Can Oregon Wine Tourism Survive the Portland Problem?

“Five Days After Attack, Andy Ngo Releases Statement Confirming He Was Chased and Beaten in Portland”

“‘It’s frightened people away’: Downtown Portland hotels slow to recover due to pandemic, reputation”

“Demonstrations in Portland | The Official Guide to Portland—TRAVEL PORTLAND”

“Majority of downtown Portland merchants say city core is unsafe”

“Downtown in distress: Portland’s core is unsafe and uninviting, residents say in new poll, threatening city’s recovery” 

“Why Portland’s Homeless Problem Is The Worst In The Nation”

If you are a Willamette Valley winery looking to wine tourism to bring back normality and revenue, you’d be crazy not to worry about the above recent headlines describing the problems that currently beset Portland, Oregon. This must be particularly worrying when you consider that more than 50% of wine tourists originate from outside the state, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Willamette Valley Winery Association.

Outside of Minneapolis, no location in the country has been dogged by violent protests more so than Portland, Oregon and the situation has not gone unnoticed across the country. Think what you might about the controversial decision of the Trump administration to send in federal troops to protect federal property in the city in 2020, but the move drew attention to the plight of the city as it suffered through violent protests, the regular and continuing property damage caused by Antifa/BLM actions and the near-daily declarations of riots.

Combine this situation with the well-known, and growing, homelessness epidemic in the city and we are motivated to ask not will this slow recovery within the Oregon wine industry, but rather to what extent will the post-pandemic economic recovery of the Oregon wine industry be impacted?

The most recent blow to Portland’s reputation comes with the news that Independent journalist Andy Ngo was chased through the streets of Portland, attacked and beaten by “protesters” before retreating into a swanky downtown hotel where he was forced to beg for protection as his attackers screamed threats and pounded on the hotel’s windows and doors. This lasted just up until the moment Portland’s riot police arrived and whisked Mr. Ngo out a back door to the hotel and arrested one or more of his attackers.

This doesn’t make Portland sound like a safe place to be for those contemplating a post-pandemic wine vacation.

The question is to what extent will the diminishing reputation of Portland impact the decision of wine tourists to choose Oregon as a destination? Wine tourism represents three-quarters of a billion dollars in economic activity. Visits to the Willamette Valley wineries and those southward impact hotels and restaurants, not to mention the wineries themselves and their critical wine club revenue that is generated primarily by visitors who want constant reminders of their visit.

Any negative impact of Portland descent into chaos on the state’s winery tourism will likely have a significant benefit for wineries located in Walla Walla, Napa, Sonoma and other wine regions across the country as the wine-lovers look for alternatives to protests, Antifa and the omnipresent homelessness in Portland that doesn’t exactly soothe the eye.

The likelihood of the Oregon wine industry’s post-pandemic recovery being hampered by Portland’s growing negative reputation will spur the state and regional winery trade associations to become more active in demanding government action to the various obstacles now poised to impact the Oregon wine industry. They’ll be joined by other hospitality concerns—hotels, restaurants and regional tourism boards—joining in amped up calls for a response.

Maybe the protests will peter out as vaccination rates soar past herd immunity and life returns to normal in the Rose City. But maybe they won’t. If the protests and violence and attacks and property damage continue and as homelessness does not abate, city and state leaders will be under significant pressure to take action. Homelessness solutions are linked to a revived economy and social services directed at the problem. The Antifa/BLM problem will likely linger throughout the summer in the absence of any significant crackdown by Portland authorities. But whatever is done, you can bet it will be spurred on by calls from the state’s economic interests including the growing wine industry.

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35 Responses

  1. Richey Owen - June 3, 2021

    I have visited Portland and Oregon at least a dozen times since 2002. I’ve attended the IPNC and have wanted to revisit the IPNC and the Oregon wine country. I won’t be back and if I couldn’t fly into Sacramento or Santa Rosa I wouldn’t return to California wine country.

