In late November, Dunites Wine Co. quietly debuted its tasting room in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Situated just off high-energy Higuera Street, and flanked by Italian eatery La Locanda and SLO Delicious Bake Shop, Dunites replaces health food eatery Seeds on charming Garden Street. Its simple, elegant façade melds perfectly with the restored historic building, erected in 1900. Accommodating 32 guests in 650 square feet of space, Dunites offers an intimate tasting experience.
- Photo Courtesy Of Dunites Wine Co.
- ALL ARE WELCOME Walk-ins and reservations are accepted at Dunites Wine Co., located at 1131 Garden St. in SLO.
"We would like to host people in a warm, welcoming environment—a place where they can discover our wines with friends, family, and loved ones," said co-owner Rachel Goffinet Eck.
The name Dunites may sound familiar—for two reasons.
Firstly, the winery is hardly a new kid on the block.
Founded by Rachel and her husband, Tyler Eck, in 2015, the small-lot producer distributes throughout California, in several other states, and even in the U.K.
With only 1,100 cases produced annually, the wines are a hot commodity on two continents.
The term Dunites may also ring a bell locally.
"We are a small wine brand named after an eclectic group of 1930s metropolitan refugees known as the Dunites, who settled the beach dunes of San Luis Obispo County," according to the winery's website. "This group proudly described themselves as a collection of free thinkers, artists, nudists, and poets. Together, they shared meals, cohabited a mutual gathering place, philosophized, dissented, and generally allowed one another to live and express themselves freely outside of the cultural norms of the time."
Translated to contemporary times, "making wines for our own brand allows us to make decisions that may feel risky to someone else," said Tyler, who focuses on the winemaking side of the business, while Rachel tends to the tasting room and vineyards.
"The goal is always to make delicious wine and to highlight the special vineyards we work with," he continued. "To achieve this, we favor native yeast for fermentation, very minimal amounts of added sulfites, some inclusion of whole cluster with red wines, and bottling without fining or filtration as much as possible.
"We think that these techniques, the small production, and the region we are in allow for a sense of discovery among people looking for new wines," he continued.
Longtime customer Jenna Congdon joined the Dunites bandwagon at its inception. And Congdon knows a thing or two about wine.
- Photo By Cherish Whyte
- POURS EXPLORED Dunites co-owners Tyler Eck and Rachel Goffinet Eck hosted a soft opening for their SLO tasting room on Nov. 20 and 21.
The certified sommelier handles Central Coast sales for wine importers Martine's and WineWise and curates the wine selection at SLO's Farmhouse Corner Market, where clients can purchase Dunites' pinot noir, syrah, and syrah-grenache blend.
"Their wines have always had a place on any of the wine lists or programs I've put together in the past," Congdon said.
She first met the Ecks six years ago in SLO. At the time, she directed the wine program at Granada Hotel and Bistro while also managing The Station, a wine shop and bar that has since closed.
She appreciated the Ecks' adept intertwining of traditional wine styles with contemporary flavor profiles unique to Central Coast vineyards.
"The Dunites wines ... maintain a strong sense of place," Congdon said. "There is plenty of dark juicy fruit in their reds, but they also feature some really nice restraint and some Old World elegance."
The Ecks have had a lot of practice fine-tuning their craft.
Tyler earned dual degrees from UC Santa Barbara in arts and geography followed by viticulture and oenology from Lincoln University in New Zealand. He perfected his trade at wineries around the world, including Dry River in Martinborough, New Zealand; Stefano Lubiana in Tasmania, Australia; Domaine Francois Villard in Saint-Michel-Sur-Rhone, France; and Peay Vineyards in Cloverdale, California.
He is currently associate winemaker at Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos.
Rachel obtained a viticulture degree from Cal Poly, then landed positions with local and international producers such as Stephen Ross Wine Cellars in SLO, Paul Lato Wines in Santa Maria, and Te Kairanga in Martinborough, New Zealand.
Presently, she is a licensed pest control advisor and vineyard manager for Coastal Vineyard Services, where she assists in managing several properties throughout SLO County.
- Photo Courtesy Of Dunites Wine Co.
- ROCKY START Rachel Goffinet Eck and Tyler Eck launched their Dunites wine journey in 2015, harvesting 100 cases of syrah from rocky Spanish Springs Vineyard in Pismo Beach
The couple resides in Pismo Beach, near three of their favorite vineyards for sourcing grapes.
"Bassi [Avila Beach], Chene [Arroyo Grande], and Spanish Springs [Pismo Beach] have really interesting combinations of soils and marine-influenced climate that lead to compelling wines," Tyler said.
The Ecks also tap cool-climate vines at Islay Hill, Slide Hill, and Jespersen Ranch vineyards in SLO.
The winery's 2019 and 2020 vintages include sparkling blanc de noir, albariño, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache, syrah, and white and red blends, all of which are produced at Fess Parker Winery.
"It is a great system that allows us to handle all of our wines and keep a close eye—and nose—at the same winery I am already working at every day," Tyler said.
The tasting menu features five pours for $20, or guests can purchase a glass or bottle of wine. Bottles are moderately priced, from $26 to $45, lower for club members.
"We currently have three different wine clubs that customers may choose from, depending on how many bottles they wish to receive," Rachel explained. "Each club offers complimentary tastings and discounts on bottles. I would love to start planning special events for our club members starting next year."
Other goals for the tasting room include securing permits for customer seating on the front patio, renting out the facility for private events, and partnering with neighboring food vendors.
- Photo By Cherish Whyte
- DUNITES DEVOTEES Wine club membership offers a choice of three, six, or 12 new releases in February, May, and October. Shipments can be customized.
The Ecks also contribute to 1 Percent For The Planet—"a commitment to donate 1 percent of our sales to environmentally charitable causes," Tyler said.
"We recognize that we live in a sensitive area with a diversity of microclimates that support a huge range of habitats and species," he explained. "The risks to these habitats from climate change, wildfires, or sea level rise could be devastating. Donating to local nonprofits who are focused on protecting our coast and the people who inhabit it is important to us."
Stay tuned for the tasting room's grand-opening celebration later this month. The Ecks are excited to join downtown SLO's expanding collection of tasting rooms and are equally thrilled "to see the SLO Coast [American Viticultural Area] grow and receive more attention among people looking for great wine," Tyler said.
The proposed SLO Coast AVA stretches from San Simeon in the north to Arroyo Grande in the south. Final approval for the federal designation is on many local wineries' holiday wish lists.
"If we can be a small part of the amazing community working to make that happen, it would be incredible," Tyler said. Δ
Flavor Writer Cherish Whyte adores Dunites' lemony chardonnay. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.