By MARIE VASARI
Herald Staff Writer
Monterey County Herald
Article Last Updated:06/30/2007 01:27:42 AM PDT
For most businesses, word of mouth is a good thing.
And Cima Collina, a young Monterey County winery with a preference for pinot noir, has generated some buzz, said winemaker Annette Hoff.
Customers praise its wines to friends, it's on the wine lists of nearly three dozen Monterey County restaurants and in stock at a dozen local wine shops. Customers can buy it online and through wine club memberships.
The one thing customers haven't readily been able to do is taste before they buy, and you can't quite taste wine in words.
That's why today, the three-year-old winery opens a tasting room in Carmel.
The winery, which produces 3,500 cases a year from Monterey County grapes, has offered tasting at its Marina facility by appointment and during special events, but the move to Carmel puts its tasting room doors in the path of thousands of tourists and would-be tasters.
"We've had very good success on the wholesale side, selling directly to restaurants," said Hoff, "but we really want the opportunity to sell directly to our customer."
Owner Richard Lumpkin had been searching for a retail outlet in a higher-traffic area, and Carmel provided the perfect opportunity with its well-walked sidewalks and multitude of visitors.
"It's such a pedestrian town," said Hoff, "and I think that's a good combination for wine tasting. Folks don't have to get in their cars and drive."
"We looked at a number of different places and this just kind of fit with size and location," said Laura Watson, who handles the wine club and marketing for Cima Collina.
The tasting room is approximately 520 square feet, divided into two airy gallery spaces and the tasting area, which features rustic decor and a cherrywood bar hand-carved by a Salinas craftsman.
Initially, the tasting room's galleries will feature works by local artists Carol Chapman and Fred Slautterback, with new exhibits every few weeks.
But ultimately, the focus of a tasting room is on its wine.
And wine is something that Carmel and the surrounding region seems to be taking a greater focus on, with a recent infusion of wine-tasting opportunities.
Monterey County winery Galante Vineyards already has a tasting room in Carmel, and several other venues including The Cheese Shop at Carmel Plaza, Southern Lattitudes, Bouchee restaurant's wine bar, offer wine tastings. Another venue, Bubbly Fish, recently opened, offering an indulgent menu of champagne, caviar, chocolate, cheese and cheesecake.
"There's kind of a concentration of tasting rooms in Carmel," said Hoff. "I think in the next year or so we're going to see a revolution of wine tasting rooms in Carmel."
And in late July, Salinas-based Morgan Winery expects to open a 1,300-square-foot tasting room at the Crossroads Shopping Village, its first after 25 years in operation.
Two years ago, Monterey-Salinas Transit introduced the Grapevine Express, a passenger line between downtown Monterey and Carmel Valley's wineries and tasting rooms. Earlier this year, the transit agency expanded the weekend service to daily runs.
And this summer, the Carmel Chamber of Commerce plans to release its first-ever wine map featuring both walking and driving wine tours of Carmel and Carmel Valley.
"We really believe that'll be an instant hit," said CEO Monta Potter.
Rhonda Motil, executive director of the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, said new tasting rooms are good news for Monterey County's growing wine industry. Monterey County has 26 tasting rooms, with several new winemakers establishing themselves along the River Road area of Salinas in recent years.
Chance for visibility|
Tasting rooms allow small boutique wineries a chance for visibility, said Motil.
"We're excited about the addition of Cima Collina in such a famous area as Carmel," she said. "That's where a lot of tourists are going, so we look forward to the opportunity to exposing a greater number of tourists to wines from Monterey County."
Tastings rooms are crucial if Monterey wants to compete with other wine regions, Motil said.
"The more that we can get in front of the consumer who's visiting from outside our own area, the better, and having a location that's so well-traveled, that's good for all of us," she said. "People can take a bottle back (home), or join a wine club, and they carry that name recognition back home."
Marie Vasari can be reached at 646-4478 or
Read about Cima Collina winemaker Annette Hoff at www.cimacollina.com/annettehoff.html
To see more about the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, see www.montereywines.org