Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
ADVERTISEMENT
 
 
 
06.15.2012  
 

Life After Mendo Grape/Wine Commission

Shot down by grapegrowers, county seeks new path to recognition

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
 
Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission
 
Steve Burns (left) and Mark Chandler (right) were brought in to help Megan Metz, executive director of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, implement a five-year marketing plan this spring. Mendocino County winemakers and grapegrowers have since voted to disband the commission, leaving members scratching their heads about how to publicize the area.
Ukiah, Calif.—The slimmest of margins sent the 5-year-old Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission (MWWC) into oblivion last week, to the surprise of many in the community and throughout the industry. As the county’s unique grower/vintner commission, a majority of voters from both segments was required to secure another five-year term. While 67.8% of winery voters were in favor, only 45.05% of grapegrowers wished to continue, and grapegrowers far outnumber wineries in the county, accounting for 273 members vs. 98 wineries.

“We only lost by nine votes on the growers side,” said Megan Metz, who became MWWC executive director in 2011. “If we’d been able to combine the two, we would have won by two votes.” Metz told Wines & Vines that the commission office officially will close June 30, although staff and members remain committed to two long-planned events: a junket for some 30 sommeliers July 15-18 and the 30th annual Mendocino Wine Competition slated for Aug. 5 in Hopland. “We are focused on those two; we’re not going to drop the ball.”

Ironically, on June 11 the commission hosted 750 members of the trade and media at its (final) annual Taste of Mendocino in San Francisco.

What went wrong?
The rural sprawl, family farms and diverse grapegrowing regions that make Mendocino both a valuable grape and wine source and an appealing destination may have contributed to the commission’s demise. A noted pioneer in sustainable winegrowing, Mendocino claims 12 regions as different as foggy Anderson Valley, renowned for Burgundian varieties, and warmer areas like Redwood Valley and Hopland, where Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel thrive.

Grower Joe Zicherman, co-owner of Zicherman-Roemer Vineyard in Anderson Valley, talked about the schism between the “coastal” and “inland” growers. “I voted against continuation,” he said. “Essentially, I ended up getting taxed twice.” Anderson Valley growers can opt in as members of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, with dues based on vineyard acres. As a state agency, MWWC membership was mandated; growers contributed a per-ton fee.

“As an Anderson Valley grower, I identify more with our AVA or northern Sonoma,” Zicherman said. “Our winegrowers association is very successful,” he said, citing the annual Pinot Noir festival. “I don’t have to join but am more interested” in association activities.

Zicherman termed the demise “unfortunate” and said MWWC might have continued “if times were better. I don’t take any joy in seeing the commission go away.”

“I am disappointed, but not totally surprised” by the vote, said Steve Giannecchini, who grows 40 acres of grapes in inland Ukiah. “I voted for it. My feeling’s always been that there’s strength in numbers. We need any recognition. A lot of ‘mom and pop’ operations feel they can do it themselves.”

Citing the successful Lodi Winegrape Commission, he said, “Lodi grapes used be the cheapest in the state. Now they are nationally recognized.”

Selling some 80% of his produce to wineries in Sonoma County (which also has a thriving winegrape commission), Giannecchini suggested, “I’m sure the Sonoma wineries are glad” the commission failed. At an average price of $900-$1,500 per ton, he said, Mendocino grapes remain a relative bargain.

The cavalry arrives too late
In March of this year, the commission announced it had retained marketing gurus Mark Chandler and Steve Burns to develop a comprehensive plan for the Mendocino industry. In almost two decades, Chandler had taken the Lodi Association to stellar international heights; Burns helped found the Washington State Wine Commission, bringing the state global recognition.

There was no time for their plan to come to fruition. “It was all for naught,” Burns said. The MWWC had some bad breaks and bad timing, starting with the initial executive director accused of embezzlement (the funds were eventually returned), and an almost yearly management turnover.

The economy didn’t help, Burns said. “You began a business at the edge of a great recession and assessed it five years later. Deciding it was not viable was not a fair shake for a groundbreaking concept.”

