New director has great stories to tell

Wendy Brannen is the new executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

LODI – Early in her professional career, after a short stint in banking, Wendy Brannen was a television news anchor and reporter.
Her favorite stories were those that helped people, brought interesting subjects to light or had a nostalgic flair.
Though her career path has changed, the Georgia native who loves college football Saturdays in the fall still is telling stories that touch on the elements she holds dear.
In early November, Brannen officially took the reins as Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which represents 85 wineries and some 750 growers who manage more than 100,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area. Among her myriad duties is relaying to the public near and far the stories of Lodi’s growers and winemakers.
“I always feel like what I do in this iteration of my career is very similar to what I did in the news industry, because you are still telling stories,” Brannen said. “And with farmers and these unique crops or products, there are so many good stories. Just looking at Lodi, we have so many fifth-generation families and back stories.
“You can just name off the top of your head dozens of great, unique Lodi stories, so it is very fun for me to be able to continue to tell great interesting stories in a way that helps the people I’m working for and that’s very much like my history in TV news.”
Brannen is the commission’s third executive director, following outgoing Lodi mayor Mark Chandler, who headed the body for more than 20 years, and Camron King, who resigned last April to become president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative based in Sacramento. King now is president of Sterling Caviar based in Elverta.
In addition to marketing and promoting Lodi wines, Brannen’s functions include grower relations and overseeing the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center tasting room.
“It’s a tough bill to fill because you are trying to help experts,” Brannen said. “Nobody knows how to grow a wine grape better than a wine grape grower. But if there’s something that we can do to bring in an expert to talk about better ways to file their taxes or are there better disease management alternatives, are there people that we can connect them with who can help them with government or regulatory issues, that’s another big function of what we do more than the public relations and marketing.”
Brannen comes to Lodi from the U.S. Apple Association in Washington, D.C., where she was the Director of Consumer Health and Public Relations. She spent the prior seven years as Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, Georgia, near where she grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Both jobs appealed to Brannen’s creative and inquisitive nature, and allowed her talents in marketing and public relations to flourish. In Washington, Brannen also learned about lobbying and government affairs and regulatory components.
“I got to pick up more knowledge about this whole world of association management and working for commodities,” she said. “So, that kind of brings me to today.”
Brannen said she wasn’t looking for a new job, but the opportunity in Lodi intrigued her. She said the people she met during her interviews convinced her to make the move.
“There are friendly people everywhere, but Lodi as a whole seems to have an inordinate amount of people who care and go out of their way,” said Brannen, “and that translates over to the growers and the wineries.”
Brannen wants to build on the successes of her predecessors, such as the establishment of the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Grape Growing in 2005 and Wine Enthusiast naming Lodi Wine Region of the Year in 2015, and move Lodi forward with those who stand beside her today.
“I’m very hopeful that together we can go on a positive trajectory,” Brannen said. “And I think we are set up to do that.”

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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