When I walk into a tasting room for the first time, I feel more at ease when the people who serve me are friendly, engaging, and enthusiastic about the job they’re doing. And that’s exactly what I found at the county’s friendliest new tasting room in Avila Beach, Morovino. It’s owned and operated by Andrea and David Bradford, a couple who relocated here from the San Francisco Bay Area and found themselves accidental vintners. It’s obvious that they’re both totally thrilled about it after observing the way they welcome and interact with every customer who walks through their door.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- CHEERS! : Andrea and David Bradford welcome wine lovers to their new tasting room in beautiful Avila Beach
Americans in increasing numbers are enjoying wine at the dinner table, but novices are usually quite intimidated when making selections. If more wine tasting rooms were run by people as congenial as the Bradfords, newcomers to wine wouldn’t find an education so daunting. When it comes to hospitality Andrea Bradford is the model. She enthusiastically told me, “Talking with people and teaching them about our wines is more fun than any human being should be allowed to have.”
The Bradfords purchased Morovino in 2007 from its founder Gerry Moro, an athlete who became a professional winemaker. Formerly a decathlete in the Olympics in Munich and Tokyo, in 1964 and 1972, respectively, Moro represented Canada. Born in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia wine region where his mother was the family winemaker, Moro remembered how he starting helping her make wine when he was only three years old.
The Moro family immigrated to Canada, where Gerry Moro remained until 1966 when he moved to Santa Barbara. First a track coach at the University of California, Santa Barbara, then a building contractor, his life turned around after meeting the Foxen boys, Bill Wathen and Dick Dore;, in Santa Maria Valley. He became one of their volunteers during harvest, and in 1989 decided to establish his own brand. Moro simply added ‘vino’ to his surname to create the label and released his first wines in 1994.
The Bradfords met Moro when they stopped in at his original tasting room in Solvang in late 2006. He told them he hoped to find someone to buy the brand so he could retire and spend more time golfing. Andrea Bradford recalled: “We knew he was talented when we liked every single one of his wines, but Gerry needed good marketing. We looked at each other and said we can do this.” Just as suddenly they made Moro an offer and he accepted, agreeing to continue making the wines until they could take over completely.
Andrea says their five-year plan includes learning to make wine from Moro. This isn’t that much of a stretch; I’ve known several good cooks who became successful winemakers, including Paso Roble’s highly respected John Munch of Le Cuvier and Neil Collins of Tablas Creek. Morovino wines are produced in Santa Maria at the Miller family’s Central Coast Wine Services. It’s a winemaking facility that’s home to many wineries that don’t have their own production equipment, including Lane Tanner, Labyrinth, Herman Story, McPrice Meyers, and Rancho Arroyo Grande. That made it practical for the Bradfords, who didn’t like the Solvang tasting room as much, to begin searching the classifieds for a building in San Luis Obispo County.
“Locals in Solvang don’t shop in Solvang; they don’t like the tour buses,” Andrea admitted, adding that she and David moved to Shell Beach five years ago. “I found a one-line ad that offered an Avila Beach property with a big bay window. We designed the tasting room to look just like our living room, adding cushioned chairs, because wine tastes better when you’re sitting down.” She noted that they prefer doing business in this friendly and beautiful beachfront town because it adds to the ambiance in the tasting room.
Still, people usually migrate to the long bar with tall stools, where the Bradfords pour samples and interact with their guests in an equally comfortable setting. The large room features the work of local artists, plus a refrigerator in the back filled with Cal Poly cheeses that are available for purchase. They also sell Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates (whose manufacturer supports organic and fair-trade farming) and Olio Nuevo extra virgin olive oils. “Art Kishiyama (owner of Olio Nuevo) is as passionate about olive oil as I am about wine,” said Andrea, who’s quite the food and wine connoisseur and offers a food-and-wine-pairing chart she created. The chart, recipes, and a cleverly written Morovino wine song can be found on their website at morovino.com.
Because they sell mostly through their tasting room or their wine club, their wines are limited in the marketplace. But they offer quite a few perks to their “Club 550” members: no upfront charge to join, free tasting at the Avila Beach tasting room, free shipping, and a 10-percent discount for purchases online or in the tasting room. “When we asked our club members what can we do to make the club better for them, they said, ‘ship more wine,’” so we expanded the club to three levels. Their quarterly shipments include new releases and library wines that were part of the purchase of Morovino from Gerry Moro.
There’s a minimum tasting fee that’s refunded with a wine purchase. Andrea is offering a winter series of classes called “First Friday” from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. She’s teaching guests about artisan olive oil beginning Oct. 3. The Bradfords say they embrace the Italian philosophy of celebrating the everyday appreciation of wine in a relaxed, causal setting.
“Our goal is educational, I love talking to people about wine, and here we get very sophisticated wine lovers from Paso Robles to Santa Maria,” Andrea said. They’re offering tastings of library vintages as well as newer releases, at the tasting bar, that range from 1998 to 2006. “We spend our day talking wine and when you pair it with food afterward, it’s transcendent.”
550 First. St., Avila Beach
627-1443 or www.morovino.com
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