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By James A. Downing, PhD and MGMT 454 researchers, California State University – Chico

We all love a good party, especially a good party at a winery. Wine businesses are well aware of the value in event hosting and festival participation for marketing their wine. While tasting rooms provide a direct-to-consumer avenue of distribution, strategic event planning can be an additional fun and profitable distribution approach. In the Spring 2019 Family Business class at California State University, Chico we had a discussion which got us to thinking – if winery events are strategic for selling wine to certain customers then are there be environmental factors that are important for strategic event planning. We decided to conduct an exploratory study of wine events in California. The students reviewed the current research on event tourism and then picked wineries and regions to study. We had eight students choose to study ten wineries located in one of the following three California regions:

  1. North State – Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley
  2. Central Coast – Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County
  3. Sierra Foothills – El Dorado County, Amador County

Students chose a region based on to their personal interest and then randomly chose ten wineries located in that region using WineSearcher.com. The students then developed a profile on each winery, including the regional wine marketing infrastructure. Each profile included the full story of the winery, size of the winery, distance to metro areas, casual events, signature or hallmark events, and participation in regional wine marketing events. We then reviewed each profile according to current research on wine event tourism.

Current research suggests wineries continually look to achieve strategic objectives in the delivery of events and the development of a winescape for tourism (Crowther, 2010; Quintal, Thomas, and Phau, 2015). Research in event tourism has proposed several major themes for classifying the dynamic processes of events (Getz & Page, 2016). We used two in this study:

Spatial – geography of the region and the winery. This theme addresses factors associated with the location, including distance to a metro area and the remoteness of the location (Moscardo, 2008). Considerations for consumers when contemplating attending events include travel cost which can lead to distance decay, which a tourism falloff the further events are held from large urban areas (Lee, Jee, Funk, and Jordan, 2015; Bohlin,
2000). Issues associated with this theme relevant to the event producers include the challenge of accurately forecasting event demand and the event experience or festivalscape (Hall & Page, 2012; Mason & Paggiaro, 2012).

Temporal – seasonality of demand. This theme focuses on event life cycle, specifically addressing factors such as peak, off-peak, and changing market appeal as well as event freshness. For example, some events such as festivals tend to be scheduled during good weather months and holiday periods, while iconic events can be scheduled to drive tourism during off-peak periods (Higham & Hinch, 2002; Janiskee, 1996). Through the use of an event life cycle perspective wineries are better able to develop a portfolio mix of events to address event renewal, planned obsolescence, and fluctuation in the market and weather conditions (Beverland, Hoffman, and Rasmussen, 2001; Getz, 2000).

The data obtained on the eighty wineries and nine wine marketing associations was compared and contrasted within and between regions according to the spatial and temporal themes. We were able to identify commonalities and differences that we used to develop an overall identity for a region. The regional descriptions are summarized in Table 1. Following are some of the student identified events produced by the regional marketing associations and by individual wineries:

North State

Winery and marketing association event producers need to be concerned about attendance. Overall we noticed a distance-decay effect for Anderson Valley which is 200 miles from San Francisco compared to Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley which are 40 and 70 miles from San Francisco respectively. While our findings indicate proximity to a large city is associated with more events at the winery level, interestingly at the marketing association level, there seems to be the same number of collective events. For example, the events for Sonoma County appear to be designed to drive tourism during off-peak periods with events such as the 27th Annual Winter WINEland in January and with certain hallmark events such as Signature Sonoma Valley in May and Taste of Sonoma in August. The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association also endeavors to attract off-peak tourism with White Wine Weekend in February, Taste of Anderson Valley in November, and a hallmark event in May, the 22nd Annual Pinot Noir Festival. The August hallmark event for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers embraces the Burgundy tradition of bringing together winemakers and collectors with an annual Russian River Valley Paulée. It look as if the intent of the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley marketing organizations is to create an identity of excellence for the Pinot Noir variety.

Most of the individual wineries host similar types of events like wine club pick-up or release parties. However, as the size of the winery gets larger there are more events associated with food pairings or performances. Phillips Hill in Anderson Valley hosts smaller events featuring art, music and a Mushroom Forage and Feast in November while Parducci has a summer concert series. In the Russian River Valley we notice more winery hosted events like winemaker dinners and farm-to-table feasts. Emeritus Vineyards has yoga in the vineyard and Copain Wines will host events pairing their wines with fried chicken and pizza. By comparison, the Sonoma Valley wineries use more of an event portfolio mix approach, including theatrical events by the Transcendence Theatre Company at Benziger and Chateau St. Jean as well as B.R. Cohn Winery offering a concert every weekend in the summer months. Additionally, Sonoma Valley events appear to be more restrictive when it comes to families, sometimes noting that children are strictly forbidden.

