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Grants to Promote Monterey Wine Country

Two USDA awards enable almost $600,000 to increase industry and consumer awareness

by Paul Franson
Chalone Vineyards
High above the Salinas Valley, Chalone Vineyards are backed by the spectacular Pinnacles National Monument.

Monterey, Calif. -- The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association has snagged two major government grants that with matching funds total almost $600,000 to increase consumers’ awareness of Monterey as a major wine producer and a wine country destination.

Both competitive grants are designed to allocate “business incentive” funds to organizations that are, in turn, required to raise matching funds to qualify.

“The fact that our very own members invested in these initiatives is a true indication of how critical they will be to our region’s future,” explains MCVGA executive director Rhonda Motil.

“In Monterey County, wine is part of both agriculture and tourism, the No. 1 and No. 2 segments of our economy. It’s able to tap into both.”

Motil is obviously thrilled with the additional marketing funds, which she thinks will help Monterey and its American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) gain more attention. At present, much of the wine coming from the county doesn’t specify the origin on labels. Greater awareness of the region might change that and perhaps make the wines more valuable.

Motil says that she combs the register of agricultural grants and also hires a grant writer in Sacramento to help find and apply for funds.

Rural business grant

First came a Rural Business Enterprise Grant, one of just 44 awarded across the country under the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by the Rural Business Cooperative Service, an agency of USDA Rural Development.

The program’s primary purpose is to improve economic conditions of rural areas. The award was $98,500; members of the MCVGA came up with $99,718 in matching funds.

The association will use this grant to increase awareness of Monterey as a wine country destination with a number of programs. They include:

•    Creating eight artistic murals highlighting the region’s wine culture
•    Producing a new winery tasting room map for the developing River Road Wine Trail
•    Launching a new mobile phone application to guide travelers within Monterey Wine Country
•    Designing wine trail signs along the River Road wine trail
•    Conducting a media tour of the region for 10 journalists.

These projects will be completed by March 2011.

Monterey AVA map
Some grant funds will go to updating this map of Monterey AVAs.

Awareness of AVAs
The other award was a California Specialty Crop Grant, a USDA block grant that will fund projects to improve the long-term sales and competiveness of Monterey area winegrape growers by developing market awareness for Monterey County’s nine distinct AVAs.

The total budget for this initiative is $487,044, including USDA funding of $199,485, matching funds from members and partners of the MCVGA of $180,521, and in-kind donations of $107,038.

The association will use the funds to conduct research into the unique characteristics of each AVA, identifying points of differentiation for inclusion in marketing materials such as a printed vineyard map and a video for the MCVGA website, media, trade and consumers.

The research will provide a database of all wineries and growers, including their varieties and location. Motil thinks this will help both consumers and the trade, including wineries looking for fruit.

She also looks forward to updating materials, including the online map, to accommodate today’s technologies.

MCVGA will also produce updated videos using today’s popular short formats for use on the Internet.

Demonstration wines

In addition, the funds will pay for production of four wines that typify their specific AVA, each collaboratively blended by three Monterey growers and winemakers from each of the featured AVAs. 

The project highlights four of the county’s nine AVAs, concentrating on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the area’s most popular varieties. The wines will be two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs, coming from Chalone, Arroyo Seco, Santa Lucia and Monterey (a large AVA encompassing the Salinas Valley).

The winemakers will produce 100 bottles of each wine using fruit from the 2010 vintage for release in 2012. They’ll be packaged with unique branding and presented to the media during a major regional event in Monterey Wine Country in 2012, as well as in select cities across the U.S.

Among those hoping to benefit from the work is Sabrine Rodems of Wrath Wines in Soledad, just outside the Santa Lucia Highlands. She’s the winemaker and also a vice president of the Monterey winery and growers group. “It should have a huge impact,” she says. “We’re the forgotten child and we need to get more exposure.” She adds, “The more the word gets out about Monterey and its appellations, the better for us all. It will also present the consumer with more choices.”

She’s one of the winemakers who will be making the demonstration wines, in her case a Pinot from Santa Lucia, where she sources grapes. “I think the different styles will be an eye-opener for the media.”

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