The beer garden buzzed with the sounds of cornhole bags hitting gravel, glasses clinking and a sea of excited conversation. It was a diverse crowd: Cal Poly sweatshirts, cowboy hats and dressy wine-tasting attire all came together for an afternoon that embodied Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto.
For their senior project, Cal Poly agricultural communication students Alex Broedlow and Emily Rosa put on the first-ever San Luis Obispo wine farmer’s market. Rock the Vine took place Nov. 17, with 19 local wineries and cideries setting up shop at SLO Brew’s new location by the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
This senior project was no 80-page research paper. The idea was to arrange a farmer’s market-style event, a place for small-scale boutique winemakers and cideries to share their products with the public.
“We wanted to take two things we feel San Luis Obispo is loved for and known for — the farmer’s market and the wine country — and combine the two,” Rosa said. “Events such as these are starting to be done in the wine industry, but [San Luis Obispo] has never done this locally before.”
The students worked for 11 months in collaboration with Johnny Kenny, the marketing director from SLO Brew. They had local professionals with expertise in wine — such as Lannon Rust, Mike Dawson and Adam Montiel — mentoring them through the process.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling when you see an idea come to life in the form of a fantastic event. Rock the Vine exceeded our wildest expectations,” Kenny said. “People from all over came together to create something amazing.”
The two students’ passion for agriculture and wine stems from where they grew up: Rosa on a family dairy in Hanford, California and Broedlow on a livestock ranch in Modesto, California.
“We wouldn’t be the people we are today without having been raised surrounded by agriculturalists,” Broedlow said. “This event was a token of our appreciation to the small business owners and ranchers that work so hard to bring an amazing product to life. It is the same for these winemakers: they are passionate about their products and we wanted to give them a larger opportunity to share it with the public, and for people to enjoy it.”
Experiencing Rock the Vine
A crowd cheered as the giant Jenga set they were playing with tumbled to the ground. Some winemakers sat down with guests, talking wine over long boards of smoked brisket, sausage and pretzels. A long-haired musician strummed his worn-out ukelele as he walked through the crowd.
These activities were part of the students’ vision for the afternoon. They even designed commemorative Rock the Vine wine glasses and ordered 300 to gauge how many guests, winemakers and volunteers were at the event. The event sold out, and they reached their maximum of 300 guests after just a few hours.
Broedlow and Rosa had a lot riding on them that Sunday. From their mentors to their parents who were in town along with the winemakers and their guests, there were a lot of factors at play.
“I [had] been stressed all week. From making sure the wineries have everything they need, to getting out the last push of the marketing materials, posters, all that stuff,” Broedlow said. “Not to mention that on top of it all we [had] midterms all week.”
Fostering businesses with Rock
Most of the wineries and cideries at the event don’t have tasting rooms of their own, and used Rock the Vine as a place to put out their product and stories.
Kathleen Zaninovich is the co-owner of Tlo Wines located in Paso Robles, one of the wineries without a tasting room.
“We have a special place in our heart for senior projects,” Zaninovich said. “Our kids went to Cal Poly, and our wine actually started with our daughter’s senior project in 2011.”
Zaninovich’s daughter, Avery, is an agribusiness graduate and elaborated on
“I made a business and marketing plan for our company and designed the wine label,” Avery said. “Thus Tlo was born.”
She explained that the family is Croatian, and the name on their label has a lot of meaning to their business. Tlo is a Croatian word that translates to “terroir” or ground, earth, soil, topography and climate, all the natural elements that enhance the flavor of the grapes.
As Tlo was pouring a few tables away, Two Broads Ciderworks, a San Luis Obispo-based brand, had their own line of attendees waiting to taste.
“We heard about the event from all the promotion online and posters around,” Maggie Przybylski of Two Broads said. “Last minute we called and said, ‘We want in!’ And we’re so happy we did.”
Behind-the-scenes, challenges and reflections
Despite seeming to run smoothly, there were many hurdles the students had to work past to make Rock The Vine a reality. The largest was getting the event permitted legally on the property.
“The hardest part of it all was dealing with [the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control],” Broedlow said. “There was so much that we had to go through to get this event permitted, because technically the SLO Brew Rock is a brewery and doesn’t have the license to pour all that wine on a regular basis. We had to get a permit for the day, which took months to sort out, and follow strict guidelines on how the day played out. We’ve never dealt with that before.”
Broedlow and Rosa hope to continue the event, possibly expanding it to include wine case sales as well as local artists, chefs and family-owned businesses. The experience itself was a great payoff for the work they put in.
As the sun began to set over Rock The Vine, the sky was striped with shades of pink. The musician strummed his ukelele one last time as guests finished their final glass. The Cal Poly seniors sat back and smiled at what they had accomplished.
“The day in itself was unreal. It honestly turned out better than we ever could have expected,” Rosa said. “It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’ll forever be grateful for the people who made it such a success.”