  2. mike wanless - June 3, 2021

    As a person with a century and half family history and with property in Oregon, why would you go to Portland? Oh wait, or most any place with more than 300,000 people for that matter unless you want to join the pity parties. So sad, Cheers

  3. Kort van Bronkhorst - June 3, 2021

    Gee, try throwing Portland and the Willamette Valley under the bus. What a one-sided hatchet job of an opinion piece. Did you ever think to interview anyone at wineries to get their opinion? Maybe present a more balanced viewpoint? There’s way more to Portland than the riot zone. I am spending considerable time in Portland and never go near the downtown. It’s lovely and calm. Certainly Portland has problems that need addressing. But the attitudes you express will only serve to make it harder for wineries to survive. And that’s what you questioned in the first place. Not my favorite blog entry of yours.

  4. mike wanless - June 3, 2021

    To be clearer, there are many beautiful, great places to visit in Oregon w/o having to go to Portland. And to Kort’s point, large swaths of Portland are not riot torn but according to my friends there still suffer the elevated property crime rates that most cities have.

  5. Tom Wark - June 3, 2021

    Kort, you seem to be of the opinion that I’m recommending people stay away from Oregon. I’m not. I’m simply looking at the potential impact of the degraded reputatiion that Portland is now experiencing. That it is experiencing this degredation in reputation isn’t in dispute. This has an impact on the post pandemic recovery of the Oregon wine industry, of which I am a cheerleader, a fan and a participant.

  6. Tom Wark - June 3, 2021

    Mike,

    It might be a good idea for folks responsible for winery tourism to make the point that the Willamette Valley is not Portland and that not all of Portland is under Antifa occupation. There is a price to be paid for a bad reputation.

  7. Kort van Bronkhorst - June 3, 2021

    Yes Tom, I do think you are recommending that people not visit Oregon wine country. I know that was not your intent, but just look at the subhead you threw into the middle of the post. At no point did you tell readers that they should still come visit wine country. There are plenty of nice hotels and inns outside of downtown for people to stay. They can indeed be safe.

  8. Tom Wark - June 3, 2021

    Kurt,

    Fair enough. So here’s my question, is it reasonable to assume that the ongoing chaos and conditions in Portland might dissuade folks from coming to Oregon to visit wine country. I think this is a rhetorical question, but you may have another view. For me (and why I produced this post) the important thing is to recognize the source of dissuation and to look at how the industry could, should or will address the issue.

  9. Steven Romeo - June 3, 2021

    I visited Portland amidst the riots and pandemic. I must have lucked out on the devastation. I did find exceptionally low hotel rates. $55/night for a 4-Star Hotel. I will do it again.

  10. Carl Giavanti - June 3, 2021

    Hi Tom, the questions you pose are legitimate. Portland is a major entry point to Willamette Valley – 45 – 60 minutes away – not unlike what San Francisco is to Napa. Bad news regarding our current state of affairs certainly has an effect. I live in Portland and see little of what appears “in the news” as it’s mostly confined to our downtown core, which has 30 years of protest tradition dating from the “Timber Wars” in the late 1980s. I don’t see much changing soon related to protests and homelessness unless Portland City and Multnomah County leadership steps up, and they are under pressure. Nonetheless, it is perfectly safe and still easy to fly into PDX and circumvent Portland en route to wine country. It’s also perfectly safe to visit Portland itself and we’re seeing local and out-of-state tourism already making a comeback.

  11. Jason Smith - June 3, 2021

    Portland, San Fransisco, Chicago,,,,,, all great cities. Used to be. Been watching San Fransisco go downhill for the last decade. Just not safe at all. Don’t leave anything in your car!

  12. kristin Bria - June 3, 2021

    Thanks for speaking up, Kort. As a recent transplant from Napa, CA to Jacksonville, OR, and someone who spends 2 weeks of every month in Portland for work, I agree this article paints a picture that isn’t entirely accurate, especially to those unfamiliar with the area. One can’t contest that the downtown area of Portland has taken a turn for the worse due to all the reasons listed in the article. However, Portland covers a lot of space and there are areas untouched by the turmoil. I think the recovery will come, but articles like this may make it come at an even slower rate.

  13. Carol Cain - June 4, 2021

    I take opinion pieces that villainize protestors and the homeless with a grain of salt. Especially, with generalizations of violence and without an once spent on accountability and questioning of local government, police, policy and their role in all of this.

