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Relaunching Brand Carneros.

The concept of repackaging or relaunching isn't limited to brands or products within a brand line. Case in point: earlier this year, the Carneros Quality Alliance made the decision to relaunch one of California's oldest American Viticultural Areas, first created in 1983. The relaunch included a new logo and a new name--Carneros Wine Alliance, (CWA) as well as a new executive director and new board members.

The aim of the repackaging is to reach out beyond the trade directly to consumers, according to Phyllis Gillis, the new executive director. In a statement, Gillis said, "With our location only 40 minutes north of San Francisco, and our proximity to both the East Bay and Marin, we are one of the most accessible of the wine country regions. In addition, the Carneros region is rustic and environmentally sensitive, retaining the same character as at the time it was first settled by maverick farmers a century ago. Our goal is to both retain that character and introduce Carneros to new audiences that may not be familiar with our wines and our region."

Steve MacRostie, chair of the CWA, said that it was time to take Carneros to the next level. "We have long focused on the technical qualities of premium grapegrowing and winemaking. We feel it is time to introduce Carneros wines to a greater audience."

Gillis told Wines & Vines that the repackaging of Carneros really began more than a year ago, when MacRostie became chair of the board of directors. "Everyone agreed that something had to be done. There was a sense that other regions were doing more than Carneros," Gillis said.

Gillis, who was new to the wine business when she was hired last year, said there are three major areas to address in the repackaging. First, the name itself: Did it really fit the organization? Second, finding a mechanism for being more inclusive and third, reaching out to an audience beyond the trade, making an emotional connection between Brand Carneros and the consumer or target audience. "We will take a multi-discipline program, reaching out to the public, to the local community and to the trade," Gillis said.

The name change seems clearly designed to appeal to consumers, a step back from being concerned with technical innovation and wine quality, important as they may be.

As to being more inclusive, the decision was made to enlarge the board of directors, bringing in a corporate presence that was previously lacking. To that point, four new members have been added: Steve Spadoratto, a senior vice president with Diageo's Chateau & Estates Wine division; Scott Wallace, vice president of operations at Buena Vista, which is owned by Beam Wine Estates, a division of Fortune Brands; Tony Britton Sims, chief financial officer at Cuvaison Winery and Larry Hyde, owner of Hyde Vineyards and HdV wines in Carneros.

The new directors join Eileen Crane, president, Domaine Carneros; Armando Ceja, winemaker, Ceja Vineyards; Michael Havens, president, Havens Wine Cellars; Steve Sangiacomo, Sangiacomo Vineyards and Melissa Moravec, founder, Casa Carneros and MacRostie as continuing board members.

Also in an effort to be more inclusive, the CWA will now accept associate members. Enlarging the board of directors as well as opening the organization to associate members are steps that are likely aimed at bringing more funds to the group. According to reports, a shortage of funds was a problem in the past, and if new programs are to be successfully carried forward, additional funding will be needed.

Several steps have already been taken involving consumer outreach. The CWA was selected as the presenting wine sponsor for a major San Francisco Symphony fundraiser. It has also been selected as the presenting sponsor for the Carneros Half-Marathon, held every July in the region. CWA was a partner with chef Tanya Holland for a wine and food event celebrating Black History Month at Macy's Chef in the Cellar series.

Next month, the CWA will hold its first event open to the public, Carneros Heritage Weekend, June 9-10. The CWA is joining with the California Sheep Commission and the Napa County Farm Bureau for two days of barbecues, sheep herding exhibits and winery and restaurant dinners pairing Carneros wines with lamb dishes.

Asked to comment on the changes, Crane told Wines & Vines, "There is a time when organizations need a reappraisal. If you don't keep looking at what you are doing, you could lose your edge. As Will Rogers said, 'Even if you are on the right track, you might still get run over if you are just sitting there.'"

