Meet the Board of Directors……

Susan Stout • Contributing Writer

Jonathan Walters, Robinson Lake Vineyards


“I want to bring more visibility to Lake County and bring Lake County to the minds of wine drinkers throughout the United States,” says Winegrape Commission board member Jonathan Walters, co-owner and manager of Robinson Lake Vineyard & Glamazon Wines.

One of the more recent additions to the Commission Board of Directors, Jonathan ran for the post and was elected earlier this year. One of the reasons, he says, is because key people with the Commission did a good job convincing him to purchase a vineyard in Lake County about 4 ½ years ago.

“I have been involved in the county and have worked with Shannon Gunier since I arrived. She convinced me that my energy would be good for the Commission and that starting now, I can help Lake County grow.”

Jonathan moved from Texas where he worked with grapes for about a year before he and his partners sought the pre-existing vineyard near Upper Lake. Jonathan was instrumental in choosing the site now known as Robinson Lake Vineyard. He recently completed his fourth harvest of winegrapes from the property.

A 2008 graduate from Texas A&M, Jonathan holds degrees in agronomy and horticulture.

Although he is new to the Commission board and relatively new to Lake County, Jonathan looks forward to aiding in the progressive work of the Commission, he says. He believes the Master Vigneron Program is “good for people in the industry and good for Lake County.” He hopes to help Lake County become a more “dominant player” in the wine industry.

A list of the Commission’s Board and contact information is available on the website, The website is also an excellent source of information about the many events and programs presented by the Commission.


Lake County Represented at National Wine Event

Susan Stout • Contributing Writer

KELSEYVILLE – Attendees at the 45th American Wine Society (AWS) National Conference in Portland, Oregon, were invited to “explore the unique wines of Lake County” and to learn about biodynamic grape growing in the region during program seminars presented by Lake County winegrape growers.

The county’s winegrape industry was well-represented at the annual conference in November, according to reports from the Lake County Winegrape Commission. Held in the Pacific Northwest for the first time, the AWS conference attracted more than 475 AWS members from 35 states over the course of the three-day event. Seminars covered topics such as winemaking, regional tastings, wines of Chile and Argentina, South Africa’s winemaking, vineyards of the Pacific Northwest, biodynamics, wine in Rome and the history of wine service.

The Lake County contingent was among winery owners, pioneers in the various aspects of the wine industry, and renowned winemakers who are selected to present sessions, said Lake County Winegrape Commission President Shannon Gunier said.

Pietro Buttitta, winemaker and sommelier with Rosa d’Oro Vineyard in Kelseyville, facilitated a session entitled, “Explore the Unique Wines of Lake County, California.” The 75-minute presentation was well-attended, according to Buttitta. “It was a good crowd with a good level of enthusiasm and knowledge – serious consumers who can inform other consumers,” he said.

During the presentation, Buttitta showed the Winegrape Commission’s “Lake County Rising” video and reviewed Lake County’s appellations, soil types, effects of altitude and its historical and geographical attributes. Attendees were then able to taste six wines from different Lake County areas. “The wines showed well with most people agreeing that they were complex, age-worthy, and pretty serious,” said Buttitta, who also poured Lake County wines at the conference’s gala dinner. “Most attendees were shocked by the reasonable retail prices,” he added.

Buttitta helped deliver the message the Winegrape Commission works to put out about Lake County’s winegrape industry, said Gunier.

“With Lake County having the third highest price per ton in the state, it is important that we stay on point and visible with what makes us unique. (We must) do what we can to emphasize value compared to our neighbors,” said Buttitta. “I believe that, at this point, shaking hands and popping corks has better return of investment for us than other forms of advertisement.”

In another session during the conference, Mitch and Tracey Hawkins, co-owners with attorney David Boies and the Boies family of Hawk & Horse Vineyards in Middletown, spoke about biodynamic winegrape production. The presentation on “Biodynamic Basics” was a slide presentation of the farming practices used in the family-owned vineyards.

“We had a nice showing (for the session),” reported Tracey Hawkins.  “People were enthusiastic and engaged.”

The couple facilitated a discussion on the role of biodynamics in vineyard management. “We discussed the seasonal role and shared a bit about biodiversity of the biodynamic ranch and vineyard estate. Attendees left with a biodynamic farming kit to try the preparations on their home gardens,” said Tracey. Written instructions were provided, and the Hawkins described in detail how to apply the “500,” or “Horn Dung,” a fortified tea applied to the vineyard to enliven the soil, she explained.

“Overall, the venue, people and organization were fantastic,” Tracey added. “We were told by the organizers that our presentation was very well -received.

For further information about the Lake County Winegrape Commission and its programs, call the Commission office at (707) 279-2633 or visit its website,

Winegrape Commission Selects Next President

Debra Sommerfield
Photo by: Casey Carney

KELSEYVILLE  — The Lake County Winegrape Commission is pleased to announce that Debra Sommerfield will start as its next president this January.

