EDUCATED PALATES : UCSB Professor Patrick Faverty and Kris Johnson, a former teacher, recently acquired and refined a signature shop in San Luis Obispo for connoisseurs of local wine, Monterey Street Wines.
THE CHARDONNAY SYMPOSIUM: On Saturday, July 31, in Santa Maria Valley, the region’s newest educational wine symposium and tasting will focus on the variety Americans loves most, Chardonnay. Described as California’s “golden girl” in the press release, wine lovers are invited to the Santa Maria Valley to learn more about this popular white wine. Saturday morning, tasting seminars will be conducted at Bien Nacido Vineyard and Cambria Winery on Santa Maria Mesa Road, where local experts will discuss growing and winemaking practices specific to Chardonnay. The speakers include: Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Denise Shurtleff of Cambria Winery, Randy Ullom of Kendall Jackson (which owns Cambria), and Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards. The educational forum is followed by lunch at Byron Winery from noon to 1:30, catered by Testa Bistro, Bello Forno, and the Far Western Tavern. Guests will have the opportunity to discuss the variety and tasting with the symposium presenters and keynote speakers. Tickets for the entire event including: the symposium, lunch, the grand Chardonnay tasting, a Riedel crystal wineglass, and gift bag, are $100 each.
For those who want to attend the Grand Chardonnay Tasting alone at Tres Hermanas Winery on Foxen Canyon Road, taking place from 2-5 p.m., tickets are $45 each. Forty wineries will pour their special Chardonnays, which you can pair with foods from participating local restaurants. On Sunday, August 1, Breakaway Tours offers a vineyard and winery tour of Santa Maria Valley. For more information and/or tickets that must be purchased in advance, visit thechardonnaysymposium.com.
Last year, the Monterey Street Wine Company was offered for sale, another great local shop beaten down by the struggling economy. Fortunately it was purchased by Patrick Faverty and Kris Johnson; a couple who saw potential in this comfortable little wine store. It had always specialized in fine wines, artisanal cheeses, and other gourmet goods, along with value-priced imported wines. Faverty made some changes to improve it. “I didn’t want it to be [just another] wine shop,” explained Faverty, who resides in Arroyo Grande. “We focus on unique, small-production, high-quality wines from our talented local winemakers. And we like to bring in a special wine or two from Napa.”
As the new wine bar approaches its first anniversary, I visited for the first time since the ownership change and liked the changes they made. The wine racks were moved to the south side of the room because there are fewer wines to choose from, and the bargain-priced imports are gone. The wines they offer now are well chosen from popular American winemakers, most of them based on the Central Coast: Clarissa Nagy, highly regarded as a Bonaccorsi winemaker in Santa Barbara County, makes a Pinot Noir of her own, labeled Nagy 2; and Kathy Turner, assistant winemaker at Four Vines in Paso Robles, makes a Syrah Rose under her label: Tint--Beyond the Pale ($18). Both wines are currently available in the shop.
Nagy dropped off another order for her Pinot while I was there. The 2006 Pinot Noir is $38 if you enjoy it at Monterey Street Wines, or discounted to $32 if you’re buying it to drink elsewhere. Faverty said they discount all wines by 15 percent if taken out the door. He chose Nagy’s wines for several reasons he quickly pointed out: “I love this wine and I’m not a big Pinot Noir fan. This Pinot is such an elegant Santa Maria Valley style, a nice balance of old and new world winemaking.”
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
To make the shop more of a social spot for enjoying wine with friends, Faverty and Johnson added tall, handcrafted wooden bistro tables with comfortable bar stools. Purchased at Luna Rustica, each table is unique, a style Faverty finds appealing: “I like the unmatched furniture, and I brought in some of my personal art to display. A beautiful print of grapes ripening on the vine was taken by Steve E. Miller, Staff Photographer of New Times. “Steve came by and told me he had loaned it to the previous owners,” Faverty explained. “I liked it so much I asked him if I could buy it and he said, sure.” Faverty noted it’s remarkable to him how many international visitors come to their shop: “We have people from all over the world coming in here, from France, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, Thailand, and South Africa, who tell us they heard so much about this wine region they had to come here.”
Domestic and international artisanal cheeses are still a mainstay. Many people come by just to buy cheese, and some stop by strictly for the delicious Hush Harbor baguettes that are delivered fresh daily from the bakery in Atascadero. Faverty is planning to bring in Buona Tavola’s housemade salami to offer with the cheeses. They also offer a nice selection of appetizers on their menu with such choices as: two cheeses with Hush Harbor bread ($15); two cheeses with prosciutto ($25); and toasted baguette topped with melted gruyere, olives and tomato, or artichoke tapenade ($12); there is also a plate of wine-flavored chocolate truffles ($8).
IN VINO VERITAS: Monterey Street Wines 1255 Monterey St. SLO, 541-1255
Faverty, a professor at U.C. Santa Barbara, actively participates in the store events, and attends the winemaker tastings that take place weekly. Johnson, formerly an elementary school teacher in Santa Maria, was managing the shop, but now helps out part time. They leave daily management in the hands of their wine-bar manager, Greg Rose, who’s worked in various levels of the wine business for many years. Among their other fine wines are Chateau Margene, Domaine Degher, Toucan Wines, and Cal Poly wines made by aspiring student winemakers.
Check out their weekly list of wines available for tasting and upcoming educational tastings on their website montereystreetwines.com. You’re sure to find a special tasting, like the fresh oysters and white wine pairing, that will make learning a lesson tasty and fun.