Josh McDonald, who this week joined the Washington Wine Institute as its executive director, describes the organization’s role as working with the Washington State Liquor Control Board and state lawmakers to protect the interests of the wine industry.
“Wineries need support from all of our elected officials,” McDonald told Great Northwest Wine. “We tackle laws that need amending. It’s important to bring a new level of association, communication and benefit to our members.”
Though the Washington Wine Institute works closely with the wine commission, the two organizations are independent of each other. The wine commission receives funding in part from assessments to grapes grown and wine made by Washington winemakers. Meanwhile, the Washington Wine Institute is funded entirely by its member wineries.
And while the two organizations work together to make sure they are working on similar goals, the wine commission is not allowed to lobby lawmakers in Olympia, McDonald said.
“The Washington Wine Institute has been the industry’s leading advocate before the Legislature and liquor control board for many years,” he said. “I am looking forward to continuing this legacy while at the same time strengthening our presence in Olympia and around the state.”
From restaurants to Washington Wine Institute
McDonald grew up in the northwestern Montana town of Poulson before moving to Washington to attend the University of Puget Sound, where he played varsity baseball. After graduating in 2002, he worked for the Washington Restaurant Association.
Just prior to taking the job with the Washington Wine Institute, McDonald was the restaurant association’s manager for state and local government affairs, in which he was responsible for working on the association’s interest in tourism, food safety, immigration, taxation and regulation.
McDonald was quick to point out that the restaurant and wine industries have a lot in common.
“There’s definitely a strong relationship between wine and restaurants,” he said.
Marty Clubb, owner of L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden, is president of the board of directors for the Washington Wine Institute.
“With the exciting growth of our industry in the past few years, the timing is right to build on our legislative and regulatory success in Olympia with a full-time executive director who can provide critical outreach to our winery members,” Clubb said. “Josh has the association background, organizational development skills and political experience that will help take the Washington Wine Institute to the next level so wineries can realize even more value for their membership.”
Membership in the Washington Wine Institute is voluntary, McDonald said. More than 150 wineries are members of the Washington Wine Institute, accounting for more than 95 percent of the state’s wine production.
Lobbying on behalf of wine industry
In 2014, the Washington Wine Institute helped get bills passed for:
- Wine growlers.
- A new catering license that allows wine beer and spirits to be served if the event location doesn’t have a liquor permit.
- A new permit to allow day spas to serve one glass of beer or one glass of wine free of charge to a customer.
- A new liquor license for nonprofit senior centers to sell alcohol at retail for on-premise consumption.
Some of the issues the Washington Wine Institute plans to tackle in the 2015 session include:
- Alcohol tasting by students. This would expand the ability for students to taste wine from technical and community colleges to state and regional universities.
- Special-occasion licenses for charity events. This is seen as a first step to overhauling the state’s charity events law.