Four small western Nevada County wineries hope to increase their visibility and sales by opening tasting rooms in downtown Grass Valley.
Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery is convinced it's a good idea; the Grass Valley winery has seen its sales increase more than 50 percent since opening its tasting room last July at 209 W. Main St.
Not incidentally, the proliferation of tasting rooms along West Main and Mill streets gives visitors another reason to spend time in the historic 13-block district.
Tasting rooms have been a familiar part of the downtown Nevada City scene for several years, but their arrival in Grass Valley adds another element to the downtown retail mix.
"You need a critical mass of each category to draw traffic," said Howard Levine, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association. "There are enough here now for people to come downtown."
That's certainly been the experience of Anne Starr, co-owner with her husband, Phil, of Sierra Starr. "Since opening the tasting room, we've retained our old customers and attracted many new ones," she said.
"Nevada County isn't yet a destination (for wine lovers)," she added, "and our business is mainly in Grass Valley. We're very glad we came to Grass Valley ... we've been very well received."
Three small wineries hope to duplicate that success at Mill Street Wine Tasting, which opened for business Memorial Day weekend at 108 Mill St. Sierra Knolls Vineyard and Winery has combined forces with Coyoteville Winery and Burch Hall Winery to create a retail outlet for their vintages.
"This is the largest outlet for our wine because we don't sell it wholesale," said Brenda Taylor, co-owner with her husband, Steve, and John and Linda Chase of Sierra Knolls in the Lake of the Pines area.
The winery currently bottles 700 to 800 cases a year, and until the tasting room opened, most of its sales took place at the winery. "This is a fun place to taste the wine and a convenient location to pick up orders," Taylor said.
The tasting room is not finished - it opened two days after the license was granted - and a grand opening is planned for July 10, but Brenda Taylor said traffic was good over the three-day weekend and they expect to build the business over time.
"It's good to be in downtown Grass Valley," she said.
The idea for the Mill Street outlet came from Steve Burch, co-owner with his wife, Marsha, of Coyoteville and Burch Hall in Peardale. Like Sierra Knolls, he needed a retail outlet for his limited bottling of wine.
"We don't have a tasting room at the winery, and the property isn't suitable for groups of visitors," he said. "We would like to have a decent amount of traffic, and downtown Grass Valley provides that."
Burch said he approached Sierra Knolls about a joint venture "because neither one of us is big enough to start a retail venture right now ... Together, we have enough production to serve the consumer.
"We're very pleased with the way things have gone," he added. "It's a good way to promote the wineries because of the sheer volume of traffic."
A fourth winery, Lucchesi Vineyards and Winery of Grass Valley, will officially open its tasting room at 167 Mill St. June 19 but expects to be open before then to "iron out the kinks," according to owner Mario Clough.
Lucchesi sells its wines throughout Northern California and over the Internet, but it is located in a remote area that makes it difficult to attract visitors. Also, neighbors aren't always happy to have tasting rooms in the neighborhood.
"Being in Grass Valley gives us more access to our customers," Clough said last week. "This is just a natural evolution."
He believes being in town will make it easier for people to discover Lucchesi while giving the winery another retail outlet.
"Grass Valley is the best place for us because it draws more regular shoppers, whereas Nevada City gets more tourists who come once and never come back. And the parking is better."
Starr believes the opening of new tasting rooms can only benefit the local wine industry in the long run.
"People don't know about Nevada County wines," she said. "If Nevada City and Grass Valley have enough wine tasting rooms, we'll become a destination for out-of-town people."
Levine has a slightly different take on the development. "It's good for downtown because it keeps businesses open by bringing people to the area. I'm very positive about the development."
Grass Valley and Nevada City wine tasting rooms
- Lucchesi Vineyard and Winery, 167 Mill St., 273-1596
Open Monday - Friday, 11.30 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. (Grand opening June 19.)
- Mill Street Wine Tasting, 108 Mill St., 477-5500
Open daily expect Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery, 209 W. Main St., 477-8282
Open daily expect Tuesday, noon - 5 p.m.
-Carrington's Fine Wines, 242 Commercial St., 265-0195
Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 10:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. (There is a fee.)
- Indian Springs Vineyards, 303 Broad St., 478-1068
Open daily, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Iron Mountain Vineyards, 315 Spring St., 432-7002
Open Sunday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Friday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. (The tasting room will move to 130 Main St. in Nevada City on July 3.)
- Nevada City Winery, 321 Spring St., 265-9463
Open Monday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon - 5 p.m.