    There is no doubt that it’s not great, but if places like Portland and Michigan are still “on fire” a year + since the protests and riots started, then the community needs to look to the local governance and blame their inaction for threatening tourism to the area, not paint protestors with one brush for the action of a few, opportunistic bad players.

    This author feigns concern while completely failing to mention any of this, and using protestors as the boogeyman scapegoat for his own prejudice.

    I have long warned that if local communities do not demand better from their local government and fellow community members, if the voices and actions of those demanding change in all ways that are accepting, inclusive, safe, and welcoming aren’t louder than those who do not, it stands to threaten the livelihood of everyone. How we vote, how we speak, what we tolerate, and how we respond all has impact. But mostly what we do…or don’t.

    So many words to say, I call BS on this opinion piece because it is complete erasure of the core issue and highly prejudicial of those fighting for justice and highlighting the behavior of a few bad apples as a fear tactic.

    That’s how this read to me.

  14. Tom Wark - June 4, 2021

    Carol,

    You above all should know as well as anyone that reality and perception are two different things. But most importantly, it’s a person’s perception that governs their reality and their actions. Denying that the perception that Portland (and by extension, Oregon) has become a chaotic place doesn’t benefit anyone.

    Whether the protestors who chase down and beat people, light buildings on fire, harrass innocent people and cause millions of dollars in property damage have a case to make with local government and are justified is the chaos they bring to Portland is a case you are welcome to make here, there or anywhere. And if you like, I’ll have that conversation with you.

    But this piece is not about that subject. It’ is about he consequence of the perception on the Oreogn wine tourism industry.

  15. Samantha - June 4, 2021

    Anyone who absolutely loves wine from Oregon knows that Willamette and Portland are two different places just like Oakland or San Francisco are different from Napa and or Sonoma. And yes, perception and reality can be confused, especially if someone with a widely distributed blog continues to conflate the two. This opinion piece seemed more like a place you used to air your grievances about antifascists than anything. Unreal.

  16. Blake Gray - June 4, 2021

    Tom: This is an incendiary piece. Do you have any data?

    Are there, for example, surveys of Americans outside Oregon about their opinions of Portland?

    I live in San Francisco, which has perma-protests and a much larger homeless population that has been the subject of many, many, many stories in the national and international media. Tourists still come, and they come through to Wine Country. I have never seen any data showing that homelessness in San Francisco has any impact on tourism in Napa Valley, and I personally do not believe it does. In the absence of data, I believe the same about the issues you cite here.

  17. Tom Wark - June 4, 2021

    Blake and Samantha…Do you remember after the 2017 Napa fire folks were staying away from the place, despite the fact that tastng rooms were open for business along with hotels and restaurants. That was the reality. And yet their perception kept them away for some time, until the industry got together and started sending out a strong message that the Valley was open for business.

    It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine that after all the bad publicity that Portland has gotten that some will stay away as a result. How many? Will it make an impact? And if this perception does keep folks way, what should be the response

  18. Blake Gray - June 4, 2021

    Tom: I don’t think it’s an analogous situation. The 2017 fire was actually in wine country.

    Let me reiterate: how much negative publicity of this type has San Francisco received over the last 20 years? Do you remember Occupy San Francisco, for example? And how much did that affect Napa and Sonoma Counties? I have no evidence that it had any impact whatsoever.

    Why don’t you call the Oregon Tourism Board and see if they have some numbers.

  19. Tom Wark - June 4, 2021

    Blake, there is no information now. The wineries have just recently opened up after the pandemic and the pandemic has also made measurement not quite so meaningful. I find it hard to believe that it is hard to believe that the poor reputation Portland is suffering from might dissuade people from visiting portland, who in turn would normally visit wine country?

  20. Jason - June 4, 2021

    Blake, I’m one of those that won’t travel there. The hotel I would usually stay in is being rented(given) out to the homeless now. I hear that program is about to end though. Who knows where they will go after that. Portland maybe? I don’t mean to be mean towards homeless people. I’ve been close myself and lived out of my car in the Willamette valley for 3 months.

