The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2016

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Page 37 of 124

december 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  37 T his past October Wendy Brannen crossed the country from her longtime home in Washington, D.C., to Lodi to assume her new position as Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission—the organization representing more than 750 wine grape growers and 85 wineries in the Lodi American Viticulture Area, a large number of them belonging to families who have farmed in the region for over 50, 100 or even 150 years. Lodi is easily the country's most widely planted AVA, comprising more than 110,000 acres (and counting) of wine grapes. For over 25 years, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has served as a model of effective regional wine marketing and unified messaging. Brannen suc- ceeds Camron King, who stepped down in April to become President of the National Grape and Wine Initiative (NGWI), based in Sacramento. Prior to that, Mark Chandler—currently the Mayor of the City of Lodi—led the Lodi Winegrape Commission for just over 20 years. Brannen brings her own track record of bold, award-winning leadership within the agricul- ture industry—over ten years combined as the U.S. Apple Association's Director of Consumer Health and Public Relations and as Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee. In a conversation in mid-November, Brannen spoke about her heartfelt embrace of Lodi. "It's interesting that the position came up during a time when I had no motivation what- soever to leave a job I was really enjoying. But when I was approached about the potential opportunity, I was immediately struck by the symmetry with previous jobs, particularly the Vidalia onion industry—by federal law, Vidalia onions can only be grown in parts of a 20-county region in the state of Georgia. In marketing Vidalias, we often used the wine industry as an example of how sweetness and quality is tied to terroir, inherent characteris- tics of regions and climates, and dedication of growers and packers. "But what I found most interesting was meeting the people representing Lodi's selection committee. I instantly liked them. I could see their passion and commitment, the light in their eyes shining through when they talked about what they do, which I found very appealing. Even though I laughingly told them that I had kind of hoped things wouldn't work out, so that I could stay in D.C. a little longer, but after our first meeting I went home and found myself obsessing over ways to market wine and knew that I really wanted the job!" Since arriving in her new home at the beginning of November, Brannen adds, "What I've seen has already confirmed what I felt during my interviews. This is a community of people who love what they do, which accounts for their longevity. The Lodi growers are a very progressive bunch, determined to take the innovative approach to marketing Lodi grapes and wines. "Right now my priority is to get out into the community and learn more directly from our members about the area, how we grow our grapes, the suite of wines we are producing. This is an exciting time for Lodi. With our recent success hosting bloggers and showing more media what Lodi has to offer, we plan to continue bolstering the perception of Lodi as a great place for grapes—something that will always remain priority number one." The Lodi Wine & Visitor center, where the curious can discover the region's vinous offerings. A local sign in Lodi wine country points to the AVA's various vineyards and wineries.

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