Paso winemakers launch Cellar Mates for boutique wineries

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comAugust 23, 2013 

When Becky and Lowell Zelinski started producing wine in 2008 under their First Crush label, they said it was difficult to find a place to operate affordably.

So this summer they developed Cellar Mates, a new collaborative wine facility where up to four boutique wineries can share one space for all their operations at 2975 Limestone Way in Paso Robles.

Unlike a custom crush facility where small winemakers pay another business to process their grapes for them, Cellar Mates provides a 7,000-square-foot facility for up to four wineries to make their own wine, store and manage their own barrels and share a tasting room to pour and sell, all in one space.

The overall concept, Becky Zelinski said, is designed to reduce the costs boutique wineries incur in all the various winery operations.

Cellar Mates provides the tasting room staffed with two employees for its tenants, but each winery makes wine on its own.

The Cellar Mates’ site is equipped with wine-making infrastructure such as drainage, pumps and cooling systems. That way, each winery can bring in its own equipment such as specialized crusher-destemmers, barrels and tanks to make their wine the way they want to.

Collectively, total production at the site would range from 2,000 to 5,000 cases of wine per year, Zelinski said.

The owners say one interesting aspect of the tasting room is its décor.

“The backdrop … is essentially a wine cave. It’s just different. You don’t expect to walk into this building and see a cave, so it’s pretty cool,” Becky Zelinski said.

Besides the Zelinskis’ winery, called First Crush Cellars, the first tenant is MCV, an enterprise by Paso Robles winemaker and Cambria resident Matt Villard.

MCV isn’t making wine at the site but will be represented in the tasting room.

As of Wednesday, negotiations were underway for one additional winery tenant while the last tenant space remained available. Each tenant would have a one-year-minimum lease.

The Zelinskis declined to disclose how much has been invested in the business, or the profit and sales figures for their own winery, because of its recent transition.

“There’s profit in wine sales but in starting a new facility … we’re not showing a profit yet. We will,” Becky Zelinski said.

Offering a winemaking facility where wineries share in the tasting room as well production site is a spin on similar collaborations that do one or the other in San Luis Obispo County, according to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance spokesman Christopher Taranto.

“Their concept has some uniquely marketable assets,” he said, declining to say whether it could be the first one of its kind in the county as the Zelinskis say.

After making wine for a year, the Zelinskis expanded their business in 2009 as First Crush Wine Experiences in Paso Robles, offering wine classes, blending seminars and harvest-to-crush tours where guests picked grapes and participated in the winemaking process. While still hosting the tours, the couple released their first First Crush wine in 2010, with a wine club that launched in 2011.

The couple then moved their offices into the Limestone Way site last summer, shut down their wine tours temporarily while setting up Cellar Mates and opened up their tasting room in March. First Crush Wine Experiences has resumed at the Limestone Way site.

Mike English owns the Limestone Way complex, which is also home to a micro-brewery and other wineries.

For more information, call 434-2772 or visit firstcrushwinemaking.com.

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