  21. acv - June 4, 2021

    Thanks, Tom. Great piece. “I was a loyal Soviet citizen to the age of 20. What it meant to be a loyal Soviet Citizen is to say what you were supposed to say, to read what you are permitted to read, to vote the way you were told to vote and, at the same time, to know that it is all a lie” refusenik Natan Sharansky

  22. mike wanless - June 4, 2021

    Well, it may not be a wine problem in Portland but I have a friend who’s firm has been located in downtown for over a century. They r seriously considering moving. Where is the social justice in that. Where is the concerned response by the government leaders? Oh wait, his people are the exploiters! Those regular folks they write wills n trusts for r exploiters too and don’t deserve to visit a downtown not overrun by bums n human crap and have to pay to board windows because of a bunch spoiled stupid children. Give me a break.

  23. acv - June 5, 2021

    Blake Gray and the others that have made the point that if you are going to visit Willamette, it is not incumbent upon you to visit Portland is an opinion I share. Noted and agreed.

    I am not sure the riots have zero impact on Oregon Wine Tourism and here I am certainly not trying to hedge my agreement with Blake…but his point is certainly how I feel. I can visit Willamette at any time without the need to stop by Portland’s either good or bad parts.

    I will say if you are making the point…. hey, only some parts of Portland suck…. maybe not the best approach to the debate.

    However, is that where wine tourism stops….and starts? We are all intimately aware that when we visit a wine region like a Tuscany, Burgundy…Mendoza or the Okanagan is that the local wine industry is intertwined and supported by the local HORECA sector.

    I visited Portland in years past and to be honest… I had a fantastic gastronomical experience.

    There are a lot of small brands that count on the local HORECA sector of Portland for survival. The unrest reported in the press is not helping the Wine Tourism/ the wine drinking/ the mom-and-pop brands from the Rogue Valley to the Willamette valley in sales – at the very least in the city of Portland.

    You can say riots in Dijon or Florence are not that big of a disadvantage if you are a Tuscan winery 1 hour away or a winery down in Meursault.

    But that is not the whole story when we get down to it, is it? When the wine capital of your wine region is suffering….not a great selling point for the upcoming tourist season.

  24. Kris - June 10, 2021

    Hi Tom, new reader here. Multi generational Oregonian though. I have to agree with a vast majority of the previous comments, in what appears to be a speculative blog about Portland’s impact as essentially the gate keeper to Oregon’s tourism. Since it appears you live in Oregon you know full well flying in to PDX is nowhere near any of the protest issues in downtown. You don’t say anything about that. Which you’re going to say isn’t the point because it’s all about perception. But this blog literally feeds into that negative perception. So instead of being an advocate, like you call yourself, you’re doing more harm than good portraying the issues that Portland faces that shouldn’t affect the wine industry. You just fed the perception.

  25. Liz - June 10, 2021

    I was just there two weeks ago, drove through downtown, and went to Willamette Valley. I think I was in a different Portland than you describe…

    For further reference, I texted a friend who was driving through last summer to “stay safe, watch out for those protests!” Her response “Supremely overblown, two block radius. We drove around and enjoyed our time immensely”.

    I’m still trying to figure out the point of this post…

  26. Tom Wark - June 10, 2021

    Liz and Kris,

    Thank you both for reading. It’s appreciated.

    I’m going to reiterate a point I made earlier and make another.

    First, perception is important. The perception that Portland is falling apart or under siege or a hell hole or full of violent protesters or inundated with homeless camps exists to one degree or another among Americans for a number of reasons. It’s partly true. It’s been covered in the media extensively, etc. Yes, one can fly into PDX, hop in a car and head to wine country without being overrun by protestors. It is hard, however, to avoid the many homeless encampments on your way to Dundee. But what’s important in the context of visits to the reasons is not the degree to which the perception is a perfect rendition of reality. The important point is the degree to which the perception dissuades visitors to Portland, which in turn lessons the number of folks visiting wine country.

    Second, the idea that we ought not report or write about a subject as it feeds into a perception, negative or otherwise, just doesn’t fly. I like happy talk writing and opinions as much as the next guy. But the damage done my commenting and writing on this subject is so negligible that it just isn’t a factor in the ultimate outcome. Moreover, ignoring an issue for fear of bringing the issue to light just isn’t good practice.

