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Mendocino WineGrowers Move Ahead

All-volunteer association expects less than half the funding of the defunct commission

by Jane Firstenfeld
husch vineyards mendocino association
Zac Robinson said wineries that also grow grapes (such as his Husch Vineyards, pictured above) can opt to join Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. with either vineyard or winery membership.
Ukiah, Calif.—With name approved, articles of incorporation filed, tax ID approved and bylaws nearly complete, Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. is forging ahead. In the wake of a state-mandated election that forced closure of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission in June, growers and vintners sprang into action to find a new voice for the wine industry in this North Coast county, currently home to 102 wineries (per WinesVinesDATA.)

Amid harvest, some 40 interested parties showed up for an organizational meeting in Ukiah on Sept. 5. An email invitation promised, “This is the fun meeting: We are choosing where to spend our money.”

With more than 37 vineyards and wineries on board and more joining every day, there is already cash in the coffers. The formation committee established a “leap year” until the first full year of operations begins Nov. 1; leap year dues are a flat $250 per member.

“It was thrilling to see so many people show up in the middle of the day during harvest,” commented Zac Robinson, co-owner of Philo’s Husch Vineyards and formation board member. “Any talk about Mendocino giving up is just baloney.”

Unlike the commission, MWI membership is strictly voluntary; like the commission, both grapegrowers and wineries are eligible to enroll. Robinson calls the permanent dues structure “fairly typical” of local promotion organizations around the state: 15 cents per case for wineries, and $40 per-acre for growers, Robinson said.

Members who are both growers and producers may choose which category they join based on which benefits they want to enjoy, Robinson told Wines & Vines. “Vineyard owners, for instance, don’t come to tastings to pour their wines,” he pointed out.

MWI already has established a service to benefit growers under the banner “No Grape Left Behind.” The first MCI “Grape News” e-newsletter states: To help you sell every last ton, we will post all members’ unsold grapes” on the commission’s former (and still operational) website. “We will also contact grape buyers directly to let them know of each opportunity.” To establish an account, email or phone (707) 901-7629.

MWI hired Ukiah firm Price Waterman to provide accounting procedures and handle funds during start-up. Because the MCI anticipates funding to be only one-third to one-half of that enjoyed by the commission, Robinson says it will remain a lean operation focused on programs deemed most popular by membership.

Reality-based goals
“The reality is,” Robinson said, “even if you have an effective program that works," if it's not popular, it’s not working for membership.

Taste of Mendocino, which annually brings vintners to San Francisco to pour for trade and press, is expected to continue, as is a county tour hosting sommeliers. “We want to reach people who buy and talk about wine,” Robinson said. Reaching consumers through paid advertising will be beyond the budget.

“MWI will support the efforts of existing local groups and help them build upon the successes they have already achieved. Promoting Mendocino includes promoting each appellation and region within the county,” the newsletter stated. This is not, it emphasized, “Commission Part II,” but “a new ballgame that includes new players and new rules.”

The association hopes to share staffing and office overhead with other county marketing programs. Robinson predicted the start-up process would take at least six months.

Next on the agenda is to nominate and elect a board of directors; a strategic committee is in formation while the formation board phases out. “The bottom line is that we are in control of our place in the market,” the newsletter stated.

Meanwhile, crush goes on. “We’ve been picking Sauvignon Blanc for a week,” Robinson said. “We love average years.”

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