Sommerfield, formerly the County of Lake deputy chief administrative officer for Economic Development, was selected from over 30 applicants to replace outgoing President Shannon Gunier. A committee of Winegrape Commission board members interviewed the top four candidates twice before offering the position to Sommerfield.

Commission Chair Peter Molnar joined Vice Chair David Weiss and board members Jeff Lyon and Bill Brunetti in conducting applicant interviews and choosing Gunier’s replacement. Announcing the decision, Molnar stated that “with a string of high quality harvests, recent large investments as well as positive consumer and media interest, Lake County’s wine and winegrape industry is experiencing robust growth. Debra’s breadth of experience in marketing, economic development and the private sector make her uniquely qualified to lead the Winegrape Commission in this exciting time.”

“Everybody is happy with the committee’s choice. We are very pleased to have Debra accept the offer to join the Commission,” said Gunier, who will assist in the next months to ensure a smooth transition. “I’m thrilled with the decision. It let’s me leave the Commission in a strong position, knowing it will continue to progress under Debra’s leadership.”

In September, Gunier announced that after 20 years with the Lake County Winegrape Commission, she was leaving to pursue other interests. “This is an opportunity to keep the Commission leadership fresh and moving forward,” Gunier said when she made her announcement.

Sommerfield’s experience includes more than 15 years working in marketing and economic development with positions in the public sector, as a consultant, and in the private sector at Apple Computer and IBM Corp.

Since 1991 the Winegrape Commission’s objective has been to market the premium Lake County winegrape growing region to new and existing grape buyers and wineries all over the United States. A vote for continuance of the marketing order is taken every five years, and it has been strongly in the Commission’s favor each time, indicating success of the Commission’s sales and marketing endeavors, according to Gunier.

The Commission offers a variety of assistance to winegrape growers in the county. Activities include marketing, educational and research programs that benefit growers’ development of vineyards.

For more information about the Lake County Winegrape Commission, visit the website,, or call the Commission office at 707-279-2633.

Wine of the Week: 2010 Brassfield Eruption High Valley Red Wine

By S.Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times

 Here’s the wine to tote to dinner when someone is grilling a rack of humongous beef ribs or some mighty burgers. Eruption is a Lake County red from grapes grown on the slopes of an extinct volcano. Can’t get much more exotic than that, can you? The blend is Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, and — ta dum — Zinfandel, with Syrah at the highest percentage, 22%.

Wineries Get Social Media Tips

Cathy Bussewitz




Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 7:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.


In Wine Country, where vintners boast rich family histories and vineyards are described as steeped in tradition, it may not seem natural to scour Twitter posts to find new customers.

But some wineries are doing just that, including one that tweets wine-pairing suggestions to Twitter users who check in at restaurants where its wines are served, said Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer for VinTank, a Napa consulting firm.

The topic was one of many explored Wednesday at the first North Coast Wine Expo, a trade show and conference held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The event, organized by Wine Industry Network, drew 2,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors, said George Christie, president and CEO.

“It was just amazing to me that there wasn’t a really robust show in the North Coast,” Christie said. “For me, that was a pretty clear message that this region wants to have a show like this.”

At the marketing session, Mabray said VinTank is working on a “geofencing” app to enable wineries to send digital invitations to smartphone users as they enter regions like Napa Valley.

“Never before have we experienced the amount of competition that we have today,” Mabray said. “In 2011, 150,000 labels were approved by the (federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). There’s no other product like it.”

Using social media can help wineries learn about customers and find additional ways to connect, Mabray said. For example, one winery found that a customer who spent about $20,000 on its wines talked a lot about his favorite football quarterback, Mabray said. Instead of sending the loyal customer stemware, which he likely didn’t need, the winery spent $200 on a signed jersey from the player.

“I can tell you that guy bought a lot more wine after that,” Mabray said.

Even so, there’s no substitute for picking up the phone to connect with customers, especially for wines priced at more than $35, said Michael Houlihan, founder of Barefoot Cellars, which is now owned by E&J Gallo. Houlihan sees the telephone as an extension of the tasting room.

“A telephone number is more valuable than an email address,” Houlihan said. “Telemarketing is the fastest-growing segment of direct-to-consumer today.”

When calling potential customers, wineries must be compliant with the law, said Ryan Thurman, director of sales and marketing for Contact Center Compliance. If a company calls someone on the do-not-call list, it could be fined $16,000.

“The tricky thing with wineries is that not a lot of them have good data practices,” Thurman said. “Most people don’t realize that businesses can be fined.”

Exhibitors at the expo, which ranged from stemware peddlers to bulk wine distributors, said they were pleased with the turnout.

“We saw a lot of customers, and we’re able to talk to them after the harvest,” said Ed Barr, president and CEO of P&L Specialties, a winery equipment manufacturer. “It’s nice to have it here. It’s intimate.”