A wine region in the Tri-Counties has been profiled in publications as “Wine Country’s Best-Kept Secret,” (LAWeekly), and sub-areas of it as “California’s Best Unsung Wine Regions” (Wine Enthusiast). It was among “10 Under-the-Radar North American Wine Regions You Need to Visit” (Fodor’s Travel).
The “secret” in our own backyard is an area recently rebranded as the San Luis Obispo Coast Wine Collective — 30 wineries in the coolest viticulture climate in the state. Some of these wineries are by no means anonymous, among them Edna Valley Vineyard, Baileyana, Tolosa and Sextant in the Edna Valley and Laetitia and Talley in the Arroyo Grande Valley. Others are lesser known specialists like Chroma Vera, which features Spanish varietals, and boutique producers like Sinor-LaVallee and Stolo, each with a vineyard less than three miles from the Pacific Ocean.
The San Luis Obispo Coast region has tended to get less attention than the Paso Robles viticulture area to the north, with more than 200 wineries and vastly more planted acres, and Santa Barbara County to the south, with more than 120 wineries.
In mid-April, the wineries that had been marketing themselves under the banner San Luis Obispo Wine Country rolled out their rebranding as the San Luis Obispo Coast Wine Collective, with an improved website and a laser focus on “coast” as their defining identity.
“I think the impetus was to find a better message and a better name and a better look and feel that better represented who we are as a wine region,” Executive Director Anne Steinhauer said in a phone interview. The coastal influence “is felt in just about every aspect of our winemaking.”
The rebranding initiative began under former Executive Director Heather Muran, who applied for a specialty crop grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to fund it. The collective hired the San Luis Obispo design firm Makers & Allies to overhaul the website, which now has far greater visual impact. It features images shot from a helicopter of lush green vineyards with coastal fog hovering over them and vines on slopes with the Pacific in view on the horizon.
The redesign also made the website maps interactive. Users can click on one of six suggested wine trails and get directions for the most efficient way to visit, or they can plan their own routes.
The San Luis Obispo Coast wine region encompasses an area on the seafront side of the Santa Lucia Mountains from Cambria on the north to Nipomo at the south, plus the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley viticultural areas. Pinot noir and chardonnay are the signature varietals in the region “and we’re seeing some killer albariños coming out of our producers as well,” said Steinhauer, who arrived in February to carry on the rebranding program.
I talked with vintners during the collective’s Roll Out the Barrels summer event, where about 800 patrons gathered on June 20 at Mission San Luis Obispo’s plaza to taste the wines and sample treats from area chefs. The vintners were enthusiastic about the rebranding’s emphasis on the coast.
“I have been an advocate for it. I think it’s going to be very effective,” said Mike Sinor, winemaker and co-owner of Sinor-LaVallee Wines. Their Bassi Vineyard near Avila Beach is 1.2 miles from the Pacific, with hilltop views of the ocean.
“Oh I think it’s fantastic. I think it fits our region. I think it fits our terroir. I think it fits our microclimates,” said Trish Kesselring, general manager and co-owner of Peloton Cellars at Avila Beach.
A group of vintners separate from the wine collective, the SLO Coast AVA Association, has filed a petition with the federal government asking for the region to be recognized as an American Viticultural Area.
The specialty crop grant has allowed the Wine Collective to hire the Napa-based organization Community Benchmark to track sales, tasting room visits and other data to measure the effectiveness of the rebranding and show where they can improve.
The SLO Coast received a boost when Wine Enthusiast magazine named it one of the top 10 wine getaways for 2018.
Steinhauer and vintners I spoke with said a big reason for the “best kept secret” portrayals of the region is that you have to get into the countryside to find the wineries. “You have to get out into the back roads,” Steinhauer said.
“And once you are, once you’re out in Edna and Arroyo Grande, most of our wineries in those two AVAs are no more than 20 minutes from one another.”
Information on all the wineries can be found at slocoastwine.com.
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]