Sonoma County grape growers overwhelmingly voted to form the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, according to results announced earlier this week. Through member self-assessment, the commission is expected to raise $1.2 million annually to promote Sonoma County as one of the world’s premier grape growing regions and to fund research and education against vineyard pests and diseases.

The 84 percent voter approval was achieved through a grassroots effort led by more than 80 grower advocates along with the Board of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association. With this vote, Sonoma County grape growers almost unanimously recognized and supported the need for increased promotion of Sonoma County’s wine and grape quality in today’s global wine marketplace.

“The grower support shown by this vote is tremendous,” said grower Duff Bevill, a key leader in the campaign. “We grow some of the best grapes in the world, and we’ll now have the resources to market and promote Sonoma County grapes and wines at a whole new level.”

Under the new Commission, all growers producing 25 tons or more of grapes will be assessed at 0.5 percent of grape sales beginning with the 2006 harvest. Participation is voluntary for growers producing less than 25 tons. With more than $1 million in new revenue, the Commission will be able to significantly increase awareness and recognition of the quality and diversity of Sonoma County’s wines and regions.

The county is unique in being able to produce all the major grape varieties in its 13 diverse American Viticultural Areas, or appellations. “We want consumers to recognize the quality of wines produced in Sonoma County,” said Nick Frey, president of the new Commission. “The cool nights along with morning fog in the cooler appellations, and the sun-drenched inland valleys and hillsides in the warmer appellations allow grape growers and winemakers to produce equally wonderful classic cool-requiring Pinot Noir and warm-loving Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.”

The new Winegrape Commission will replace the current Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, which had relied on voluntary grower participation and funding. The management staff of the SCGGA will remain in place at the Winegrape Commission, with Nick Frey, executive director of the SCGGA, assuming the role of president.

The commission will take over Sonoma County Grape Growers Association programs, such as the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing, Integrated Pest Management, Employee Development, and Organic Producers. Research and education will also be a focus of the Commission, including funds allocated to current vineyard issues such as the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the vine mealybug.

“The wine quality has always been there,” said Frey. “And now with the means to promote that quality, the future has never been brighter for Sonoma County growers and winemakers.”