Taking the Tasting Room Out of Wine Country—SMART!
It’s not unknown for tasting rooms to pop up in places where no vineyard or winery resides. But it can be risky business, and rare. Pure tasting rooms unconnected to a winery location or vineyard location have shown up in San Francisco, New York and other cities that are not winemaking towns. But they don’t always make it. Yesterday, I read that the little town of Tiburon in Marin County has a new tasting room: Couloir Wines. Is it a good idea? I think so.
This is not the first time a tasting room has resided in the very tony town of Tiburon. Windsor Vineyards had a tasting room just off of Main Street on “Ark Row” for many years, and in fact this is exactly wherethe new Couloir tasting room will reside. What, I think, makes Tiburon an excellent choice for an unconnected tasting room is its combination of high wealth residents who like their little downtown a lot and the tourists that, perhaps don’t flock to the village, but certainly arrive. In fact, there is little ferry terminal that brings a ferry from San Francisco to this town sitting on a peninsula jutting into the Bay.
In my youth I worked at a little bakery/restaurant in Tiburon where I washed dishes and occasionally constructed sandwiches that were delivered to patrons sitting on a back deck overlooking the bay. Saturday and Sunday were packed! The week days brought a steady stream of locals who ate, chatted then visited and shopped at the boutiques that line the little, attractive, well-appointed main street.
I don’t know the overhead that Couloir wines must meet, so it’s difficult to say what kind of nut they need to crack to make a really good go of it at their new “off premise” tasting room. But I do see the potential and I also see this kind of well placed tasting room as an excellent way for the wine industry to extend its reach, attract new customers and even fill up its Wine Country-based tasting rooms.
In this respect, Couloir is doing the entire wine industry a big favor. Think of Couloir’s Tiburon tasting room as an extension of the Wine Country to the North; a wine country visitor center to the south.
Importantly, visitors to Couloir’s tasting room will get the real deal when they belly up the bar. Couloir is a Pinot specialist that produces magnificent botlings primarily from the Anderson Valley and the Petaluma Gap in the Sonoma/Marin region. They are priced at about $40.00 per bottle. Additionally, Couloir has a second label, of sorts, in the form of Straight Line Wines, which produces Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo and Sauvignon Blanc in the $20.00 range. It’s a great collection of wines for this new location and the price points are perfectly situated to give visitors the feeling that they aren’t paying too much, but also are not being subjected to bargain basement wines. What’ they’ll find are really outstanding bottlings of fine quality that represent terroirs from across the state.
Couloir/Straight Line Winemaker and owner Jon Grant worked his way up to winery ownership by learning the trade first in the cellars of Corison, Mondavi, Plumpjack and Turley Cellars, a fairly eclectic combination of wineries. Grant is also clearly something of a risk taker. With offices located in Saint Helena in Napa Valley, he could have just done what seemingly countless other custom crush wineries have done—open a tasting room in downtown Napa. He didn’t. He went south to the tony environs of Tiburon.
And it’s a good thing he did, not just for his own sake, but for the wine industry in general.