In an effort to boost consumption of California wines, the Wine Institute has joined with major retailers and restaurant chains to create programs that will feature California wines throughout September. Dozens of wineries all over the state are staging special events and promotions to tie in with these programs.

While Wine Institute has been involved in public policy matters in recent years, Robert Koch, president and CEO said, this is not a shift in emphasis. "We're doing this to augment the work Wine Institute does on the public policy front," he said. "Every day we (promote California wines) in Washington (D.C.). We think this fits right in with public policy."

Years ago an industry-funded state-sponsored California Wine Advisory Board existed to promote the state's wines, but it was inappropriate for that body to be involved in lobbying other states, so the Wine Institute was created. It not only handled lobbying duties but also conducted educational and promotional programs. However, those were phased out, and emphasis in the last couple of decades was on public policy work.

According to Nancy Light, WI's communication director, the idea for a California Wine Month stemmed from a study released this year by Yankelovich Inc. The study, which involved nearly 2,500 people from all walks of life, found that consumers favor California wines over those produced in 11 other regions in the United States and the world "in favorability, familiarity and consumption." It also noted that among people who buy wine in a restaurant, bar or club, 74 percent bought wine by the glass, and 26 percent purchased it by the bottle.

With that thought in mind, several restaurant chains were invited to become "partners" in the program, including P.F. Chang's and an affiliated chain Pei Wei Asian Diner, Tavistock Restaurants (which includes Napa Valley Grille in Yountville), China Bistro, Morton's Steakhouses and Joie de Vivre hotels.

Other retail partners include Safeway, Cost Plus World Market and Beverages and More.

P.F. Chang's features flights

Laura Cherry, director of public relations for P.F. Chang's and Pei Wei, said that more than 25 restaurants in California will feature wine flights of three reds and three whites each, chosen to go with the featured foods on the menu. "We're looking at an evolving wine program to explain how and why food goes with wine," she said.

If the idea is successful, she said, the company will take it to all its 140 P.F. Chang's and 94 Pei Wei diners. The company is already a big booster of California wine — "Our wine list is about 80 percent (from) California," she said.

Safeway will feature California wine in its stores in 22 states, Light said. Cost Plus World Markets is featuring the California Wine Month logo in all its California stores and will promote pinot noirs from California throughout the month, according to wine buyer Kristen Cowan. She said the company has a "national collection" which includes wines carried in all stores, but "people in the field have the latitude to buy wine locally."

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One of the California Wine Month partners, the California Restaurant Association, is planning an event in Southern California, Light said.

The Wine Institute created a Web site specifically for California Wine Month, which lists nearly 70 events around the state and information about California wine.

Other studies have linked California wines to the "California lifestyle," so the Wine Institute is also working with the California Travel & Tourism Commission to bring lifestyle journalists to the state. "We want them to know about the family nature of the business and the farming nature of the business and the diversity (of the wines)," Light said. "It (the wine industry) should be a bigger part of California tourism."

After Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation proclaiming California Wine Month, a walk-around tasting for members of the trade and media was held recently which featured wines from more than 75 of the state's American Viticultural Areas and 16 wine regions in the state.

There are no plans to replicate the tasting elsewhere — at least this year. "We hope to build on this in a big way," Koch said.

For information to go www.californiawinemonth.com.

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