Map to the Treasures

'You can make anything you want, but if you don't have good distribution, you can keep it," says Maxine Hesse. "That applies to any product," be it wine, movies -- or maps. Hesse is, with her husband Hans, co-owner of Global Graphics, a mapmaking company that the couple runs out of their home in Oceanside. But before they came south, they started out in San Francisco some 20-odd years ago, selling their map of the city shop to shop. While she wore out her shoes, she discovered that "store owners don't want to buy one line item from one distributor; it's too much administration." She found a professional distributor and began building a business.

And while she's not entirely certain, she thinks it might have been her distributor who suggested that she and her husband try mapping the world of California wine. She thought it might be worthwhile. "As a friend of mine put it, 'It's a passionate thing. People either love wine and have to have a map to know where it's from and how to get there, or they simply drink it and don't worry about it.'"

They set to work. "My husband trained to be a cartographer in Europe. They take it seriously. They learn to do it exactly right; they learn to be civil engineers. He does the design, and I do the research." Doing that research taught Hesse that the wine world could be a slippery fish to pin down on the page. "I had no idea that it would be as complicated as it is. I rely on some databases and some association websites -- which may or may not be up to date. I get feedback from people in the field, who are selling to those wineries -- we sell a lot of our maps in the tasting rooms. And I have a business associate who sell software to wineries; she keeps in touch with me. So it's a compilation of data from all different kinds of sources. But they change like socks, really -- whether they're selling out to each other, or a corporation owns them, or they're really a label and not a winery as such. All those things add another layer of complication."

A couple of examples: The success of the California map led to the creation of additional, region-specific maps, presented in a laminated, accordion-fold format. (Hesse says that people like the laminate because they can write on it and the accordion-fold because it's easier to figure out. She does not say that laminated maps handle tasting room spills better than ordinary paper, or that the accordion-fold is all a body might be capable of managing after a day on the wine trail.) The Napa-Sonoma map "was published and updated five times in 2004. Every time we go to press, we edit it, see whether there's been some change. There's always something that's changed. Many more wineries are opening tasting rooms -- at least, they're open on the weekends, whereas before they might have been by appointment only. They'll have definite hours and a little gift shop -- you can't just sell wine, I suppose, you have to sell a few accessories to make it."

They keep going to press because sales keep increasing. "I can't remember our first print runs on the Napa-Sonoma map in 2003, but I would say they may have doubled. People are more interested in wine than they used to be." But of course, it's not simply a matter of increased consumption. "There's this whole thing about wine tourism, which is not wine, per se. You go to a spa, you go to the ostrich farm in Santa Barbara, you go to someplace in Napa or Sonoma, you play golf. It's not just wine that drives this, and we forget that. We think, 'Oh, it was a lousy vintage, forget it, it's a disaster.' Not when it comes to this. Wine tourism is the whole package. It's what we did when we went up to Solvang a couple of months ago. We had dinner at the Los Olivos Café, the whole bit."

Those ostriches Hesse mentions were made famous by Sideways, and after Napa, it's the Santa Barbara regional map that has required the most updating. "It's probably the Second Wine Country in everybody's mind. This year, there are probably 12 new wineries in the Paso Robles area alone. Paso is a pretty small town; that's a huge growth. They're just delighted with the attention; they're very receptive to products about them."

The regional maps -- which also cover Lodi/Sierra Foothills and Monterey/Santa Cruz/Santa Clara/Livermore -- are naturally more compact and detailed. "You can have details on lakes and scenic routes." They also focus more on wineries and tasting rooms open to the public. The 2'x3' full-state wine map still names a number of trade-only or entirely private operations amid its 1500 listings -- "When I first made the list, I didn't understand that part of it," says Hesse -- but there are fewer every year. "We try to be discerning; I have only so much space, and the text is already small." (The full-state map does include inset maps for the major wine regions, including Temecula, along with addresses, phone numbers, and hours.)

Readability, she says, is key, the thing that separates one map from another, the reason Global Graphics has managed to snag some buzz in the wine press. "We strive to make a better use of color, and better-quality paper -- that helps the color pop. Anthony Dias Blue has written about us in several magazines, and Wine Spectator did a little piece on us a while back." It strikes me that a true wine geek might be interested in a little climate profile to go with the topography and viticultural area designations, but Hesse draws the line. "There are climatological maps, but if you include that, you sacrifice readability. There is a limit; it's a function of the scale. You can get only so much in. And I don't think most people who drink wine are that interested. There's a certain market."

Given the season, Hesse cannot help but mention the ease with which a wine map fits into a Christmas stocking. Maps may be purchased at the Global Graphics website: www.mapbiz.net.

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