Central Coast

The Central Coast region is a 200 mile long area along the Pacific Ocean. The students classified the data they gathered from this region into three sections; the south end, the north end, and the middle. Interestingly, we found a distance-decay not from the proximity to an urban area, but rather from the middle of the region. On the south end, Santa Barbara Vintners is the regional marketing organization for Santa Barbara County. The 39th Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Festival which took place in early May is the largest festival in the area and included 70 wineries from Santa Barbara. On the north end of the region is the Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands regions. The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans annual event is called Sun, Wind and Wine Gala and features over 40 wineries along with food pairings and music. The River Road Wine Trail Association of the Santa Lucia Highlands hosts the Tunes, Trucks & Tastes event in July. The most active regional marketing association on the central coast identified by the students is the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance with BlendFest, Vintage Paso, Wine Festival, and Harvest Wine Festival. All of these festivals are intended to drive wine tourism and receive participation from the local wineries. Additionally, some wineries develop their own shared events like the Paso Pinot and Paella Festival that combines 20 different Pinot Noirs with a dozen unique Paellas in June. An interesting observation is that the top and bottom of the Central Coast region do not have as many marketing association events as the middle even though they are closer to metro areas. This could be because Paso Robles is three hours from San Francisco and Los Angeles thus necessitating more tourist destination activities.

Some of the individual Santa Barbara wineries host events by borrowing the branding of other tourist attractions in the area. For example, Melville Winery in Lompoc will host a winemaker’s dinner and a Roar and Pour at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Flying Goat Cellars host artists in the tasting room and pours at local tourist sites, such as a Wild Horse & Burro Safari and a Maritime Museum Wine Tasting. On the north end in the Carmel Valley, Folktale Winery’s large facility hosts Grammy Award winning artists along with their famous Chef Duals. Individual winery events in Paso Robles are wide ranging including a $695 Gala at Daou Vineyards and a $250 Gala Dinner at Justin Vineyards. Sculpterra Winery has free weekly live music and Tobin James Cellars hosts DJs and live bands with such events as Moonlight Magic and End of Summer Bash, along with free tastings.

Sierra Foothills

The students reviewed two areas in the Sierra Foothills. El Dorado County is less than an hour away from Sacramento where the El Dorado Wine Association puts together a wine bazaar called the WINEderLUST Renegade festival. Amador County Vintners Association along with Amador 360 Winery Collective actively produce events for the region including the Barbera Festival in September, Big Crush Harvest Festival in October, and the Amador Four Fires Festival in May which is designed to celebrate the four regions Amador winemakers draw inspiration from: Southern France, Italy, Iberia, and “Heritage California.” Amador County is about an hour away from Sacramento.

The individual wineries in the Sierra Foothills plan a variety of events. Boeger Winery in El Dorado County hosts a summer music series called Sunset Sippin’, Sierra Vista Winery has a Mother’s Day Brunch and Lobster Boils, Miraflores has summer weekly Guest Chef Pairings, and Lava Cap Winery hosts a weekly summer music series. The wineries in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County also host many events. Helwig Winery has an amphitheater for summer concerts, Amador Cellars holds a Chili Cook-off in January to pair with their red blend and a Cheeseburger and Zin event in June. Borjón Winery offers a Mexican fair and celebration with Revolución De Vino in September and Vino De Los Muertos in October. The individual events in the Sierra Foothills appear to target a particular audience and are family friendly.

Table 1: Regional Themes in Event Tourism

  North State Central Coast Sierra Foothills
Spatial Distance-decay at the winery level from major metro area Distance-decay at the marketing association and winery level from the center of the region No distance-decay
Temporal Portfolio mix with more traditional events (less freshness) but all year Portfolio mix of traditional and fresh, all year (limited) Mix of portfolio mix of traditional and fresh, all year (limited)

Research Findings

In the North State, the closer a wine marketing association or an individual winery is to San Francisco, the more likely they are to create more elaborate events with performances and food pairings. As such, we see the distance-decay for winery event planning but not in collective wine marketing association events. The distance-decay for the North State could also be due to a saturation effect of wine tourism. Overall, the region and sub regions have an event portfolio mix that makes use of traditional events (e.g., 25th Annual …) that build on previous success and branding but also signal less freshness to the event. However, because the North State region has a long history of traditional wine, they may be meeting consumer expectations.

