Brand Discovery 2021: Moya Dolsby on Branding Idaho Wines

Date Posted: May 17, 2021

Moya Dolsby of the Idaho Wine Commission showed us how she leveraged branding to put Idaho wines on the map. Learn more about the challenges faced and the amazing results generated with a strong brand! (And make sure you scroll to the bottom for the potato video - it's a can't-miss!)


We're the Idaho Wine Commission. And first of all, thank you guys so much for being, or letting me be here. It's so fun to be able to talk to you guys and to be with my friends too. Tressa, Ron and I were in a Vistage leadership group and it's great to see how we all work together. So hopefully I won't talk too much for you, but first of all, who am I? Well, I am the executive director of the Idaho Group Growers and Wine Producers Commission. We're a state agency. And I would kind of like to start a little bit with this kind of defining, who am I and why am I here? I'm from Seattle. That's where I grew up. I worked for the Washington Wine Commission for five years, and then I got recruited to come here.

I am a wife, my husband's a wastewater engineer for the City of Meridian. And then I'm a mom to two boys that are six and seven. They're crazy and awesome at the same time. They go to St. Joe's right downtown in Boise. And it's wonderful. We love it. I love adventure and having fun and I'm always up for the next best thing. And then I really believe in community. And that's one of the big things of why I'm here, and all of this ties in, I think, to who we are as a wine commission and our brand. Because the wine industry is about the people and we are walking, talking billboards and not just me, the staff, the entire wine industry. So I always say Idaho wine is all about your friends, your family, and your dog.

So here's a picture of my cute little family last year after Tressa trying to talk me into how much they love their trailer, we got a truck and a trailer, and I never thought that would be the day, but we are having so much fun. And we got ourselves a little baby Airstream, a used one, and we bought it sight unseen. And we're having adventures with our best friends and then our dog. We love our dogs. Dogs are a big thing in the wine industry and agriculture. This dog's name is Shatzi. And it's just ironic because my maiden name is Shatz. So this kind of like gives you a little bit of perspective and you kind of see, who am I a little bit. So what do we do at the wine commission? Because people ask that all the time.

Well, we are technically, our big name is Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission. And I worked with Ron 10 or 12 years ago. And he's like, that's a mouthful. I'm like, it is a mouthful. So we now we call ourselves the Idaho Wine Commission. And so we are the united voice to promote and champion all Idaho's grape growers and wine makers. And then you have to have a values. So I always say for my family, the most important things, and I make the boys say this everyday, when they go to school, the most important things in our family to be nice, kind, respectful and clear. I added clear a couple years ago, because if they don't understand me, they can't understand the instructions that I'm telling them to stop picking their nose. So I have to be very clear. So we did the same thing for work. We had our values of inclusive, kind, clear and respectful.

The Story of Idaho Wine

And then of course you have to have a vision statement, where are we going? To sustain a growing wine industry, respected for it's committed growers and producers, passionate consumers and distinct wines, because we want to be different than anybody else in the country or the world. So we kept asking, why Idaho? Why would you come here? Why should you visit? Why should you drink Idaho wine? And then I'm like, gosh, is this not very clear? Apparently I'm not being very clear and haven't convinced people why they need to drink Idaho wine. So I'm like team, we need to come up with a video. And I just love this video.

I just think videos are such a big, important feature in how we tell our story, because it really resonates with people and can convey that message because it's all about our growers too. You can't have a wine industry without grapes. And so it all is back to the grapes. This slide tells a little bit about the history of the Idaho wine industry.

The Wine Industry in Idaho

And it kind of leads back to our culture too. So the wine industry was started in North Idaho in the 1860s, and that's where it really started to get going - wineries are winning awards, so in the Lewiston area. And then do you guys know what happened in 1919, prohibition. It killed the wine industry, it really killed it in Idaho. And it just, it took a long, long time for things to start getting going again. So it wasn't until the 1970s that grapes started to get planted again in Idaho. And then the commission was formed in 1984. And then we got our first EBA, which I'll talk a little bit more about, which is an American viticulture area, and that was improved in 2007. So that was such a long time, I think it's a long time for it to really start to get going again.

