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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 18th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 50 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 50

The Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association disbands


The Chardonnay Symposium (shown here), held for four years in Santa Maria, has been sold to the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Pismo Beach—one of several consequences of the recent dissolution of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, which operated the popular event.

The vintners association that has represented and promoted wineries and vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley for a decade announced earlier this month that it will dissolve.

The Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association made the decision late last year after several roundtable discussions with members. It becomes official at the end of February.

The nonprofit was established in the mid 2000s to represent and promote the Santa Maria Valley’s grape growers and wine producers.

Former board member Laura Booras, general manager at Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, explained the decision to the Sun in an email: “The Association, while made up of a group of supportive and enthusiastic businesses, is limited from a growth perspective by a dues-based revenue model, something we have known from the outset. There are a finite number of wineries and related business in our small part of the county and therefore a finite revenue stream.

“In 2010, our board established The Chardonnay Symposium. From its inception, the event was designed not only to drive foot traffic to the Santa Maria Valley and highlight one of our important premium regional varietals, but also to create an additional revenue source for the Association to further its growth,” Booras said.

She further explained that after the first year, the event was so successful that it ended up consuming the majority of time and resources its volunteer board and part-time executive director could provide on and annual basis, and then some.

“Though we enjoyed the immense response and success of The Chardonnay Symposium, after four years of running it, we knew our Association was chartered to do more for members, and we found ourselves unable to focus on those greater marketing and promotion efforts,” Booras said.

Former members of the association board met with the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association’s new executive director, Morgen McLaughlin, who in less than a year on the job has made a noticeable impact.

“The … board felt that with this new leadership, the timing was right to throw our resources and support behind Santa Barbara County Vintners as a voice for the whole county,” Booras wrote. “We can now help spread the word about Santa Barbara County as a region, while benefitting from the resources of [the vintners association] to promote the Santa Maria Valley as an important component of our county’s rich viticultural diversity.”

In place of an association, several former members and other community members are forming a “think tank” to continue promoting the valley. It will be a dues-free, volunteer group made up of winemakers, winegrowers, and farmers, including: Booras, Nicholas Miller of Bien Nacido Vineyards, winegrower James Ontiveros, Matt Murphy of Presqu’ile Winery, Dayna Hammell of Thornhill Companies, vineyard manager Jim Stollberg, Sao Anash of Muse Management, winemaker Paul Lato, and others.

McLaughlin said in a press release, “The Santa Maria Valley is a jewel in the crown of the Santa Barbara County wine region. As the [vintners association] continues to work toward its strategic mission of raising the visibility of Santa Barbara County and its five [American Viticultural Areas], the ideas and input from this new think tank will be vital in assisting our efforts.”

The Chardonnay Symposium—the popular wine event formerly held at Santa Maria’s Radisson Hotel and Byron Winery east of Santa Maria—has been sold to Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Pismo Beach. This year’s event is set for May 16 through 18.

The wine association handed over its website,, and collaterals to the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“We are proud of the SMV Wine Country website, which we put together in 2013,” wrote Brian Simas, a Santa Maria wine industry attorney and former wine country association board member, in an email to the Sun. “We believe it continues to be a great promotional source for the region, and we really desired for it to be curated on a go-forward basis by an organization that shares our Association’s vision. The SMCC has been at the forefront of promoting our wine region, and it was the clear choice to continue to promote the region’s online presence through the website.”

Added Booras, “We’ve sure come a long way. When the association began, we started with nothing. Since then, we’ve created a unique and successful premium wine event, made an image for ourselves as ‘Authentic Wine Country,’ and built successful networks of supporters and fans.

 “We all believe so strongly that the Santa Maria Valley is a truly special place,” Booras said. “We are proud of the work we have done thus far and look forward to continuing this through an Association with more manpower and resources. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to give Santa Maria more power. Members agree that a rising tide raises all ships, and we look forward to promoting the area as a whole, and highlighting the unique growing conditions and culture of the Santa Maria Valley.”


Wendy Thies Sell is the Sun’s food and wine columnist. She can be contacted at

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