An Oregon company provides a service to the wine industry that puts it way up on the list of importance to out-of-state consumers, even though the vast majority of them aren't even aware of it.
The aptly named Oregon Wine Services & Storage Inc. takes care of all the physical and legal logistics of domestic consumer-direct wine-shipping for more than 300 wineries. It handles shipping to all jurisdictions that allow it - 39 states and the District of Columbia.
As co-owner and general manager, Jeff Meader will tell you, that's no small feat, as the rules and regulations are far from consistent among the so-called "direct-shipment-permitted" states.
Meader founded the business in partnership with his stepfather, John Niemeyer, in April 2002. And he has been on the cutting edge of wine storage and shipping ever since.
His company has grown along with the industry, but it took quite an investment of time and effort on his part to win the trust and confidence of winery owners.
As Meader readily admits, he knew little about wine and even less about shipping and storage when the company opened its doors a decade ago. Deciding to embark on this type of business was simply a matter of seizing an opportunity to meet a need.
Niemeyer, a Yamhill Valley real estate investor, had the opportunity to purchase the old Pillsbury pie plant on NE Orchard Ave. in McMinnville when the national food manufacturer decided to close its local operation.
The 110,000-square-foot building was available at a bargain price. The challenge was finding a paying use for it.
Niemeyer and Meader put their heads together and came up with a possible use that seemed to make a good deal of sense, given the rapid evolution of the local wine industry.
Most wineries didn't have enough space to store their case goods. It's one thing to have wine holding in tanks and aging in barrels, quite another to have it enclosed in bottles stacked high on pallets.
Then there are the difficult logistics of delivery to wholesale distributors, particularly out of state distributors. That's not to mention coping with the Byzantine tangle of state laws governing the importation and sale of alcoholic beverages for direct shipment to individuals.
Offering storage, shipping and fulfillment services seemed most appealing. But it took time for an unproved entity to sell the idea to small businesses that had been managing to get the job done on their own, albeit with some difficulty.
"At first, most of the wineries were skeptical," Meader said. "But after we persuaded Dick Erath to sign on for our storage and shipping services, and Archery Summit to use us for fulfillment, things really began moving forward."
Within a year of getting Oregon Wine Services under way, Niemeyer teamed up with winemaker Laurent Montalieu to create another tenant for the former pie plant - the NW Wine Company, which appropriated nearly 40,000 square feet for a custom-crush winery operation.
Soléna Cellars, owned by Montalieu and his wife, Danielle Andrus Montalieu, was one of the wineries contracting with NW Wine. By 2010, it had been joined by about three-dozen other clients, together accounting for more than 80,000 cases a year.
The companion endeavor added further credibility to the Oregon Wine Services storage and shipping operation. And Oregon's growing imprint on the national scene meant more out-of-state business, with all of the demands that entailed.
More wineries began emphasizing direct-to-consumer sales. In some instances, in fact, it proved their salvation.
But the legal and logistical complications were a nightmare they neither wanted nor needed. So business boomed for Oregon Wine Services.
By 2008, the company's 70,000 square feet of space had become too confining. It was time for a major step forward.
Construction of a 60,000-square-foot addition commenced in May. Completed at a cost of $3.5 million, it featured a whopping 200 kilowatt solar array, a sophisticated ventilation system and motion sensor lighting.
That same year, Oregon Wine Services began teaming up with a Denver company, ShipCompliant, to overcome complex 50-state shipping hurdles. ShipCompliant had built an information base that proved indispensable.
The plant expansion and ShipCompliant partnership put OWS in a unique position. Only a handful of California firms even come close to providing the same level of service and efficiency.
"We're building up to a 1.8 times annual turn rate, and we have a year-end inventory accuracy rate of .002 percent," Meader said.
And OWS didn't stop there. It went on to purchase a 62,500-square-foot building in Tualatin. Enjoying immediate access to Interstate 5, it is perfectly situated for storage and shipping.
With NW Wine Company's own needs expanding, the partners decided to build a new custom-crush facility in Dundee. When that facility was completed last fall, it freed up another 40,000 square feet for OWS at its main Orchard Avenue site, pushing its total capacity there to 170,000 square feet.
Despite the slow economic recovery, business has remained good for Oregon Wine Services.
"We acquired 40 new clients in 2011, and we have 50 employees to serve them," Meader said. "Our client list has topped 300.
"We're currently storing more than 600,000 cases of wine, with a capacity of twice that. As for shipping, not breaking the cold chain is our primary focus, and I'm proud to say we are now achieving that."
By that, he means maintaining uninterrupted refrigeration in both transit and storage. Trucking directly to climate controlled UPS hubs around the country facilitates that.
From temperature-controlled winery to temperature-controlled warehouse and 18-wheeler semi, the goal is delivery of perfect quality Oregon wine to the front door of appreciative consumers across the country - and with all "I"s dotted and "T"s crossed, and taxes paid.
By Karl Klooster of the News-Register