Chandler expressed his disappointment in the vote, especially since Mendocino does not have any other countywide grape/wine organization. Still, he remains optimistic. “There are lots of options going forward; we’re going to have to see. Even during the last election, there was talk of coming back with a growers-only commission. There are options, and I understand the frustration of the growers.

“We tried to get people to take the long view, to give it another five years. It was a bad five years,” he said, pointing out that success in Lodi took 15 years, and now that area’s grapegrowing image is “100% recast” as a source of high-quality winegrapes.

Chandler and Burns’ plan for Mendocino was delivered “lock, stock and barrel,” Chandler said, with a heavy emphasis on market development activities, industry events and marketing promotion. “I know the plan would have been successful” if it had been put into action.

What next?
“As a grower, I think it is very important for Mendocino to invest in its future by communicating what is unique and special about us,” said Paul Dolan, the environmental activist and former Fetzer chief who now farms organic and Biodynamic grapes near Ukiah.

“I truly think the best way to do that is through the wines and the wineries; they are the voice to the consumer and trade. Unfortunately, for the moment we have lost our voice, message and messengers. I hope we’ll be able to work together as a community of winegrowers in the future to create a new venue for communication.”

Fred Buonnano, owner of Philo Ridge Vineyards and the MWWC’s first board chairman, is already working in that direction, organizing a vintners’ meeting June 21 at Brutocao Cellars  in Hopland.

“The commission was formed with great intent, the first put together with both growers and wineries.” Serving two masters with related but not identical agendas made it difficult, he acknowledged. He’s hopeful that a new entity will rise from the ashes.

Next week’s meeting, open to people within the county, will provide “an opportunity for everyone to get together and talk about what we should or should not do, what a structure will look like.” The wineries, he said, understand that the county needs a voice. “Anderson Valley has a fabulous reputation,” he said, “but Anderson Valley doesn’t have the bandwidth” necessary to promote the county.

“It’s a shame the commission’s gone away,” Buonnano said. “We gave it our best effort, and it’s done a lot to raise consciousness.”

SHARE »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT NEWS INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 $708 million
5%
$7,844 million
6%
November 2013 $673 million $7,428 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 $274 million
21%
$1,799 million
16%
November 2013 $225 million $1,558 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 127
-5%
226
15%
November 2013 134 196
     
 
MORE » Released on 12.15.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

FEATURES
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • January 7
     
    Putting Your Brand to Work
     
  • January 9-18
     
    Icewine Festival
     
  • January 13-16
     
    VinCO
     
  • January 15
     
    WineFlavor 101B
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Grape Industry Lukewarm on Immigration Act »
 
A band-aid it may be but instead of the negative tone of this article which...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Oregon Wine Institute Plans for the Future »
 
When Mark is involved, things are going to work out just great! We miss the...
Reader: Peter Bell
 
Article: Spanish Cooper Sells Chinese Oak »
 
I would love to find Us wineries using the Chinese oak barrels. Do you know...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Prohibition Laws Linger 81 Years Later »
 
Trader Joe's (Union Square) and Whole Foods (Upper West Side) both have wine shops attached...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Prohibition Laws Linger 81 Years Later »
 
Maybe the economy could use another boost by repealing the post-prohibitionary laws too. Make it...
Reader: csm noble
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Navision Developer
 Graton, CA
General Administration and
 Director Of Contract ...
 Graton, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Quality Assurance Supe...
 Graton, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Southern California Sa...
 Southern California, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Assistant Winemaker
 Prosser, WA
Winemaking and Production
 Wine Club And Dtc Mana...
 Calistoga, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Director Of Marketing ...
 Chicago, IL
Sales and Marketing
 Sales Rep - Kansas Cit...
 Kansas City, MO
Sales and Marketing
 Director Of Hospitalit...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Skilled Cellar Worker ...
 Santa Rosa, CA
Winemaking and Production
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.