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Forest Groves boast fails the smell test

Guest Column

In an effort to rebrand the city's image, Forest Grove has recently adopted the slogan 'Forest Grove: where Oregon pinot was born.'

The first time you hear this, most people are shocked and wonder why they were unaware of this and there is good reason: it doesn't pass the smell test.

The catalyst for this was an effort to change the direction of the economy of Forest Grove and tie its star to that of the wine business. Jeff King, at the economic development office, hired a PR firm which spent years and $80,000 to come up with something that is as shocking as it is unbelievable.

The basic goal of Jeff and the PR firm was to monetize Oregon wine history. Because of its comical inaccuracy, it is not only having the opposite effect, but is reinforcing the old stereotypes of the city.

Had they done their research they would know (or maybe they already do!) that this claim belongs to one man and one place. The facts are, Richard Sommer of Umpqua Valley and 'the Father of the Oregon Wine Industry,' planted the first pinot noir in Oregon, bottled the first pinot noir in Oregon, and was the first to come to Oregon with the idea of planting pinot noir in the coastal valleys to give optimum ripening to this grape. This happened years before anyone in the Willamette Valley did the same, including Charles Coury. In all their own words, these pioneers such as Coury, Dick Erath and David Lett acknowledged Richard Sommer as the first and only.

Unfortunately for them, it is now widely perceived as a lie, both in and out of wine circles. That $80,000 has multiplied into much more than that - all negative. Not only is the city not rebranding itself, but it is being widely derided for this statement in many aspects of the press.

This just cements the negative image the city is fighting. Several weeks ago, KXL radio broadcast statewide an hour long program explicitly on this subject. Do comments such as these do Forest Grove any good? The comments on the web, in the Oregonian and in Forest Grove's own paper, range from the city doing anything to change its 'meth' image, to businesses leaving town. What is Jeff King doing about this? All this will accomplish is bringing people in from Portland to shop at Walmart and then go home.

Is this what Mr. King is after? I would ask him if he would only return any of my many phone calls. There are those who believe there is no such thing as bad PR, but time will tell if Mr. King is a genius or should find another line of work, perhaps in demolition.

Finally, within the wine industry the news is no better for Forest Grove. Before this was even adopted they knew there was widespread dissent against it. It is known that this idea was shopped to local wineries early on, before its adoption, and it was seen as 'divisive' and 'untrue.'

Yet Jeff King went ahead with it. After its adoption, it was presented again to the local winery organization, the very people they were asking to partner with. Once again, it was resoundingly rejected and I can tell you this is the feeling statewide. From McMinnville to Eugene to Southern Oregon I have yet to speak with anyone in the wine industry, grower, winemaker, retailers, wine consumers and others that support this.

Jeff … this should tell you everything. Behind the scenes, this is destroying any chance Forest Grove had of tying their star to wine. Just ask. Recently, wine pioneer Dick Erath said,

'Oregon's first pinot noir grape vines were planted by Richard Sommer in Roseburg. That's my definition of born. Period.'

Jeff, Mr. Coury himself stated, 'I am not the pioneer, Richard Sommer is the pioneer.' Whoever succeeds you I hope will have the integrity to return calls and rely upon Mr. Coury's own words.

- Dyson DeMara is the owner of HillCrest Vineyard in Roseburg.