Home Wine Business Editorial Sales & Marketing Wine Industry Champion: Kim Stemler Makes Monterey Wine Shine

Wine Industry Champion: Kim Stemler Makes Monterey Wine Shine

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Meet Kim Stemler, Executive Director, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association

By Laura Ness

 

INTRO: Wine Industry Advisor is pleased to debut a new profile series, Wine Industry Champions, which will spotlight individuals who are working behind the scenes to advance their wine regions and promote a thriving industry for all.

 

For Kim Stemler, executive director of Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association (MCVGA) since 2012, providing a reliable source of critical information during disasters has become one of her main functions. The region she stewards, which encompasses 10 distinct sub-AVAs in California’s Monterey County (with another pending), has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. Among them have been all too frequent wildfires in Carmel Valley and Big Sur, along with mudslides and life-threatening flooding. In parallel, the deadly COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the crucial labor force that underpins the success of the agricultural economy. Through it all, she has been the calm voice of reason. 

“When all wine growers and makers require access to the same information and resources, it becomes more effective and efficient for a single entity to assume that responsibility,” says Stemler. “By strategically serving as that guiding voice and consistently delivering accurate information, we fulfill one of our most invaluable roles. In doing so, we save precious time for each individual business.”

California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is a critical business partner. “I consistently tell CAL FIRE how much we appreciate them,” says Stemler.  “They are modern day heroes. Effective coordination is critical, and nurturing partner relations and expressing our heartfelt appreciation is equally important.”

A bit of background

Born in the Bronx and raised in Bel Air, MD., Stemler earned a master’s in business at Johns Hopkins University. After graduating, she led the training department of T. Rowe Price’s retirement planning division, helping to incorporate new hires into the company culture.

T. Rowe Price sent her to Berkeley and, later, Esalen Institute (an alternative educational institute in Monterey County, Calif.), for workshops with business facilitation experts. A year later, she moved to Big Sur.

“It was a soul calling,” says Stemler. “The land of Big Sur beckoned me. I was Esalen’s PR person for five of the 10 years I worked there. It was an amazing gig, where we hosted major international media, movie producers and authors.” Her (now ex-) husband still teaches workshops at Esalen (among other locations), and her two children were born in Big Sur. After divorcing, she moved to “town” (what people in Big Sur call the Monterey Peninsula) putting her community connections to work in a business consulting practice. 

When the executive director position with the MCVGA came open in 2013, two friends, one of whom had served on the association’s board of directors, recruited her for the job. As a casual wine consumer, it was a steep learning curve.

One key aspect of her job has been facilitating monthly meetings with the other winery associations throughout the state, including The Wine Institute and the California Association of Wine Growers (CAWG). This information exchange is vital year-round — and essential during disasters. 

Another vital role is helping owners of storm damaged vineyards obtain state and federal aid by raising visibility with elected officials. Stemler was on TV regularly giving updates during the winter deluge of 2023, keeping the public informed. 

During COVID, Stemler spearheaded getting farm workers tested, quarantined, vaccinated and supplied with medical care.

After 10 years on the job, “I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it!” Stemler laughs. “It’s a really complex industry, and it takes time to figure out the needs of all the different businesses involved and how to provide value.”

Moving Monterey Wine Forward

One of Stemler’s lasting legacies will be passage of conjunctive labeling for Monterey County wines, passed in 2015 and enacted in 2019, which mandated inclusion of “Monterey County” on the label of all Monterey County wines, along with optional sub-AVA designation. This helps reinforce the prominence and importance of Monterey County as a destination and source of world-class wines. 

She also spearheaded the Consumer Refillable Wine Bottle legislation, letting consumers refill empty wine bottles at participating tasting rooms. It’s modeled after refillable growlers used in the beer industry. Says Stemler, “The environmental benefits should appeal especially to younger consumers.” 

Stemler is well aware that marketing wine to a younger audience requires meeting them on their platforms — with quick, impactful messages and imagery that connects them to an authentic experience. “[Research shows] that people don’t start drinking wine until their 30s,” says Stemler. “We must be proactive in educating them earlier.” 

As for what makes the region unique, she says, “Monterey Wine Country is known not only for its cooperative spirit, but also for its ‘down-to-earthness.’ Here, you can really taste place.  I can pick out the signature of different vineyards around the region — and my palate is only average. There is no other experience like this.” 

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Laura Ness [Duncan Garrett Photography]
Laura Ness [Duncan Garrett Photography]

Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an avid wine journalist, storyteller and wine columnist (Edible:Monterey, Los Gatos Magazine, San Jose Mercury News), and a long time contributor to Wine Industry Network. Known as “HerVineNess,” she judges wine competitions throughout California and while she has a corkscrew in every purse, she wishes that all wineries would adopt screwcaps!

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