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January 11, 2013 | 1:09 PM

WE ARE KNOTTY. WE ARE NICE.

That’s just one of the ways Sonoma County is branded in the Sonoma County Vintners' “We Are Sonoma County” campaign. The exciting new identity campaign –  WeAreSonomaCounty.com – launched last August with print ads featuring "knotty" and "nice" vines because, said Sonoma County Vintners executive director Honore Comfort: "We don't want to look like any other wine region."

One of the goals of the "We Are Sonoma County" campaign is to influence local, national and global consumers to buy more Sonoma County wine. Clearly proud of their "milestone" campaign, Comfort brought the message home to a record-breaking crowd at the Sonoma County Vintners annual meeting in Santa Rosa yesterday.

Comfort and her staff welcomed 300 attendees to the event, during which John Gillespie of the research firm Wine Opinions took the stage to present the results of a national survey he conducted with high-frequency wine consumers and high-end wine buyers. The findings showed how Sonoma County compares to other wine regions, including Napa Valley, Chile, Washington state and Bordeaux, to name a few. It was conducted online last month and included 913 respondents. It's what smart marketers do, Gillespie said, because it sets a baseline against which future progress can be measured. 

"This was really intended to take the temperature of Sonoma County wines with our target consumers in the marketplace," said Comfort.

Here are some of the more noteworthy findings: 
 
– When asked to rate their overall estimation of wine quality from different regions, respondents said the top-rated regions for quality were: 1) Napa Valley, 91 percent; 2) Sonoma County, 85 percent; 3) Bordeaux, 78 percent.

– When asked to rate their overall estimation of wine value, respondents said the top regions for value were: 1) Chile, 71 percent; 2) Washington, 66 percent; and 3)Sonoma County, 63 percent.

Gillespie summarized the importance of this:

“When you look at the quality leaders, you see Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Bordeaux. When you look at the value leaders, Sonoma County is still in the Top 3. 

"Sonoma County is the only region in the Top 3 with ratings of both quality and value—that’s an accomplishment. In my opinion, that is something that can be broadly leveraged in the marketplace because it is really unique. If I were you, I’d be damn proud of that."
 

Comfort emphasized how the baseline survey is their first effort in an ongoing series of consumer research they plan to do regularly as they continue to develop Sonoma County's branding program. She talked about the challenges of marketing a place as diverse as Sonoma County and the collaboration it took to build their brand identity and brand mark. Taking the campaign further, the brand has also been adopted by collaboraters Sonoma County Winegrowers and Sonoma County Tourism.

"This is a milestone for us. We have never had this powerful, consistent marketing communication to sell to the world. It’s tied into that pride of place we all share and is the root of what makes Sonoma County distinctive," she said.

For Comfort, the key points included: 

-- "Number one, we are starting from a positive place. The fact that Sonoma County is second only to Napa and a very close second to Napa in terms of overall awareness is great. We’re in a good position there."

-- "We enjoy a unique position of being recognized for quality and value, which is a unique position in the marketplace. What that shows is we’re able to tap into a broad segment of the wine consumer population."

The survey also highlighted areas to work on to improve communication to consumers going forward, such as increasing recognition of some of the lesser known AVAs in the county, such as Rockpile, Green Valley or Bennett Valley. "Fortunately, our conjunctive labeling initiative goes into law on Jan. 1, 2014 and that will really help the smaller AVAs that are not as well recognized," Comfort said.

Below are some photos from the wine tasting that followed the meeting. Pictured top (l-r) are Jim Pidgeon of Moss Adams and John Gillespie of Wine Opinions; pictured second (l-r) are Lacy Procopenko of La Crema Winery, April Goltermann of La Crema Winery, Dana Macaulay, SCV director of events and operations, and Amy Petrovich of Hartford Wines; pictured third: unidentified wine tasters; pictured fourth: Sarah Elliman of CellarPass.


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