Awareness campaign for Sonoma wine region launches

SANTA ROSA -- Sonoma County winegrape growers, vintners and tourism promoters are launching a coordinated multimedia campaign to promote one of the county's top economic engines.

[caption id="attachment_67488" align="alignright" width="375"] The first of the cooperative advertisements in the new "We Are Sonoma County" campaign appeared in the latest edition of Vineyard & Winery Management.[/caption]

Building on the county brand mark and cooperative marketing strategy behind it that Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Tourism Bureau unveiled in August, the new marketing campaign is putting hundreds of thousands of dollars to work in print and digital advertising, a related new website, social media outreach and market research.

The vintners' group showed the new effort at its annual meeting Thursday. The winegrape commission is set to present the campaign at its Dollars & Sense Seminar this Thursday.

"The point of the campaign is to intrigue consumers about Sonoma County and create an emotional connection," said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, which helps promote more than 170 members wine producers. "It's more than just wines. It is a place, and there are stories connected to the growers and winemakers."

For winegrape growers, helping consumers choose wines with Sonoma County on the label and plan trips to the area helps them too, according to Nick Frey, president of the winegrape commission, which has more than 1,800 members.

"As growers, we recognized that if wineries sell wine, they will buy more Sonoma County fruit," he said. "If the region doesn't have recognition and value in the consumer's eye, we're at a disadvantage. The various AVAs in the county makes us unique. It puts us in the position of having a number of good stories to tell consumers."

About $60,000 was spent on developing the Sonoma County mark over two years. The budget for advertising in 2013 through mid-2014 is about $300,000. The growers' and vintners' groups are taking the lead in funding the effort but are looking for some buy-in on cooperative ads from associations representing American Viticultural Areas in the county as well as member wineries.

"We Are Sonoma County" cooperative advertisements were placed in consumer and trade publications -- Wines & Vines, Practical Winery & Vineyards, Food & Wine, Wine Spectator -- last month for new-year editions and is set to be placed in the publication for the giant Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento at the end of this month.

An associated website -- -- has videos from member growers and wineries as well as links to the three trade organizations.

To find out how effective the campaign will be, the vintners' and growers' groups brought in John Gillespie of Wine Opinions to conduct a baseline study of how wine consumers view the county. The winegrape commission hired the St. Helena-based wine consumer research firm to study whether the name of the county together or without the names of the AVAs inside it affected consumer perceptions of the value of the wine as part of the successful campaign for new conjunctive-labeling rules.

Preliminary results of the baseline survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers in the Wine Opinions panel show widespread recognition of Napa and Sonoma counties: 60 percent said they drink Napa Valley wines at least monthly, compared with 56 percent for Sonoma County. Tying for third place at 32 percent were Central Coast and Paso Robles.

"As we've seen in previous studies, Sonoma County has a favorable place in the hearts and minds of consumers," Mr. Gillespie said.

The marketing strategy was developed with the help of BHC Consulting, and the mark was crafted by Landor. Developing the advertising, website and marketing materials were Asterisk, Firefly Creative and Pembroke Design.

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