So this just kind of shows you a little bit of the growth I got here in 2008 and not to say, we had all this growth just because I'm excited about life. Well, yeah, I'm excited about life. You guys, I just get other people excited and get energized and I'm just the organizer. I mean, it probably would have happened even without me. I'm just loud and I know who to talk to, to help spread the mission and the message. So in 2002, we had 11 wineries and then 2010, 43. 2013, 50. And today we have over 69 wineries with three American viticulture areas. We're still hovering around 1300 acres planted. And this is a really interesting thing that's changed over time and also with branding. So we only have 1300 acres planted, which is not enough to sustain the Idaho wine industry.

And we'll slowly see that start to grow, not as fast as I would like, because if you plant a grape vine today, it's going to take three to five years for that grape to mature and be ready to harvest. It's a lot of cash outlay. And so what's happening now though, is wineries and consumers, consumers are asking, for example, when they go to Telaya winery, is this an Idaho wine? Or is this a Washington wine? Because it's on the bottle. They want people are now asking for Idaho fruit, which is amazing and wonderful. And Ron probably remembers me complaining about this. Like I want to people using Idaho fruit because we're Idaho wineries and I want Idaho fruit and I understand supply and demand. So what's happening now is growers are now able to charge more for their grapes, thus plant more grapes. So it's a win-win for everybody supply and demand.

Goals For Growing the Idaho Wine Commission Brand

So we're all about goals. I set these lofty goals. And then the board comes in and kind of brings me back to earth. So the board set a goal of having 2000 acres, 100 wineries and 15% market share by 2029. Well, I said, how about by 2027 that we should have 10,000 acres, a million cases a year and a hundred wineries. I don't really care about market shares much because until we get more wineries and more grapes in the ground, we're already at 15%. It's going to be a hard thing to change. It just sounds good. I got vetoed all my goals, but hey, it's okay. I love, love, love economic impacts. Because, for such a relatively small industry, we have a pretty large economic impact. So in 2008 we had a $73 million economic hit. And that means like people traveling here to visit wineries, bought food. In 2013, it was almost 170 million. And so then in 2017 it was 210 million. That's pretty impactful. And we use these numbers a lot when go to the legislature and say, this is why you need to support us. Or when we apply for grants, it's a great measure to see if we're being successful with our branding and what we're doing.

And this is like, if people get geeky on facts and really want to know, sometimes you will love how many tons harvested and how many cases did you produce. It really kind of varies from year to year. And this is why sometimes it makes it pretty nervous on how anybody's has a winery or a vineyard because there's so much variability with weather. So this past year we had 160,000 cases, but typically in an average year we have 225,000 cases and a case is 12 bottles of wine. And it's so dependent on weather. Remember when we had that Snowmageddon, Oh my goodness. That was horrible for the grapes. Luckily, a lot of them didn't die, but basically what they have to do is they cut it off like here's your grapevine. They cut it off right here. And then it has to retrain up the next year. So you lose, you lose a season of grapes. And so we have to get them from Washington if they're available or some wineries just didn't harvest. And so they have a lighter year.

So these are, another reason why, why is Idaho so great? And these are the messages that we try to get across is we have great volcanic soil. We get a lot of sun and water. We're high elevation and people are aren't you the great white North. So I have to, a lot of times break down a lot of barriers. Doesn't it snow all the time in Idaho, or you really can grow grapes? Yes. And anybody knows anything about wine, knows that grapes are grown in every state. It's just something in grape wines made in every state. We have four distinct seasons and what's also really good about how Idaho is, was we get cold typically gradually in the winter. So the vines go dormant. So they go to sleep and then it usually gets warmer gradually. And all of that is perfect for growing grapes. I think what we're going to see is a lot of people and we're already seeing it. A lot of people are going to be coming up from California where it's too hot and planting grapes in Idaho because we have a pretty amazing climate.

So I get geeked out on AVA, wine people love wanting to know about American viticulture area. So it's a federally designated grape-growing region. That's different than anywhere else in the country. It says, this is why you're so cool. And so the first one was in 2008, this is the Snake River Valley AVA. And we're in it right now. In Boise, we're sitting, if you're in where you were sitting in the Snake River Valley AVA, it's Ancient Lake, Idaho is the boundary. It's 8,000 square miles, which is huge. My mom asked me like 8,000 acres when I first got here and I'm like, no, mom, square miles. That gets really hard for me to visualize that. So almost to Twin Falls to Ontario and we have around 1100 acres planted in 46 wineries, uh, in this area. And that's the majority of the grapes are planted in Idaho. Honestly, we don't even know where the best grapes can be grown yet. And that's what makes it so exciting and why we keep doing it.

