Change can come from many directions. For the Northwest's two largest wine regions, that change is coming from New York.
Ted Farthing is the new executive director of the Oregon Wine Board in Portland, a post he took over in mid-May. He comes from New York, where he worked as a consultant with the Champagne and spirits industries.
Jane Baxter Lynn has taken over as executive director of the Washington Wine Commission in Seattle, a job she started in late August, after Steve Burns returned to California. Most recently, Lynn oversaw the Long Island Wine Council in New York.
Perhaps there is some irony in the fact that the United States' No. 2 (Washington) and No. 4 (Oregon) wine-producing regions are gaining new leadership from the country's No. 3 (New York) market.
Regardless, change can be good, and this could be especially good for the Washington and Oregon wine industries, which haven't always played well together.
The Columbia is a pretty big river, but the abyss between the two states often is much wider and deeper than any physical boundary. Washington is about hot-climate grapes (Cab, Merlot, Syrah, etc.), and Oregon is about Pinot Noir. Like Bordeaux and Burgundy or, closer to home, Napa and Sonoma, Washington and Oregon don't usually work toward a common good.
All of this is going to change, if Lynn and Farthing have anything to do with it - and they do.
"My only enemy is a dry mouth and an empty stomach," Farthing said. "Together we can change that."
Farthing may have the bigger challenge before him. For three decades, Oregon's focus has been on Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Southern and Eastern Oregon have barely been afterthoughts, and that has left growers and winemakers from those regions more than a bit sore.
"The emphasis is on Pinot Noir," Farthing said. "But that's only part of the story. We have a lot of fantastic wine that remains a well-kept secret. We want to raise the profile (of Southern Oregon) and tell a fuller, richer story."
That story, Farthing continued, is more than Pinot Noir. His goal is to help consumers make better-informed decisions about what their next bottle or case of wine will be.
One of the first changes in Oregon was the Oregon Wine Board, a semi-independent commission that replaced the often-ineffective Oregon Wine Advisory Board, which was a completely governmental body.
Farthing already sees the mental gap narrowing between the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon, thanks to a surge in interest from high-end Pinot Noir producers wanting to make Syrah and Bordeaux-style reds using Rogue Valley grapes.
"This goes beyond collaboration," Farthing said. "They're doing business together as a state, not just as a region."
Farthing is particularly excited to work with Washington's new leader. He sees the success the Washington Wine Commission has managed during the past half-decade, and he wants to bring the two states' strengths together. And Lynn couldn't agree more.
"We have a lot we can do together," she said. "I see opportunities with the Northwest working together."
Lynn brings a global perspective. She is a native of Zimbabwe and attended college in South Africa before moving to Brussels, where she met her husband and moved to New York. For the past four years, she has worked with a winemaking region that is smaller but similar to Washington. Long Island is home to 3,000 acres of vineyards and 35 wineries that focus on Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
Reading between the lines, one might think the Long Island folks didn't all move in the same direction before Lynn arrived. Now, that industry has a unified voice and is gaining a reputation for high-quality wines. Her job in Washington should be somewhat easier, thanks to a strong wine commission staff.
"It's very exciting to come into a position where a group of people have done a phenomenal job," she said.
Lynn's strengths are in consumer and global marketing, and she sees in-state wine tourism and lifestyle promotion as big opportunities.
Marketing the Northwest as a wine region, rather than competitive pieces, will bring greater and faster success to the more than 600 wineries of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.