Food & Drink

Wine Notes: Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

Wine Notes. Stacie Jacob is the executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance 
Photo by Joe Johnston 05-13-10
Wine Notes. Stacie Jacob is the executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Photo by Joe Johnston 05-13-10 Tribune

Since beginning her job at just 30 years old, Stacie Jacob has made many changes to the organization that hired her as executive director in December 2004.

For starters, she changed the name from the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. The new identity was chosen to broaden the scope of the group and reach out to growers, hospitality businesses and other industries that support the area’s burgeoning wine region.

She immediately began taking the wineries to the customers by starting the Grand Tasting Tour program, in which representatives of Paso Robles wineries visit at least four cities each year, hosting tastings for potential distributors, retailers and consumers. The Tour has been to almost 30 cities across the country and throughout California.

Next she changed how the organization got its message out. She created a brand to reflect Paso Robles’ unique style, starting a campaign with the tagline “distinct, different,” and she reached out to wine critics and travel writers around the country. As a result, publications such as Sunset magazine called Paso Robles “The Next Great Wine Country,” and The New York Times similarly crowned it “The Next Great Wine Region.” Dozens of such stories have appeared nationally and internationally.

The result of all these changes and initiatives has been striking. While the organization she joined in 2004 was disgruntled and shrinking, she has grown the membership from just 200 then to more than 500 today. She assessed the situation in 2004 as a “make-it or break-it deal,” and today she sees nothing but success and opportunity.

“I remember when I first came, there was still, ‘Where in California are you?’ ” Jacob recalls. “I think that perspective has really been changed.”

This year, the PRWCA is making major changes to the annual Paso Robles Wine Festival. One is the new festival schedule. After dealing with over 100-degree temperatures for the last two years, Jacob decided to move the event to a later time, when the cooler evening breezes start drifting through downtown. The Grand Tasting will start at 4 p.m. this year (3 p.m. for premium tickets), and Jacob believes it will accomplish two goals:

“First it maximizes the mornings in the tasting rooms,” she explained. “Secondly, we’re really encouraging people to come downtown and spend the day downtown.”

Another change she made to this year’s festival is the first Wine Country Auction and Dinner on Saturday evening, after the tasting. Taking place right in the park, under a temperature-controlled tent, the dinner will feature four local chefs and acclaimed San Francisco chef Mark Sullivan. The tickets aren’t cheap ($250), but Jacob thinks Paso Robles can easily compete with California’s other premium wine country events.

“We can really develop that out-of-town audience for a level of event that we think this area really deserves,” she said.

Jacob has also included exclusive items to the auction that will appeal to locals and out-of-towners alike, such as exotic cruises, unique wine country packages and original artwork.

“Some people would say, ‘Why would you do a new auction in a year like this?’ And I say we have nothing to lose,” she said. “We can only go up from here.”

Jacob works long hours both at home and on the road to promote Paso Robles’ wines and wine country experience, but she doesn’t consider it work.

“I’m passionate about what I do,” she said. “I embark on the task ahead every day as if it were my own business. I don’t approach it as just a job.”

28th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival

This year’s wine festival will offer many new features and tastings, with different hours to enhance its appeal. The event starts tonight with a reserve tasting from 4 to 6 pm. The grand tasting is Saturday at the Downtown City Park, featuring more than 90 wineries and local food producers, as well as several new features, such as cheese and bread stations throughout the park and cooking demonstrations. The grand tasting starts at 4 p.m., with 3 p.m. entry for premium level tickets. The wine country auction and dinner is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, but tickets are limited.

For tickets and information, go to www.pasowine.com. Tickets will also be on sale at the corner of 13th and Spring streets Saturday.

Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at janisswitzer@yahoo.com.

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