Then we have a sub AVA. And what that means is an AVA within another AVA. And that's the Eagle Foothills AVA, which is 80 acres planted and has three wineries. So not as many, but it's super close to us. We can go there after this, if you wanted. And then we have the Lewis Clark Valley, AVA. So Northern Idaho, and that has 80 acres planted in 11 wineries.

How Branding Helps Grow The Industry

So what did we do for branding? We do a lot of different things. I'd like to say that I'm a walking, talking billboard. We do our big wine event every year when it's not COVID, Savor Idaho, it's out of the Botanical Gardens, but we can't do that this year. So what we did instead is we're creating a passport program. So how that works is if you were typically to go to Savior Idaho, you'd go up to a winery and you would taste three wines and they give you a little samples.

We're now pushing people to the wineries instead. And so you'll go to the winery, you'll taste your Savor Idaho "to go" three samples. They'll stamp it. Or if you don't want to go to the winery, you can buy those through the wineries and take home. And then, what's super cool is that there's all these different prizes that you get. If you go to three wineries, you get X thing. If you go to 10 wineries, you get entered into this drawing. If you go to 15, you get entered in for a drawing to a stay at Sawtooth - they're getting these glamping tents, which is like yurts for they're called glamping tents, because it's a different structure. But just kind of fun things to get people excited. We do a lot of media tours and bring people in. So we just did a virtual media tour, which was awesome, but we go to New York and San Francisco to the markets and try to make people my friend, and then they come out and visit. And it's amazing the coverage that we've got, the next slide shows just some of the coverage that we've got, in the past year alone, which is pretty impressive. We work with them, a PR and marketing agency to help us in. It has definitely been impactful.

And then education is huge. Right now, I feel like it's part of my mission, I'm educating. But we do that for the vineyards and the wineries. We do industry seminars, bootcamps, which you should all come on one of our bootcamps. And what that is, it's like wine buyers, really anybody in the community can come and then talk about, we want to share the message. So we go out to wine country or we're going to do an urban one as well. I know some of the people on this have been on it and it's just, it's fun. And the Idaho wine competitions where we bring in judges to score the wines and people love it. And it's just really good exposure. And the next one is legislation. There's definitely, this job is a lot more legislation. So educating our senators and representatives. And so we're dealing now with land use or what can a winery do or not do with all this growth. And so many people moving in, we're finding out how many events can a winery have. It's just these questions that we've never asked before, and trying to solve them in a constructive manner.

So we're always educating, always promoting, always talking. I feel like that's all that I do. And, but I love it. I feel so fortunate to be able to be in this industry because it's fun. You are not in the wine industry because you have to, it's a choice because you want to, we're not going to get rich. I mean maybe if I own a winery and sold out one day, I could get rich, but, I'm a state employee. And I really like what I do. So what's next creating new restaurant campaigns, our passport program and our legislation, so it's always something. And then trying to find labor. I mean, that's a big thing. These wineries, so many people are wanting to go out now and see wineries because they're feeling better about life and it's just trying to find enough staffing, it's a big problem.

So what can you do to support the Idaho Wine Industry?

One, participate in events, buy Idaho wine, and then when you go to a restaurant ask for Idaho wine, even if you don't drink, ask for Idaho wine. And because what that is, it's a demand thing. And if they don't have Idaho wine on the list, ask for a diet Coke because restaurants make so much more money. When you buy the margins are higher. When you get a glass of wine or a bottle of wine, than on their diet Coke. And my goal is for every restaurant in the state of Idaho to have at least one Idaho wine. And then kind of one of my beefs is, restaurants want us to come to their local restaurants, right? So they should be then having local products for us to purchase as well. I try not to dig too hard on it, but it really does kind of irk me. So we were going to show this great video that Ron created for us a couple of years ago with a spoof on potatoes.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk today.

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