The adage, “two heads are better than one,” applies to solving problems and creating new products. It also applies to winemaking, according to Russell From and McPrice Myers.
Myers and From, both winemakers with their own labels, started collaborating seven years ago on the Barrel 27 Wine Co. Named for the age of each of the partners when they started the label, the first vintage of the brand was actually an accident.
Friends since they met at Central Coast Wine Services two years earlier, each had a barrel of wine that really didn’t fit into either From’s Herman Story label, or Myers’ McPrice Myers label.
“So we blended them together, and said, ‘Wow! This is really good. This is really unique,’ ” recalls Myers of their first vintage in 2002. They made and bottled about 160 cases of that wine and took it to Orange County wine retailer The Wine Room. The buyer at The Wine Room was so impressed, he ended up buying nearly every case. That buyer is now Barrel 27’s general manager, Jason Carter.
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Now both 34, Myers and From are still young by any measure, but both have established themselves as important Central Coast winemakers.
Myers makes about 2,500 cases of his McPrice Myers label and has been making wine for nine years, since his days as a store manager for Trader Joe’s in Southern California.
Graduating from Cal Poly with an agricultural degree, From started working at local wineries just to pay the bills but soon caught “the bug” as well and started the Herman Story label, also nine years ago. Named after his grandfather, Herman Story produces about 2,200 cases a year. Both winemakers focus solely on Rhone variety grapes with their own brands and get their fruit from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. They’ve chosen to use mostly Rhone fruit in their Barrel 27 label but also include other varieties such as tempranillo and pinot noir.
They have moved most of their production to their facility off Highway 46 East in Paso Robles. The building they’ve chosen to use both as a winery and a tasting room has a long and storied history. Previously home to once-fledgling start-ups such as Linne Calodo, Villa Creek, Booker, Saxum and Garretson, the 10,000-square-foot space was ground zero for the explosion of Paso’s wine growth.
“All the people that really wanted to change the reputation of this area, really wanted to make high-end wine, they were all here in the same building,” Myers explains. And there is something special that happens when talented winemakers share their ideas, he says. “When you make wine together, you feed off each other. You debate about things, you throw ideas off each other, and then you really start to grow.”
The partners opened the tasting room last November, but they had initially focused their sales efforts on distribution, thanks to the wide network of contacts in the retail, restaurant and wine distribution business that Carter brought with him. Today they have distribution in 15 states.
“We really wanted to build the distribution side of it first because we wanted to produce six to eight thousand cases of it,” Myers says. “The tasting room was an afterthought.” In hindsight, that was a wise decision, now that distributors around the country have largely stopped taking in new clients, and tasting room traffic is down everywhere.
“The price point on the Barrel 27 is another key to distribution,” From explains. “If you can give a good quality wine for a good price, then you’re going to pick up distribution.” Most of the wines are priced under $30, with some starting in the teens. “Where other wineries are now lowering their prices, we’ve been as low as we can go for a while,” From says.
With names on their wines such as “Head Honcho Syrah,” Bull by the Horns” and “High on the Hog White,” Myers and From are pulling away from the elitist reputation premium wines often get. Their wine club is the “Local 27,” which they describe as the “wine drinkers’ union international.”
A lot of this is done in fun but also with their passion for the product and the experience.
“Everybody says if you’re in this business, it’s not a business but a lifestyle,” Myers says, “and that’s exactly so with us.”
Barrel 27 Wine Company
2323 Tuley Road, Suite 110, Paso Robles, 237-1245
Partners: Russell From, McPrice Myers, Jason Carter
Winemakers: Russell From, McPrice Myers
Cases produced: 8,000 in 2008
Tasting room hours: Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.