Mendocino Wine: PR Cometh
Marketers, like myself, get a lot of the blame for taking the authenticity out of wine and lowering the beverage to just one more product to be foisted upon the public with exaggerated claims and pretty pictures. There’s a lot of truth to that kind of accusation. However, the winemakers and grape growers in Mendocino have rightly determined that more marketing is just what the doctor ordered.
The growers and winemakers of Mendocino County, located about 70 miles north of San Francisco and just north of Sonoma County, have approved the creation of a self-taxing mechanism to fund the Mendocino Wine and Winegrape Commission. The responsibility of the new commission will be to better promote the grapes and wines of Mendocino County.
Mendinco County includes some of the most diverse growing regions in the entire state frm the coastal oriented Anderson Valley where Pinot and Alsace varietals thrive to the hilly Yorkville Highlands to the warmer inland region where Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel and other varieties thrive. The wines are terrific. Yet, the Mendocino County appellations and growing regions lag behind other areas of California when it comes to recognition among American wine drinkers.
The vote to form the new commission is certainly a reaction to the more competitive market landscape for wine sellers. Imports of inexpensive wines from many New World, and Old World, regions and the rise to prominence of other quality oriented California wine regions such as Santa Barbara and Monterey apparently have convinced the Mendocino folk that more marketing of their wines and grapes are in order.
Surely part of the effort the Mendocino Wine and Grapegrower Commission will undertake is drawing more people past Napa and Sonoma and into the Mendocino region. This is not so easy a task. With so many wineries much closer to the main airports of Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento, it’s all too easy to take the short route and end up on Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley or Highway 29 in Napa. You really have to want to go to Mendocino. But it’s these visits, the direct encounter with region that creates evangelists for wine regions. And that’s exactly what Mendocino needs: more evangelists.
It’s reported that the initial annual funding will be in the neighborhood of $700,000. That seems like a lot of money. But imagine if you want to take the advertising route and choose (inappropriately in my mind) to place ads in the major wine publications. For even a minimally effective awareness campaign you need to spend upwards of $150,000. Then there is staff to pay as well as offices and the administration of the new organization. $750K isn’t a lot of money.
However, John Enquist, the executive director of the soon to be defunct Mendocino Wine Growers Alliance, will likely head up this new organization. With more funds at his disposal You can bet he will put on the kind of show that demonstrates the value of promotional expertise.
Mendocino ranks up there as one of my top 3 wine growing regions in California. The region’s diversity and the variety of quality wines tips the scale for me. And it’s the beauty too. If you’ve never seen the sun breaking through the fog in the morning in Anderson Valley, you need to.
Too bad – thought I had this little region of Pinot Noir all to myself.
Sorry Joe!! The word is out. It just seems like a secret when you are there.
If Mendocino has several degree-day summation zones, I would place the Ukiah Valley about in a zone like Modesto. But, you are right about some microclimates elsewhere like the upland Anderson Valley and its slopes; and, of course, the controversial ridgetop locales. In a quick survey recently to find who is in our neighborhood – our property is on the county line dividing Sonoma county from Mendocino county – I discovered many new and fine wineries. A native French champagne maker has a cellar in a place close to Anderson Valley proper; and many boutique wineries are offering wines in the $20.-40. range. Mendocino is coming into its own, at least the Anderson-Yorkville zone. I suspect much of the Sonoma county warmest zone northern Alexander valley pushes some warm air up the canyons toward Anderson Valley a mere fifteen miles northwest, which years ago seemed to be a marginal region I with a few excessive heat peaks. Additionally, a lot of the original heat summation datamapping rightfully should be revised to reflect the amazing microclimate enhancements produced by Lake Sonoma, that lengthy artificial body of water which completed dam construction twenty years ago. Lake Sonoma’s southermost reaches terminate in the warm Dry Creek appellation region, and the body of water extends up the now dammed Dry Creek valley many miles, providing household water piped as far as forty miles away in north Marin. But the cloud patterns are noticeably altered by Lake Sonoma, compared to the usual summer weather before Lake Sonoma existed.
All of this is far from Anderson Valley, but, viewed regionally, certainly has enhanced Anderson Valley as a viticultural region.
Additionally, viticulturists over these two decades have perfected sourcing for pinot noir clones, and other reds not even contemplated for CA planting in earlier years.
You are right about tourists needing to have passion to make the trek over the winding highway, though. Somehow, the very remoteness of Anderson valley, and its growers’ penchant for a personalized handcrafted touch, make its out of the way location a perfect match, a great environment in which to grow vines carefully. As for the final product, the wines, there will be little chance they will remain a secret for very long. The quality speaks for itself.
The wines are terrific and there are some wonderful wineries to visit, and, if you keep driving there are great places to eat once you reach the coast. But you can starve to death looking for a decent meal in Anderson Valley.
Highway 128 can be a long drive, but boy is it worth it. Having a designated driver helps too as it gets winder towards Albion.
Or just go straight to the town of Mendocino, stay the night, and sample all the wines of the county there at some of the great restaurants. Definitely worth the extra effort by a factor of 10.