Recently I was asked why the Wine Road turning 40 was such a big deal. Without pausing, I quickly answered the poor chap who asked, giving far more information than he expected or wanted. I thought if this guy asked the question, others probably have as well.
The History Lesson
In 1976 when the Wine Road was established by nine wineries, the wine industry in Sonoma County was small. Much of the wine in California and the US was mass-produced, and buying wine from a small producer wasn’t even an option for most consumers. It was a time before appellations and sub-appellations, vineyard designate wines, the internet, Google maps, cell phones, or social media. Finding small, off the beaten path wineries meant you either knew where they were, or you had a map that showed you how to find them.
When Millie Howie, the Wine Road’s first fearless leader and visionary, banded local wineries together, she had one purpose in mind—getting folks to find these hidden gems. Her first goal was to print maps and have every winery share them with visitors. I’m sure a few got mailed out as well, but most were handed to visitors so they might visit the other Wine Road member’s wineries.
Forty years is a long time, and these pioneering wineries deserve to be applauded. If you haven’t visited the founding members in a while, this would be a good year to do so.
Here are a few facts that might help reinforce why honoring the past 40 years is a big deal.
- In 1976, the Wine Road printed 25,000 maps for distribution.
- Today, even with maps available online and via apps, the Wine Road will print and distribute over 400,000 maps in 2016.
- In 1976, the Wine Road had nine winery members.
- Today, the Wine Road has about 200 winery members and 50 lodging members.
- In 1978, the Wine Road held its first Barrel Tasting weekend, and a handful of folks came out to visit each of the wineries along the Wine Road.
- Today, Barrel Tasting is held during the first two weekends in March, and thousands of folks visit more than 100 participating wineries.
- One dollar from every Wine Road event ticket sold and 100% of the designated driver tickets are donated to the Redwood Empire Food Bank. This spring after Winter WINEland and Barrel Tasting, the Wine Road presented a check for $20,000 to the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Those funds help feed hundreds of local families.
The Wine Road has been donating to the Redwood Empire Food Bank since 2008. So far they have donated over $350,000! By attending the Wine Road’s events, you are not only having fun and learning more about wine, but you are also helping the Wine Road give back to their community.
Doing It Right
When I travel to other wine regions throughout the US, the Wine Road is an organization many folks have heard about, and many other wine organizations look to emulate the Wine Road’s success. The Wine Road does an exceptional job of helping wine lovers find those hidden gem wineries, even those seriously off the beaten path.
The Fun Continues
The Wine Road also organizes some of the best events I’ve ever attended. As they continue to celebrate turning 40, here are some upcoming events over the next few months:
June 18th — The Magical Mystery Tour
July 23rd — 40 Years of Cheer, a community festival with crafts, music and of course, wine tasting in Healdsburg
August 20th — Zinfandel Tasting, in conjunction with the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley
July 23rd – August 31st — Wine Road Treasure Hunt
October 22nd — Pinot Noir Tasting, in conjunction with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers
November 5th & 6th — Wine & Food Affair
November 5th —Breakfast with the Winemakers, just before Wine & Food Affair.
Visit WineRoad.com to get full details on all the upcoming Wine Road events.