Biz Buzz: Growers group to host new wine tours

The oldest local organization serving grape growers starts a new tour series Saturday to attract broader attention to the group and its members.

Founded in 1974, the Central Coast Winegrape Growers Association is focused on supporting farmers from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara with education on viticulture and changing government regulations.

“We’re trying to get some public involved and make them aware of what we do,” said John Burke, executive director. “We have not tried to do something that really attracts the public.”

Saturday’s event, called Viticulture 101, will be at Salisbury Vineyards in San Luis Obispo.

Participants will meet at 11 a.m. at its tasting room, 6985 Ontario Road, between Avila Beach Drive and San Luis Bay Drive.

A short trolley ride will deliver them to a one-hour vineyard tour. Owner John Salisbury will explain vine cultivation, the use of cover crops to prevent soil erosion and pest control that avoids dangerous pesticides.

“They’ll have a chance to do a little pruning,” Salisbury added, emphasizing a focus on sustainable practices. “Most of us are farmers, and if we weren’t stewards of the land, we wouldn’t be in business.”

Reservations aren’t required, but those planning to attend should notify Burke at 928-4950 today.

A second tour is scheduled at 11 a.m. March 12 at Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, 6020 Foxen Canyon Road, east of Santa Maria. It will focus on frost and mildew control, bud development and leaf pulling.

Tours are also being planned for May and late summer.

Aside from people with a general interest in wine production, Burke said the tours may appeal to amateur winemakers with backyard vineyards.

With membership flagging somewhat, he also hopes they might help attract new or returning members.

A few years ago, the group had more than 200 members, including wineries and wine-related businesses. Last year, it was down to 90.

Dues range between $150 and $300 a year, depending on size and category.

Donation by Paso vintners doubled

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance recently donated $68,000 to 13 charities in the North County — more than double what it has contributed in the past.

Grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 went to organizations serving the community through healthcare, education, youth and homeless services.

The money was raised through two events: a silent auction at the Zinfandel Festival last March and the Wine Festival Wine Country Auction & Dinner, new to the May festival’s slate last year.

“We started this at a time when most of the charities were needing additional funds,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director. “We’re seeing a lot of people wanting to keep their charitable gifting at home. These events allow them to do that.”

Groups that would like to be considered for grants in 2011 can apply before Oct. 1. For a complete list of recipients, visit­

— Raven J. Railey

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