New Leader for Lake County Wineries

Maria Brunn is incoming executive director of Lake County Winery Association

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine  wineries vineyards lake county maria brunn
The Lake County Winery Association named Maria Brunn executive director.

Lake County, Calif.—The Lake County Winery Association (LCWA) today announced the new executive director to the group’s board of directors. Maria E. Brunn will officially take the helm at the group’s board meeting Nov. 14. She replaces Jill Ruzicka, who took over after Terry Derenuik’s retirement in late 2016.

Brunn is only 30, but she has deep wine country roots. A native of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Sonoma State University. After clerking with a local law firm Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross, she worked for basketball star Yao Ming and his Napa County wine brand.

Subsequently she joined Wines & Vines, where she was publishing assistant for two years before moving to the Sonoma County Vintners, starting as events coordinator and moving up to financial reporting and grant writing as business operations manager, with responsibilities in budgeting and strategic planning.

LCWA has 40 members including non-winery owning vineyards, and according to Wine Vines Analytics, there are just 39 wineries in the county. With annual production of 220,000 cases, the county’s largest winery is Langtry Estate and Vineyards, now owned by Foley Family Wines. Average bottle price for all Lake County wines is $23.

“ Brunn termed this a “sweet spot” for consumers. Although she has yet to relocate to Lake County, she’s already looking to iron out a strategy that will focus on getting people to Lake County and raising awareness of its wines and amenities. It’s still a place where visitors can walk into a tasting room and meet the winemaker, she noted, much like Napa Valley in the 1970s.

“My goal is to let people know it’s there: to help it grow and elevate its profile” she said. Most of the vineyards are above 1,500 feet in elevation and focused on good farming practices. Lake County does not have much in the way of overnight accommodation, but Brunn said, there are many Airbnb listings.

Although eventually she’d like to see national and international recognition for the county, she recognizes that she needs to start locally, in the Bay Area and Northern California. “It’s a progression,” she acknowledged. She hopes to start on a three- to five-year plan by meeting and surveying local vintners to learn if they are focused entirely on direct-to-consumer sales or have distribution.

Brunn hasn’t yet been able to dive deeply into the budget but is pondering funding to promote LCWA. With her experience in grant writing, she will consider looking for grants and sponsorship opportunities with federal funds and local partnerships. She said a number of Sonoma County wineries source grapes from Lake County, presenting another possible partnership source. Currently living on a dairy farm in Sebastopol, Brunn hopes to relocate in to Lake County in early 2018.

Raven Sprague of Steele Wines is chair of the LCWA board of directors, which includes Cindi Olof of Olof Cellars as vice chair, Susan Feiler of Lake County Wine Studio as secretery and Amand Bolla of Brassfield Estate winery as treasurer.


Posted on 11.01.2017 - 13:07:21 PST
She will be awesome for Lake County. Good choice!

Posted on 11.02.2017 - 10:54:04 PST
We are Sam Alley Creek vineyard in upper lake and I look forward to talking!
Michael and Megan