Crane said that what the Carneros Quality Alliance was doing in the 1980s and early 1990s worked, but there are new stories to tell. "The region was hard hit by phylloxera. We had some of the oldest Pinot Noir plantings in the state, and phylloxera gave us the opportunity to go for up-to-the-minute clones and rootstocks and fine tune the vineyards."

In the past, some critical comments on Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay focused on the fact that the vines had originally been planted for sparkling wine production and were not, perhaps, the best choice for still wines.

"We must get the new message out, while we continue to build on the past," Crane said. "I view the changes as very positive. It's a good idea to think about where we are going and how we can change."

She mentioned some concrete steps that could be taken, like recent events that brought consumers into Carneros. "It is important to keep in touch with the trade, but we need to have events that will also bring consumers here and give them a hands-on experience."

One question that always comes up when any product is relaunched is: Why? What was wrong with the old gadget? Wines & Vines asked board member Michael Havens, who replied via e-mail: "CQA's past efforts were centered around a) community-building within the Carneros winegrowing and wine producing community and b) exchange of information that would help raise the level of grape and wine quality. These are still important functions of the new CWA. But we feel a need to address ourselves to the larger wine-interested society as well, to tell the story of what we have here. We can preach to the choir all day long, but the hard reality is, getting our wines into more glasses is what will give us a chance to improve on what we have here already."

There have been comments by some in Carneros that winegrowers have spent too much time in the past few years worrying about what other regions are doing and comparing Carneros wines to other regions, rather than doing what they do best in Carneros.

Havens agreed that was a fair criticism of some past projects, but added: "In defense of this comparative approach, what is it, after all, that is interesting about similar wines from diverse appellations? The particulars of what each region offers have kept wine lovers fascinated even since ancient times. And to be practical, if we offer nothing different here than other appellations offer, who cares if we have a different name or lie within a different political boundary? Comparison means distinction, distinction means interest and interest means people buying our wines."

Asked what particular strengths Carneros should emphasize in the new CWA outreach, Havens said, "We have an authentic local culture, much (though not all) of which is family-owned farms and wineries. Our winegrowers and wine producers are dedicated to finding how their vineyards can reveal clarity of fruit character and interesting nuance. And I would emphasize that most of us know this to be a very long-term process--likely generations long--so we see ourselves as part of a continuum of work that will outlive us. And our local terroir ... naturally moves us toward a style that emphasizes elegance, nuance and complexity, rather than mere power and overwhelming volume of flavor. In short, we get a lot of character in our wines without forcing them into ripeness that obliterates varietal and terroir character."

Havens pointed out that this did not mean all Carneros wines are alike. "To the contrary, we know there are interesting variations in Carneros terroir that offer substantial variety in style (even calling for different varieties), but all within this general range of more elegant rather than more bombastic wines. No matter the particular type of wine, Carneros wines tend to offer subtle colorations and nuances of style, in contrast to some appellations where intensity and full-throttle richness are the main focus."

He agreed that the revamped CWA is putting more emphasis on marketing and public relations than before. "It is a practical response to the times in which we find ourselves growing and making wine, and the market we have to sell to," he said.

That statement probably best sums up the relaunch of Carneros, or any other brand or product: to keep up with the market.

RELATED ARTICLE: HIGHLIGHTS

* The Carneros Quality Alliance is repackaging one of California's oldest American Viticultural Areas, first created in 1983. The relaunch includes a new logo and a new name--Carneros Wine Alliance, (CWA) as well as a new executive director and new board members.

* The repackaging addresses three major areas: the organization's name; increasing the group's inclusiveness and reaching out to consumers to build an emotional connection between Brand Carneros and the group's target audience.

* Critics have pointed out that Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines were originally planted for sparkling wine production and were not, perhaps, the region's best choice for still wines.

* Some insiders have said that area winegrowers have spent too much time comparing Carneros wines to other regions, rather than focusing on what their region does best.
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Title Annotation:marketing matters; Carneros Quality Alliance
Author:Walker, Larry
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1614
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