  27. Kort van Bronkhorst - June 10, 2021

    Tom, if you are an advocate, and if perception is important, where is your blog post encouraging people to ignore the media’s stories about Portland and encouraging them to come visit the beautiful wineries of the Willamette Valley? I’ll look forward to reading that.

  28. Tom Wark - June 10, 2021

    Kurt,

    In the 17 years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never written for or to the general public. Rather, I write for the trade. This post is for the trade. It is for the purpose of asking them to consider the consequences to the trade of the general perception concerning Portland. If you want that other article written, you should talk to someone who writers for the general public.

  29. Kris - June 10, 2021

    Kort has, again, made a solid point.
    But to Tom, no one said anything about happy talk or ignoring anything. But if your point is that media perception has created a hellscape
    Portland ideology you’ve done nothing to combat that. You’re also correct in that you pass homeless camps everywhere. Are you going to write up a post about how exit 256 (Market St) on I-5 has signs about being cautious due to pedestrian (homeless camp) traffic and how that will affect the willamette heritage museums new exhibit on Oregon wine history?
    Sure. This is an opinion blog and your opinion is your own to have. You calling it a negligible effect, then why not use the platform to be negligibly balanced and encourage continued tourism, as someone with actual first hand knowledge of the area for those who only see the media’s spin?

  30. Tom Wark - June 10, 2021

    Kris,

    I’m not writing to influence the public and if I tried, it wouldn’t be effective. I know my readership. I’m bringing an issue to light to the trade. If I am right, if visitation to Portland and as a result wine country is diminished due to the unfortunate reputation that Portland now has, it might be a matter for the trade in Oregon to address.

  31. Austin Beeman - June 10, 2021

    I see many people commenting through the lens of politics or their attempt to “but, actually” the facts on the ground. I don’t believe that Tom’s article works that way. Wine sells on place – macro and micro – and the place “Oregon” has had lots of negative ‘earned media’ recently.

    For most of the history of Oregon’s wine history, the region benefitted from the positive glow of Portland as a cool, quirky, foodie town. That media perception benefitted Oregon Wine. Now the reputation of Portland is very different with the perception of a violent and dangerous fringe that can explode into action at any time. Oregon Wine will be tainted with that, regardless of what the reality is.

    While I wish this article was a fully researched and scholarly study, that wasn’t the intention. it was a wake-up call to the Oregon industry to understand another hurdle that will need to be met by the industry if it is to recover and then thrive.

  32. Jeffrey Allen - June 10, 2021

    “the Antifa/BLM problem.” Ha. what a jerk.

    how about social and economic justice? what do you do to provide for the homeless in a place you seemingly care about (if not only for economic ends)? we’re just fine out here in wine country, thank you. portland will be ok too. it’s always easy to shit on something instead of helping fix it.

    i’m sorry social justice ruined your gentrification. and stop watching fox news. it’s bad for your heart. try oregon pinot noir instead.

  33. acv - June 10, 2021

    To all those advocating that this blog should be pollyannaish about the troubles Portland/ Oregon is facing, however insignificant your desire is to characterize these issues, I would point out that the obligation of discourse (discussion/ this blog) is an aim at addressing and solving problems. See DTC posts, etc. Discourse is fundamental to problem solving. Even if Tom is way off base and his post is flawed in your opinion, addressing as some have, the problems with the post… Is far better than the authoritarian reflex to suppress his post entirely. Asking Tom to self-censor is fascist. Don’t be fascist.

    “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”. ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

    Yep. #Agree

  34. Carl Giavanti - June 10, 2021

    Tom, if your goal was engagement and discourse, this post was hugely successful. Here’s an update on downtown Portland – my wife and I just went to the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Art Museum, it was amazing. Followed by a food cart lunch and live music on Pioneer Square (I’ll post photos on Facebook soon), followed by shopping at Muji, a hip and affordable clothing and accessories store. We walked to and from downtown with no hassles, although homelessness is on display, but not as much graffiti and broken glass as we expected. I’m offering this in hopes that Portland is beginning to turn the corner, and yes, it would not hurt our wine country tourism a bit, if it does. Cheers, Carl

  35. Tom wark - June 10, 2021

    Jeffrey,

    Sometimes the pointy end of the stick is hard to discern. I get it.


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