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Mendocino County wine commission to disband

The Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission has voted to disband and will cease operations at the end of the month, six years after it was created to promote the county’s wine industry.

The trade group is made up of grape growers and winemakers, who fund its efforts with fees based on the size of their businesses.

“I’m saddened by the results of the referendum, but I’m prepared to move forward,” Alex MacGregor, interim chairman of the group, said Wednesday. “I think ultimately, our county probably just wasn’t ready for the unique setup we had, which included both growers and vintners. It created some challenges.”

The commission had an annual budget of about $600,000, said Megan Metz, executive director. Members paid dues of $10 per ton of grapes they harvested or crushed that year.

Metz, who was named executive director in October, said the commission went through three different presidents and two public relations firms in five years, making it difficult to deliver a consistent marketing message.

“If you were to ask anyone a year ago how it would have come out, it would have been a landslide, but we’ve made huge strides in turning the commission around,” Metz said. “We’ve really just given it our all in the last year.”

The commission was created by the state Legislature in 2006, and counts 274 grape growers and 72 vintners as members, MacGregor said.

At a public hearing held in Ukiah in early February, many members stated the commission should continue operating, but a roughly equal number said the commission should shut down. The California Department of Food and Agriculture conducted a referendum to determine its fate, sending out ballots to members in April.

Combining the results from both vintners and growers, 122 voted to continue the commission and 119 voted to disband. But a majority of each group needed to renew its charter to keep the commission alive.

A majority of vintners, 68 percent, voted to continue operations. But 55 percent of growers voted to wind it down, the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced Wednesday.

Turnout varied sharply, with 67 percent of growers participating in the election and 82 percent of vintners, the commission said.

“I am surprised. I honestly think it could have gone either way,” MacGregor said. “The growers voted not in favor, and I accept that decision, and hopefully something better will rise from the ashes.”

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