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Wine shops and wine events 

Every tasting experience helps you learn to appreciate the nuances of fine wine

click to enlarge WINNING VINTAGE :  The name may have changed from Monterey St. Wine Company to Vintage 1255, but this wine shop continues its winning streak as best wine shop in the county. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • WINNING VINTAGE : The name may have changed from Monterey St. Wine Company to Vintage 1255, but this wine shop continues its winning streak as best wine shop in the county.

How does a wine shop stay viable when it’s surrounded by competitors? By providing its customers with a unique tasting experience. That made a huge difference at SLO’s new wine shop, Vintage 1255. Formerly known as Monterey St. Wine Company, it’s a little bit more like an upscale deli since the new owners took over in January. Rick and Lisa Gomez, who previously owned the business with other partners, bought the popular corner shop and changed the name. And they earned the title of best wine shop in the county in New Times’ Best of SLO issue once again. Now wine, cheese, and brews are all featured here.

The Gomezes redecorated the interior, adding tall tables with chairs along the front windows. Now they offer Firestone Walker brews on tap and plan to add Tap It Brewing soon. They still have that deli case filled with a great selection of artisan cheeses, Hush Harbor baguettes, and a list of appetizers that start at $4 for Marcona almonds to $30 for a plate of cheese, salami, and bread.

“We wanted to give it the comfortable feeling of a neighborhood bar, like Cheers,” Rick said. “We’re committed to excellence and offer the most friendly service.”

Greg Rose is still running the shop; he’s a very wine-savvy manager who seeks out the small, unique wine producers they feature. Every Thursday evening a Central Coast winemaker is there to pour his or her wines, which can be purchased by the glass or by the taste, averaging $7 to $11 or $9 for three two-ounce tastes.

“We like to bring in undiscovered gems, brands that only make 200 to 400 cases annually,” Rose explained, adding that any wines sold on their retail side can be sampled if you want to taste before you buy.

Every time I’ve stopped in, even in the mid-afternoon, I’ve run into a winemaker there. The last time it was Denis Degher (and recording artist Sleepy Guitar Johnson) of Domaine Degher in Paso Robles, who brought in his award-winning red wines, which he farms organically. Rose pointed out the fact that there are so many other shops and liquor stores in SLO, he can’t afford to bring in the low-priced wines from high-volume producers: “I can’t compete with grocery store prices on those wines, so I have to be better at bringing in exclusive wineries you can’t find anywhere else.”

Got Chardonnay?

Becoming a wine connoisseur doesn’t happen just from reading a tome on wine. But it becomes easier once you’ve had many experiences at tasting it. However, you can gain expertise and discover what suits your palate best at the upcoming Chardonnay Symposium in Santa Maria Valley happening Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

No matter how many tasting events and festivals I attend, my favorites are those that provide educational tastings, particularly when they allow you to taste a huge variety of wines made from one distinctive, classic varietal like Chardonnay. This festival is much like World of Pinot Noir, a major event that began in 2001. Ten years later, it’s an internationally acclaimed wine event for connoisseurs. That’s what local vintners hope to do with the Chardonnay Symposium, organized by the Santa Maria Valley Vintners Association.

This small, unique valley in northernmost Santa Barbara County is renowned for its cool climate growing season, which produces superlative Chardonnays from a wide number of excellent wineries. But for this series of tastings, the vintners group also invites wineries from other wine-growing regions on the West Coast. There’s no doubt in my mind this will become the Central Coast’s next major wine attraction.

The Chardonnay Symposium

This outstanding new wine festival is dedicated to America’s favorite varietal, Chardonnay, which leads sales of all wines sold in the U.S.A. It’s open to the public, and well attended by people in the trade for its enlightening wine tastings led by nationally recognized wine media and winemakers. With each event priced individually, it’s affordable for nearly everyone. It provides an opportunity to better understand this classic Burgundian variety and how much it varies from producer to producer, even when their vineyards border each other.

On Friday, July 22, it begins with the Sierra Madre Vineyards clonal tour and tasting experience with vintner Doug Circle and winemaker Steve Rasmussen. This informative tour includes a tasting of barrel samples and finished (bottled) Chardonnays with six winemakers discussing their wines, 4 to 5:30 p.m.

For the Sierra Madre 40th anniversary barbecue, they’re celebrating four decades of producing outstanding wines from this historic vineyard while enjoying Sierra Madre designated wines from six producers. The barbecue will be prepared by Chef Rick’s Ultimately Fine Foods. Guests are invited to bring a bottle of Chardonnay along to share at dinner, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

On Saturday, July 23, the all-day ticket price allows guests to choose their preferred morning seminar, unless one sells out. Nationally acclaimed wine writers Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast and author Karen MacNeil of The Wine Bible will each moderate a panel of winemakers. At Bien Nacido Vineyard, Heimoff will discuss the advantages of oak versus stainless steel production with six winemakers. At Tantara Vineyard, MacNeil will lead six winemakers in a discussion of winemaking practices and styles, and how they’ve changed. Bus transportation to the seminars departs at 9 a.m.

Seminar guests will enjoy a special lunch at Au Bon Climat winery, where they can sip Chardonnay with speakers and winemakers, noon to 1:30 p.m. The grand Chardonnay tasting features 50 wineries, food prepared by many great local restaurants, and a souvenir Riedel wineglass, 2 to 5 p.m.

The event costs $125 per person for all day attendance, or $65 each for the afternoon grand tasting alone. Bus transportation from a designated location is included in those prices. You can get VIP parking at Byron Winery for $20, but it’s off road parking. This year, a portion of the funds will be donated to several local charities. For details and tickets to any of the Chardonnay Symposium events, call 1-866-480-5194 or visit

Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at


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