Santa Cruz, Calif.—
Megan Metz is the new executive director of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association
has new digs and, for the first time, an executive director. Megan Metz, most recently executive director of the late Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission, took the reins last month and is getting to know the territory and the membership of the SCMWA, which encompasses Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties south of San Francisco.
Metz is charged with helping the SCMWA board to develop a three-year strategic plan and new marketing initiatives from the association’s new office in downtown Santa Cruz. Founded 20 years ago, the association has grown to 79 members (up from 45 a decade ago.) Spanning coastal Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley, across the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains for which it’s named, the AVA enjoys varied terroirs
and microclimates and is best known for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes and wines.
Now in the beginning phases of strategic thinking, SCMWA focuses include “where we’re going to grow, elevating quality and having Pinot Noir be the face for us,” Metz said, adding that the organization is almost starting from scratch and looking for a new direction.
“Did you know that the first cuttings of Pinot Noir were brought to California from Burgundy by Paul Masson?” Cabernet Sauvignon got its foothold in the region from Ridge Vineyards
’ fabled Monte Bello.
Despite an understated reputation for fine varietal wines and easy accessibility by various routes fast or leisurely (with no tolls or bridges) from San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Mountains wine country doesn’t benefit from the tourist traffic enjoyed by Sonoma and Napa wineries. The three-county swath may contribute to a fuzzy identity: bustling Silicon Valley and its pricey suburbs is as radically different from the isolated mountain hamlets above it as it is from Santa Cruz itself, known for its boardwalk amusement park and its sprawling University of California campus, home of the “Banana Slugs.”
“Unfortunately for the Santa Cruz region, there is no restaurant association,” Metz pointed out. Optimistically, she sees this as an opportunity to create relationships. “We have an awards program for restaurants that carry 10 or more of our brands,” she said.
Metz hopes to create more brand awareness through community brand marketing, has formed a marketing committee and plans to announce more programs within the next three months.
Appealing to the base and the masses
With a business model built on voluntary membership, the SCMWA is better able to work together on its common goals. It just passed a new budget based on a percentage rate for tons crushed. Membership is open to any winegrower/winery located above the 800-foot elevation, or to anyone who buys enough Santa Cruz Mountains fruit to produce 500 cases.
Membership offers participation in the association’s ongoing and forthcoming promotional events, including the Passport program, the Wine With Heart benefit, Pinot Paradise and other awareness building/fundraising efforts throughout the year.
“We’ll be upgrading events and adding new programs,” said Cheryl Durzy, VP of sales and marketing at 60,000-case Clos LaChance Winery
and SCMWA president.
“We’re a marketing association for wineries only, and our goal is simple: Get the word out. Nobody knows about us. There are plenty of wine lovers in the area, and we want them to direct their attention here,” Durzy told Wines & Vines
After 20 years of “doing the same thing,” members decided it was time for change and conducted a search for a full-time, professional executive director. “What was really great for us is that we had excellent candidates, and four or five great finalists” for the position, Durzy said.
“We needed someone innovative who had experience,” and Metz fit the bill, Durzy said. “We all bounced a ton of ideas off her. She has an opportunity to take something from the ground floor and go. It’s a blank canvas.” Durzy said she’d like to see more “modern marketing” and strategic partnerships, especially with Silicon Valley businesses.
“We totally changed the dues structure, which required a change in the bylaws, which hadn’t been changed for years. It won by a landslide,” she said with evident surprise. “Some of our members are teeny-tiny, but everyone is on the same page: We want everyone to know we’re here.”
With an “awesome crush” this year—large and apparently high quality like most of California—“We have an idea of what we’ll get dues-wise,” Durzy said.
Metz added, “It was an unbelievable year for vintners and growers. So much fruit was grown, we have an excess of Pinot Noir.”
For more information and upcoming events, visit the association website