not making a request formally right now for events to be canceled, but people should be prepared for that possibility.”

Taste Washington is billed as the largest single-region wine and food event in the country and ranks among USA Today’s 10 Best Wine Festivals. Last year, the event recruited 240 Washington wineries and 70 Pacific Northwest restaurants. This would have marked the 23rd annual Taste Washington.

“Wow, I’m shocked and saddened about hearing the event got canceled,” said Moya Dolsby, executive director for the Idaho Wine Commission and a former events manager for Washington State Wine Commission. “I understand the reasoning. I think about the economic impact it could have by canceling.”

Last year, there were 6,997 tickets sold for the two-day Grand Tasting. Cost for admission starts at $95, with a VIP pass granting early entry going for $165. The commission partners with Visit Seattle on the event, but a number of wineries already had backed from participating in Taste Washington this year as a precautionary move surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

The wine commission is a state government agency funded primarily by its own industry via assessments on wine sales and grape sales. It was established by the state Legislature in 1987.

The cancellation came two days after the industry received a rather somber outlook during a series of presentations by leaders at the annual Washington Winegrowers Association convention and trade show in Kennewick. Analysts pointed out that the Washington wine industry grew by just 2% while producers across the Columbia River in Oregon saw sales grow by a whopping 12%.

At the convention, there were many handshakes and a few hugs among attendees, but it was not uncommon for some to resort to an elbow bump, citing fears about the outbreak.

“Our priority now is to slow the spread of this dangerous virus,” said Inslee, who later added, “Even if you are the healthiest dude on the planet, the fact that you don’t go to work when you feel badly means you might save your grandmother.”

March is known as Taste Washington Wine Month, and the wine commission had scheduled an advertising campaign that was expected to generate 10 million impressions. More than 500 wineries, restaurants, hotels and retailers have planned special events and promotions to fuel social media engagement.

The wine commission said it will continue to roll out its monthlong digital series featuring winemakers, grape growers and other people in the industry. Meanwhile, the commission also unveiled a new logo, the first brand refresh since 2004.

Thursday’s announcement came on the heels of major wine industry trade shows and festivals in Europe, Asia and Washington state being either postponed or canceled, including ProWein in Germany, Vinitaly and Vinexpo Hong Kong. France has prohibited indoor events with an expected attendance of 5,000.

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