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.

Millie Howie was the visionary who got the initial wineries together to form the Wine Road

Millie Howie, pictured above, spearheaded the initial nine wineries to form the Wine Road

Of the nine initial members, five wineries are still Wine Road members 40 years later. This list includes:
Foppiano Vineyards
Geyser Peak
J Pedroncelli
Simi
Trentadue

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.

Pedroncelli Winery pouring at a wine festival in the 1970s

Pedroncelli Winery pouring at a wine festival in the 1970s

Fun Facts

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.
Wine Road Board Members and Executive Director Beth Costa present a $20,000 check to the staff at the Redwood Empire Food Bank

Wine Road Board Members and Executive Director Beth Costa present a $20,000 check to the staff at the Redwood Empire Food Bank

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 18thThe 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 & 6thWine & 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.

Happy Sipping!

#wineroad40th

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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