Family Winemakers of California was founded in 1991 to give voice and presence to small, family wineries in the public policy arena. In the wake of the referendum on the wine market order, which was not extended, several small wineries created another vintner association apart from Wine Institute.
Family Winemakers was originally named Premium Winemakers of America, a reflection of the organization’s roots in producing quality table wine. In 1992, the organization was renamed Family Winemakers of California because it was an “organization that reflects the ‘little guy’s’ point of view.” The concept behind the association was to protect individual freedom from government over-regulation. The founders believed that an organization of this type would unite small wineries and address issues that were neglected by the California Wine Commission and Wine Institute.
One man, one vote was the bedrock principle behind Family Winemakers. It ensured that no one company could dominate the association. Other fundamental principles embraced by the founding members were an open door policy, legitimacy, open dialogue on issues, and maintaining endurance with valid objectives.
The focus of the organization was directed at California public policy affecting small producers. It affiliated with the Association of American Vintners (now WineAmerica) from its inception to establish a channel for input on national issues and generate unity among small producers and growers across the United States.
Interestingly, direct-to-consumer wine sales by wineries (recently the subject of the now famous Heald decision by the U.S. Supreme Court) were one of the initial marketing issues embraced by the association. “Free Trade for Small Wineries in U.S. Markets” was a discussion paper whose theme seemed to mirror the court decision 15 years later. “The most important and in fact the only important reason for small wineries under 100 tons to join [FWC] would be to work for the right to market directly to end users thereby by-passing the 3-tier system.” Family Winemakers intense involvement in direct shipping litigation that resulted in the Granholm decision is a reflection of that objective.
Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates was the organization’s first president (now chair). FWC was initially headquartered in offices furnished by Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California thanks to the generosity of Brice Jones. It opened Sacramento offices at 1400 K Street, Suite 304 in 1996 and is currently located to 520 Capitol Mall, Suite 260. Subsequent leaders of the association have been Patrick Campbell of Laurel Glen, David Jones of Lava Cap (now deceased), Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, Justin Faggioli of Ravenswood, Suzanne Frontz of Cinnabar, Jim Richards of Paloma, Heather Nenow of Lucchesi Vineyards, Jim Gullett of Vino Noceto, Veronica Barclay of Barclay & Browning, David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars and currently Joseph Harbison of Harbison Wine Estates.
President Paul Kronenberg was hired in March 1998 to head the association. Family Winemakers maintains a full-time staff of two, as well as contracting for lobbying and event management.
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