In light of space and time restrictions that journalists face when filing stories, I want to clarify information attributed to me in last week’s article about leadership changes at Sonoma County Vintners and to expand upon the brevity of what appeared in print (“Sonoma County Vintners’ role examined after director’s departure,” Wednesday)
I made three major points that either were not included in the article or were not conveyed:
The dramatic evolution of Sonoma County Vintners and its wine regions should be factored into the job search. As someone who has worked in wine marketing for almost 20 years, I’ve watched Sonoma County Vintners evolve from a five-cubicle office in a Rohnert Park strip mall to a model for trade marketing associations nationwide. In the old days, it was not unheard of for strategic conversations to occur in the parking lot during Jamie Douglas’ smoke breaks.
The massive undertaking of the next executive director, Honore Comfort, to transform the organization through vision, drive, focused marketing plans and the formation of a collaborative “triad” (vintners, growers, tourism) was trailblazing leadership. I believe it became easier for the American Viticultural Area associations to market their regions under Sonoma County Vintners during its strongest years. Somehow, my comments about the success of SCV and its promotion of the AVAs turned into the quote: “the AVAs all took a backseat.” I was simply making the point that we have to acknowledge how different the landscape of the Sonoma County Vintners and AVA relationships is now compared to 10 years ago.
Wine tourism has increased, Sonoma County wine regions have nearly tripled and wine marketing has become much more dynamic, complicated and competitive. There are lots more kids playing in the same sandbox. These converging circumstances create an opportunity to reevaluate our approach to collaborative marketing efforts in this ever-changing landscape.
The challenges facing sub-appellation-focused nonprofit organizations needs to be acknowledged. Before joining the board of the Alexander Valley Winegrowers almost two years ago, I never realized how difficult it is for organizations like these to operate. Member dues often barely cover office rent, utilities and a couple part-time employees. The diversity of Sonoma County’s appellations — the ratio of wineries to growers, the varying production size of members, the tonnage of each harvest — all factor into how much money these nonprofits have to operate. Revenue-generating programs beyond dues are now vital to helping these organizations promote their wines with a level of professional and technological know-how that is demanded by today’s digital consumer in a highly competitive marketplace.
Also, the proliferation of wine festivals and “passport style” open house tastings has created significant market saturation where any new or existing event that is not extraordinary struggles to gain awareness, attendance and make a profit. Multiple sub-appellations are trying to find new revenue streams in order to achieve a fundamental part of their mission statements — to promote their region and its wines. The SCV leadership change is an opportunity for all parties to take a step back, as I’d said in the article, and make sure everyone is on the same page. We all have the same ultimate goal.
The SCV and the AVAs must be aligned on the Sonoma County Barrel Auction. Because the Sonoma County Barrel Auction’s success hinges on wineries from the AVAs donating one-of-a-kind lots, it is understandable that the AVAs want to be assured that the proceeds being split by SCV and the AVAs are not gobbled up by event-operating expenses. The barrel auction is seen by some AVAs as an opportunity to generate funds they need for new websites, converting a part-time worker to full-time, building a database for email marketing, etc. AVAs need to understand what their potential fundraising is with this barrel auction, or if they need to find another avenue to raise cash.