Hardship, potential for wine industry

San Luis Obispo County’s wine industry continues to face challenges brought on by the recession and a spring frost that damaged local grape crops.

Grapes and wine are in short supply and inventories have declined, said Matt Turrentine of Atascadero, who handles Central Coast sales for Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage. Prices also have increased and are expected to “moderate” in 2012, he said.

Turrentine and Stacie Jacob, San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau executive director, were speakers at the Independent Grape Growers of the Paso Robles Area seminar, sponsored by Rabobank.

“Growers and wineries had a conservative mindset, and that kept the market soft,” Turrentine said of the market climate of the past few years. “No one wanted to step out on a limb. There was plenty of demand, but the prices were economically unsustainable.”

But the region has several things working in its favor, namely that American consumers’ appetite for quality wine at a good price has not subsided, and Paso Robles is becoming more well-known nationally and internationally as a major wine destination.

“There’s not enough to maintain the level of growth,” Turrentine said. “There’s even a bit of a supply panic, but that may subside after this harvest.”

Jacob, who recently announced that she was leaving her Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance executive director post to start Solterra Strategies, a Paso Robles-based lifestyle marketing firm, told the audience of growers and winery owners that opportunities abound to take advantage of the burgeoning wine region.

The county had about 1.2 million winery visits, resulting in $113 million in tourism expenditures, according to a 2007 wine industry report.

Wine sales, she said, are steady to flat, and Paso Robles is well-positioned to compete in the marketplace because the region’s prices never reached the high-priced categories.

She encouraged those in the industry to use the alliance’s resources, including its website and other Internet sites, to help gain exposure for their businesses.

And she emphasized the many ways in which the Paso Robles appellation is getting exposure from media, at events across the country and at home.

One such event, Sunset Savor the Central Coast, will occur in late September and early October.

Wine enthusiasts and writers no longer have to ask where Paso Robles is on the map, she said. They are now demanding to come to Paso Robles.

“It’s the new California wine story,” she said.