Disagreement on how to rep county wines leads a founding member of the growers association to quit.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association planted its first vines of life in the fertile soils of Salinas Valley almost 40 years ago. Several of the area’s biggest and mightiest vineyards—J. Lohr, Paraiso and Wente—were founding members. But now, with the start of 2013, one of its most active flagship members will be abandoning the group altogether.
After decades of very close involvement and significant leadership contributions, Scheid Vineyards (455-9990) is saying sayonara for a reason that can appear as petty as a spat over the name for one of the collaborative’s signature events and as fundamental as a conflict over how to pursue the organization’s very purpose.
That purpose: To combine forces to earn Monterey grapes and wine the repute they deserve. While Monterey County enjoys the same winery acreage as Napa Valley (about 45,000), the county with the most coastline in the state hosts only a tenth of the wine labels. As part of that push the MCVGA hosts events like its annual summer Winemakers Celebration, shops local wines to buyers as far afield as Japan and assembles a slick website dripping with appellation insights and a look at its 65-member roster, running from Arroyo Seco Vineyards to Zabala.
But Scheid CEO Scott Scheid doesn’t think Executive Director Rhonda Motil and her small MCVGA team get it. Sheid wants to see far more collaboration with the area’s restaurants and hospitality powers, diplomatic aid in wine corridor skirmishes and visits to member growers.
“The association has lost its focus,” he says. “It’s hunkered down over time into a straight, narrow marketing channel.”
Friction flared a few years back around Great Wine Escape Weekend, an open house for wineries that was flagging in enthusiasm and attendance. MCVGA introduced a one-day event that brought chefs, food trucks, seminars and tastings to a hangar at the Monterey airport in its place. Scott Scheid, who has served on the MCVGA board for years and as president for much of the last two—and advocated for the updated event with Scheid marketing mind Stefani Chaney—thought the name, Best of the Blue, was hard to understand, let alone sell. (It was inspired by the offshore “blue Grand Canyon” that drives the climate that makes Monterey County so hospitable for its 42 varietals of grapes.)
“The last thing we need is marketing roadblocks,” Scheid says. “But we shouldn’t have to fight that hard against the staff, especially when I’m president. It was loggerheads the whole way.”
While Scheid’s bedside manner puts off some, his displeasure makes sense, and is shared by others. The arugula curtain separating the growers and the restaurant scene must be aggressively parted, and the renamed Party in the Hangar’s nice rundown of participating chefs and restaurants demonstrated the synergy that can happen when it does. Wineries don’t feel as much ownership as they could, and that’s easy to remedy with a few more visits and sweat equity.
Scheid’s not alone in his frustration with Motil. Her sizeable salary ($150,000 plus, according to two sources) and amount of outsourcing (even with a marketing coordinator on staff, she employs a San Luis Obispo-based P.R. firm) have members griping. Then there are some insiders who go so far to say that the association may fall apart if she sticks around. For her part, Motil wants to focus on recent successes, including a landmark year for tasting rooms (for more comment, see the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible). The group likes to retain members, she adds, but it’s not for everyone.
“We are an opt-in organization,” she says. “Every member has the opportunity to decide on a different direction.”