Or is the new branding of Sonoma Valley just an attempt to capture more of the $7 million that tourists bring to Sonoma County each year? Right now Sonoma Valley reels in about $1 million and the people behind the new branding are up front about wanting a bigger piece of the pie.

Naturally tourism dollars are dwarfed by wine sales, but tourists are often the ambassadors of wine regions so winning them over is key.

With the other major appellations in Sonoma County – the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys — creating a hub around Healdsburg, it’s not surprising that there has been a growing intrigue with this town that has rustic charm, a cross between a Land Rover and BMW.

The Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers are unveiling the “Roots Run Deep” campaign to highlight the historic aspect of Sonoma Valley.

With this new branding, Sonoma Valley is stepping out to set the record straight for tourists with this message: Wine Country began here. Buena Vista is California’s first premium winery, founded in 1857, and it pre-dates Napa Valley premium wineries. For wine drinking history buffs, it doesn’t get any better than this.

But is this stepping out causing any tension with efforts to brand Sonoma County as a whole?

Sonoma Valley has always been fiercely independent. One example was its determination to keep its irreverent auction named the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction even after it had joined forces to “brand” Sonoma County with the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend event beginning in 2008. However in 2013 it appears there is a shift of sorts in the making. Sonoma Valley has agreed to rename it simply the “Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction.”

Is there a tug of war between Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County when it comes to branding wine? Or is Sonoma County happy to support this historic, irreverent region, home of Producer John Lasseter of Pixar and comic Tommy Smothers, who make for great off beat fun at their auction?

Head poobah Honore Comfort of the Sonoma County Vintners & Grower’s Alliance, said, in a word “No.”

“We strongly support Sonoma Valley’s efforts to clearly articulate its unique identity within Sonoma County, and to establish its voice and position, doing it in a unified way with Sonoma County. We worked collaboratively to create strategies that dovetail and work together in the marketplace.

Here’s a Q&A with Maureen Cottingham, executive director with the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance to get a closer look at the incentive for the branding:

Q:  Why do you want to market Sonoma Valley wines apart from Sonoma County wines?

Cottingham: Sonoma County wines are a collection of many AVA’s covering a very large geography.  Sonoma Valley and the wines from this region are unique just like the other AVA’s that make up Sonoma County.  We want to develop the Sonoma Valley as a stand-alone wine region within Sonoma County.

Q:  Is there concern branding and promotions for Sonoma County and those for Sonoma Valley may get confusing?

Cottingham: We feel that our marketing programs will ensure that there is NO confusion between Sonoma County and the regions within the county.  It is the regions like Dry Creek, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley that make up Sonoma County wines.

Q: Are you trying to bring home the fact that Sonoma Valley is the birthplace of northern California wine?

Cottingham: Most of the people living in Sonoma Valley are proud of the heritage of the region both wine history and California history.  However, most tourists are not aware of the rich history of this region.  We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to telling the story of Sonoma Valley

Q: What do you expect to gain from this campaign?

Cottingham: The purpose of this brand launch is that we realize the growth potential of Sonoma Valley wines. We seek to unlock growth by replacing confusion about Sonoma Valley with a clear definition of the benefits of making Sonoma Valley a more purposeful and frequent choice with our core audience. Through our brand essence work we defined our core audience as ‘experience seekers’ – people who are confident, independent thinkers with natural curiosity and a sense of discovery, who like to try new things. This is the audience we want to reach and we feel like Sonoma Valley is a great match for them. The mark, identity and creative is designed to stand out amongst other wine regions. It will give us a way to share the Sonoma Valley story in a way that will bring our essence to life through our people and world-class wines.



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