The Central Coast is the largest region examined by the students and is most distant from major urban areas. We thought the northern and southern areas of the region would not experience a distance-decay effect given their closer distance to urban areas. However, after looking at the collaborative and individual events it seems they are actually experiencing a distance-decay effect from the middle of the region. Existing wine research has noted that the effects of community specialization in rural areas can decrease the distance-decay for consumers while gaining economies of agglomeration from surrounding rural areas that are independent of urban economies (Doucet, 2003). From a temporal perspective there are a wide variety of event offerings from traditional to fresh that are offered throughout the year in the central region but these offerings are limited outside of the center of the region.

The Sierra Foothills region is close to an urban area being only a fifteen drive from Sacramento. There does not seem to be distance-decay from this proximity just by observing the marketing association and individual winery events. Amador County wineries offer a mix of events individually and a collective identity with the Barbara festival and the Four Fires Festival celebrating the winemaking styles of Southern France, Italy, Iberia, and “Heritage California.” While El Dorado has a collaborative event, most wineries focus on individual events. The events in El Dorado tend to be traditional with music and food pairings, while Amador events seem to have more freshness.

This is a student research project with many limitations. For instance, the samples were small for each region, and samples were not random, so some areas with larger representations of wineries may not be represented well. While this is not a comprehensive and necessarily conclusive study the overall project does provide some interesting information at the beginning of the wine festival season.

Practical Findings

  • The identities of regions are shaped by the collaborative events.
  • Distance-decay exists in some areas and not others
  • Clustering effects may impact distance-decay
  • There seems to be an overall mix of traditional and fresh events
  • More research on event transformation and schedule obsolescence is needed

References

Beverland, M., Hoffman, D. and Rasmussen, M., 2001. The evolution of events in the Australasian wine sector. Tourism Recreation Research, 26(2), pp.35-44.
Bohlin, M., 2000. Traveling to events.
Crowther, P., 2010. Strategic application of events. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29(2), pp.227-235.
Doucet, C., 2003. The spatial patterns of the Bordeaux wine sector’s role in rural areas. (http://www.wineecoreports.com/Working_Papers/Text/WP_2003/doucet.pdf)
Getz, D., 2000. Festivals and special events: life cycle and saturation issues. Trends in outdoor recreation, leisure and tourism, pp.175-185.
Getz, D. and Page, S.J., 2016. Progress and prospects for event tourism research. Tourism management, 52, pp.593-631.
Hall, C.M. and Page, S., 2012. Geography and the study of events. Routledge Handbook of Events, London, Routledge, pp.148-164.
Higham, J. and Hinch, T., 2002. Tourism, sport and seasons: the challenges and potential of overcoming seasonality in the sport and tourism sectors. Tourism Management, 23(2), pp.175-185.
Janiskee, R.L., 1995. The temporal distribution of America’s community festivals. Festival Management and event tourism, 3(3), pp.129-137.
Lee, S.K., Jee, W.S.F., Funk, D.C. and Jordan, J.S., 2015. Analysis of attendees’ expenditure patterns to recurring annual events: Examining the joint effects of repeat attendance and travel distance. Tourism management, 46, pp.177-186.
Mason, M.C. and Paggiaro, A., 2012. Investigating the role of festivalscape in culinary tourism: The case of food and wine events. Tourism management, 33(6), pp.1329-1336.
Moscardo, G., 2007. Analyzing the role of festivals and events in regional development. Event Management, 11(1-2), pp.23-32.
Quintal, V.A., Thomas, B. and Phau, I., 2015. Incorporating the winescape into the theory of planned behaviour: Examining ‘new world’ wineries. Tourism Management, 46, pp.596-609.

Jim DowningExpert Editorial
by By Jim Downing, PhD. and MGMT 454 researchers at California State University – Chico.

Jim Downing, PhD. is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at California State University – Chico ([email protected]). The research team was composed of ten upper-division students receiving a degree in Entrepreneurship. They include: Cossart, J., Dronen, A., Gagnevin, E., Hernandez, C., James, T., McFarland, C., Quilici, L., Quintero-Leal, J., Valdez, I., and Wells, J.

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