Brewing Success in Sonoma Wine Country

SONOMA COUNTY, CALIF. – A new study by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB) finds that the county’s craft beverage industry contributed an estimated $123 million to the local economy in 2012.

The report also found that Sonoma County’s craft brewery industry directly supports 500 jobs and indirectly supports another 180 jobs.

Sales of Sonoma County craft beer are growing about two-and-a-half times faster than the national average. Craft beer sales by volume increased 15 percent nationwide in 2012, while in Sonoma County, sales by volume rose 41 percent. As of February 2013, there were 18 craft breweries in Sonoma County, eight of which opened in the last two years.

Craft cider and spirits are also on the rise in Sonoma County. Two of the four local cideries have opened in the last three years. Since opening in 2010, Tilted Shed Ciderworks has quadrupled its production. Sonoma’s Prohibition Spirits, one of three distilleries in the county, uses Pinot Noir wine barrels to finish bourbon that won “best small batch bourbon” in the 2012 Spirits International Prestige Awards.

“Consumers are recognizing the value of quality ingredients and care in the product,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County EDB. “That is what Sonoma County is about, the artisanal culture, and it is no surprise that craft beverages are a growing part of our economy.”

Established Sonoma County breweries, distilleries, and cideries have seen outstanding growth as the consumer’s preferences shift towards craft beverages.

Lagunitas Brewing Company, Sonoma County’s largest craft brewery and the sixth largest nationwide, contributes 73 percent of the craft beer production in the county, and employs 52 percent of the county’s craft beer industry. In 2012, sales growth increased by 40 percent.

California Cider Company, producer of award-winning Ace Cider, was founded in 1994 in Sonoma County. In the last almost two decades, it has grown to become the largest family owned cider in the United States, with sales increasing by 52 percent from the previous year.

The study is part of a broader effort by the EDB to gain economic insight and identify opportunities for growth for Sonoma County’s craft beer, cider and sprit industries.

“It comes down to entrepreneurism. These businesses have identified their own niche in the market. Combine that with passion, and you have a recipe for job creation,” Stone said. “It’s the EDB’s goal with this study to identify impediments to growth and promote a healthy business environment.”

The EDB also performed a tourism economic analysis during the two-week release of Russian River Brewery’s Pliny the Younger in February, 2013. The total economic impact due to tourist spending during this two-week event was estimated to be $2.35 million. The EDB found that about 65 percent of the estimated 12,500 attendees were tourists who came to Sonoma County specifically for this beer.

The growth of Sonoma County’s craft beverage industry will be the focus of a first ever industry conference to be held in the fall of 2013. Tentatively titled ‘The Liquid Assets Conference’, the event will address opportunities for growth and key industry concerns.

The EDB has already formed an industry/business workgroup to address impediments to growth for this sector, such as water and permitting issues, as well as helping the sector grow. The committee is being chaired by Kevin McGee, Proprietor/Brewmaster at Healdsburg Beer Company and CEO of Tradecraft, a strategic consultancy and legal counsel.
In addition, the EDB is working closely with Sonoma County Tourism to promote Sonoma County as a craft beverage destination.

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The Sonoma County Economic Development Board provides assistance services directed toward encouraging the startup, retention and expansion of Sonoma County businesses and jobs, particularly with small businesses; creation of new jobs and employment opportunities; and diversification of economic activity and strengthening the County’s tax base. The full Sonoma County Craft Beverage Report can be found at www.sonomaedb.org.

The craft beverage report features a 5-minute video as part of its tourism analysis. The EDB interviewed Natalie Cilurzo, owner of Russian River Brewing Company, and tourists at the February 2013 release day of Pliny the Younger. The video can be viewed at http://youtu.be/3XQBlc9zp84 .

All media inquiries regarding the Sonoma County Craft Beverage Report or upcoming industry conference should be directed to: Ben Stone, Executive Director, at 707-565-7170.