Ever wonder about who makes those freebie wine country maps? And how come they’re free?

I never did, until I recently discovered a winery that dropped out of a map.

But first, who uses maps any more?

Believe it or not, old fashioned folded paper maps are still useful. They give you a better overall lay of the land than small electronic screens. In addition, mobile phones and computers are useless on many rural back-roads where there is no reception.

The best regional wine map I’ve ever encountered is one of Sonoma County, a vast and diverse region. It is published by Wineroad.com. An elaborate, easy to read map, it doesn’t just show winery locations. It provides tons of information about sub-appellations, wineries, events and more. It is widely distributed and easily found in wineries, gas stations, grocery stores, hotels and B&Bs. Best of all it’s free.

Over the years I have collected various editions of the map in many visits to the area. I never paid attention to differences between them. The roads and towns were all the same. But recently, in our annual Healdsburg wine country getaway, I noticed a glaring omission. Quivira, a winery in the Dry Creek appellation had disappeared from the newest 2018 map.

I discovered this as we were bike riding north on West Dry Creek Road where Quivira is located. We usually take a map with us because, as I indicated earlier, our cell phones don’t work in much of this area. Did Quivira move? Did it close?

We soon came upon Quivira. It was still there, busy and popular as ever. The winery is known for its Rhone style reds and a very good Sauvignon Blanc. They also feature an elaborate organic garden in their property where they grow all sorts of herbs and veggies for local restaurants. In one corner is a set of coops housing strikingly colorful chickens and roosters.

Quivira was full with a capacity crowd. Its disappearance from the map had obviously not affected their business.

On that same ride, we completed a loop turning south onto East Dry Creek Road where we were scheduled to visit Unti, a winery I like. Unti is quite innovative, producing European style wines from Rhone and Italian red varietals, and whites from little known Mediterranean grapes such as Verdicchio. Unti was also missing from the map.  When we arrived, I asked why.

It turns out that Wineroad.com is part of a business collective created to promote area wineries. It functions somewhat like a homeowner’s association. It requires dues – the Unti people complained that these had recently grown to around $1000 per year – and it has its own rules. One of them is a demand for various events during the year, and the Unti folks did not like this.

Indeed, that particular weekend was a “November food & wine pairing,” event weekend with 100+ wineries participating.  Earlier, at nearby Ferrari-Carano we had encountered a huge roaring Twenties party, the spacious Italian villa style winery overflowing with hundreds of decked out revelers.

Unti is not interested. A small winery that cultivates niche customers, it prefers to hold its own, more modest release parties. That’s all. The Unti folks found the demands of the collective too onerous and felt that being on their map was not worth the trouble.

I did not return to Quivira to ask why they disappeared from the map. I presumed they also dropped out  for similar reasons.

Considering the endless list of wineries still marked on the map, Unti and Quivira are exceptions.  Others welcome the big events and all the extra business the collective generates for them.

As I left Unti and rode back into Healdsburg, it occurred to me that these convenient maps that I had casually picked over the years were a bigger deal than I thought. I realized that they were not free after all. Visitors like me pay for them via the tasting fees and bottles we purchase. And those prices are steadily going up.