So its July 30, 2023 arrival to my mailbox received a celebration.
Yeah, the process took more than seven months, but I’m tickled to be driving around as a government-approved wine geek. And when the mood strikes me, some might even see me impersonating a conductor while I’m behind the steering wheel with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 playing on my stereo.
Everyone who gets these plates should thank Rep. Kelly Chambers from Puyallup, who owns boutique Lomcevak Cellars near Lake Chelan. It took three years of meetings, petitions and consensus building for the House Republican to get the Senate to vote 46-2 in favor of House Bill 1530 last year.
“I joke many times that I’ve worked harder on this license plate than I did to get elected,” Chambers says.
Better late than never for Washington wine lovers, yet Oregon was miles ahead on driving this form of marketing. In 2011, the state Legislature in Salem authorized the first wine-themed license plate in the country. More than 6,000 hit the road within a year.
Early estimates from the Washington State Department of Licensing were that about 1,200 wine country license plates would be ordered during the first year of the program with potential revenue to all corners of the state via the new membership-based State of Washington Tourism at $33,544. (The state stopped funding a tourism office in 2011.)
Those estimates seemed low, considering there were 4,000 wine-loving citizens who signed an online petition to support Chambers’ bill. That effort was spearheaded by the Washington State Wine Commission and a number of wineries — large and small, family-owned and corporate — who donated prizes for those who signed the petition. They included Arbor Crest Wine Cellars in Spokane, Château Ste. Michelle and DeLille Cellars in Woodinville and Fortuity Cellars near Yakima. Josh McDonald of the Washington Wine Institute testified in Olympia on behalf of the bill.
My initial cost for a personalized version of what’s branded on the DOL website as “the Washington Wine Commission license plate” was $209.25. According to DOL, the annual renewal for my tabs will be an additional $42 for personalized plates, with $28 of it going to the SWT.
I admit I contributed to the delay of my new plates. I didn’t completely grasp the DOL restrictions with references to wine for this plate featuring an aerial photo of the picturesque Wallula Gap Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. After all, I recall seeing MERLOT and SYRAH and more overt references to wine on other personalized plates in Washington state.
However, all three requests on my first application for the WA Wine Country plate were denied. My favorite remains VINUM, the Latin term for wine that my botanist wife suggested. I thought I was both clever and within the parameters with my Rhône-inspired second choice — GSM4ME.
The real shocker was the rejection for RIZZA90, my bid for a three-tier homage. First, there’s Idaho winemaking talent Leslie Preston, who branded her acclaimed sparkling Riesling project “Rizza” — borrowing Australian slang for the noble German grape variety. And “90” is an über-nerdy reference to the minerally charged Neustadt 90 clone of Riesling at Sagemoor’s historic Bacchus Vineyard.
Alas, I learned Jan. 31 via email that I struck out on all three.
“You will also need to make (a) new choice for your messages,” read the note that I received from a DOL customer service specialist, “we can not issue the ones you have requested (because) they are related to alcohol.”
I heard through the grapevine that officials in Olympia were unrelenting on that. A vineyard owner in the Columbia Valley sought TMPRNLO, an almost vowel-free reference to the Spanish red grape grown by the petitioner.
So with all that in mind, I submitted three new requests via email with a brief description of each:
- EROICA- Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is Italian for “heroic”
- DRCLORE – Washington State University famed agriculture researcher
- HOGAN53 – Golf great Ben Hogan and his best season – 1953
The top request on my second application — my fourth choice overall — was approved within two hours.
Now, it’s possible to connect Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55 and wine. When the world-renowned German composer finished writing Symphony No. 3, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark were making final preparations for their Corps of Discovery Expedition. It would take them through modern-day wine regions along the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Many of us learned in grade school it was the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803 by wine-loving Thomas Jefferson that prompted the Corps of Discovery. Coincidentally, Beethoven initially dedicated his third symphony to French Revolution leader Napoleon Bonaparte. However, Beethoven changed his mind after the diminutive war hero declared himself emperor.
All that history aside, it would be five months from approval until I received my WA Wine Country plates — about the same amount of time for Lewis & Clark to travel from Great Falls, Mont., to the Pacific Ocean.
On June 13, I received a courteous update via email from a DOL specialist. Turns out I couldn’t blame an inmate at either of the correctional institutions in Walla Walla or Monroe for the delay.
“ … the manufacturer is much slower due to their backlog from the machine breaking down last summer.”
During the 2021-22 legislative session, as Chambers’ bill was making its way toward Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, she said, “If you’re driving one day and a lady in a black SUV pulls alongside you honking and waving … that will be ME celebrating your license plate!”
It was a sultry day in the Columbia Valley on Aug. 1, 2023 — the day I installed my personalized WA Wine Country plates. And I would use one of the world’s greatest expressions of Riesling to toast Rep. Chambers.