Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Local wineries form trade association

LAKE COUNTY – A new trade association is forming to promote Lake County's many wineries.

The Lake County Wineries Association officially formed in July, said Matt Hughes of Zoom Winery in Kelseyville, who chairs the association's board.

Hughes said a core group – including Clay Shannon of Shannon Ridge Winery in Clearlake Oaks, Jed Steele of Steele Wines in Kelseyville and Gregory Graham of Lower Lake's Gregory Graham Wines – organized the effort.

Shannon and Graham now sit on the board with Hughes, serving as secretary and vice chair, respectively; and are joined by Sandy Tucker of Langtry Estate & Vineyards in Middletown and Nicole Johnson of Cougar's Leap in Kelseyville.

The association's goal will be to promote Lake County as a wine region and destination, said Hughes. They'll meet that goal through events such as the Lake County Wine Adventure, which will come under the association's umbrella.

“We wanted to do more of these things as a group to give ourselves a voice in the county,” said Hughes.

Lake County is home to 25 wineries, said Hughes, most of which have tasting rooms. Most of the local wineries, he added, are small, producing less than 5,000 cases of wine each year.

“We want to let people know Lake County is here as a wine region,” Hughes said.

This new association will join the Lake County Winegrape Commission in promoting the local wine industry.

The winegrape commission was formed in 1992, and is the oldest such commission in California, said Executive Director Shannon Gunier. Sonoma and Mendocino counties recently formed their own winegrape commissions, she added, with Mendocino forming their's because of Lake County's success.

Gunier said the winegrape commission has focused on branding Lake County as a winegrape-growing region. So far there are 94 wines that carry the Lake County name on their labels, and the county has five wine growing appellations -- Lake County, High Valley, Red Hills, Benmore Valley and Guenoc, with Big Valley and a possible Kelseyville Bench appellation in the future.

Lake County's winegrape acreage is at 8,800 “and holding,” with not much new planting going on right now, said Gunier. She estimates that the acreage will grow to between 10,000 and 12,000 acres over the next few years.

Eighty percent of the grapes grown in Lake County are sold outside of it, she added. All told, winegrapes are a $35 million industry in Lake County.

Gunier said Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading varietal locally, followed by Sauvignon Blanc; the two varietals together account for 95 percent of the winegrapes in Lake County.

And Lake's Cabernet Sauvignon is a good one, Gunier said, tasting like Napa's Cabernet but without the steep price.

Gunier said the winegrape commission is excited to see the wineries association form, and that they

look forward to partnering with them. She said the commission has money earmarked for promotions, including a campaign to encourage wine drinkers to buy local wines. Gunier added that local wineries definitely need better coverage at local retailers and restaurants. She

“I think you'll see us, the growers, partner with them a lot on doing promotions,” she said.

Clay Shannon, who also chairs the winegrape commission's board, agrees.

“We'll definitely have some things we can do together,” he said. “It just makes sense.”

Creating demand for wine, he added, automatically creates demand for winegrapes.

The wineries association already has marketing plans that include conducting media events in the Bay Area and on the East Coast possibly as early as this fall.

They'll also work on creating other wine-promoting events like the Wine Adventure, which Shannon said has grown larger and more successful over its first three years.

Hughes added, “We want to bring more people into Lake County and let them know it's a winery destination now.”

Seeing the audience for their products grow has led local wineries to be optimistic about future possibilities, said Shannon.

He said of Lake County, “It's just a totally different place to hang out and taste wine.”

Wineries plan for growing demands

The wineries association comes at a time when demand for Lake County wines is growing.

Lake County's largest winery, Langtry Estate & Vineyards, produces 160,000 cases of wine annually at its Middletown site, said Craig Moore, Langtry's national sales manager.

From January of July through this year, sales for wines produced by Langtry Estate & Vineyards were up 38-percent, according to a recent company statement.

Moore told Lake County News that there is a definite shift in consumer tastes to brands that are above the $10 price point.

The winery's Langtry label produces wines ranging from $25 to $40 a bottle, with varietals including Petite Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. They also have wine blends featuring all of the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Malbec, Moore said.

The winery also produces the Guenoc wine label with wines ranging between $12 and $16, and a $45 port, Moore said.

Although there is aggressive competition from Australian imports, Moore said wineries like Langtry have escaped the affects of the wine glut.

“There's worldwide surplus, and that's never going to go away, because America will always be the No. 1 target,” he said.

Langtry grows most of its own grapes on 420 acres on the 22,000-acre estate, with some extra fruit purchased from neighbors, said Moore.

It's also the only winery in the country to have its own wine appellation – Guenoc – and that's something they want to build on, said Moore.

California wines are gaining increasing popularity worldwide, said Moore, as the state's taste profiles become more widely accepted.

Moore said there isn't any magic to increasing Langtry's sales. While California is their dominant market, Moore said Langtry has aggressively pursued sales in metropolitan areas around the country, the East Coast corridor of Washington D.C. to Boston, Canada and the Caribbean.

Langtry has focused on “pour it and they will come” strategy, said Moore.

That strategy is working well with the winery's increasing focus on quality, said Moore. “I think the quality right now that we're putting out is as good as we've ever done.”

He said Langtry's staff sees the winery as the county leader, and they promote Lake County heavily.

“We have a lot of faith in the future of this region,” he said.

So much faith, that they're looking at growth in the next five years, said Moore.

They've already laid the groundwork for significant expansion. In the last 18 months, Moore said Langtry has expanded its capacity with new barrel storage and tanks and new wastewater ponds.

The winery also has new wastewater treatment plans and monitoring requirements to come into compliance with Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board standards, according to the regional board's documents.

“We could double our business here with the infrastructure we have now,” Moore said, adding they only would need more grapes.

Next steps for the association

Membership in the association will be voluntary, and there will be opportunities for those with an interest in the wine industry – who don't necessarily work within it – to join as associate members, said Hughes. Shannon said he expects 90 percent of the local wineries to join.

There is still a lot to do, both Hughes and Shannon reported.

The group right now is collecting membership applications and setting up a Web site. Shannon added that the board this month is working on its budget.

Shannon said there's also the matter of the association applying for nonprofit status and seeking grants and funding.

“I think it's going to be a great thing for the county,” said Hughes.

For more information contact the Lake County Wineries Association, 263-8001, or send mail to 401 11th St., P.O. Box 1829, Lakeport, CA 95453.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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