Pushing back on the notion that fine wine is an expensive and elitist luxury reserved for the privileged class, Jeff Munsey’s Pithy Little Wine Co. opened a tasting room in downtown San Luis Obispo earlier this year. Along with wife Felicia Alvarez, Munsey has created a brand that he hopes will appeal to a wider audience by making wine less intimidating.
The first of many decisions he made was the name.
“Pithy — the word meaning concise and forcefully expressive — was perfect because that’s how we like to handle our business,” Munsey explained. “It’s also the way we like to talk about wines.”
The logo, a simple circle with a wine bottle enclosed in quotation marks, was inspired by European road signs. It follows Munsey’s philosophy that wine should have “no frills or wine country fancification. The message really is that the wine is what matters most.”
Even on the back label, where many winemakers wax poetically about their wine, Munsey has only a few short, descriptive words about the flavors and style of the wine.
“You’re never going to find a wine note here that says, ‘It’s reminiscent of green apple and Provence,’ ” Munsey said.
Munsey started the Pithy Little Wine Co. in 2006, making just a few dozen cases of chardonnay. Over the years he’s grown that to 2,500 cases, including chardonnay, malvasia bianca, syrah, pinot noir and zinfandel. He has a surprisingly simple pricing structure: $22 for whites, $33 for reds.
“We like to maximize all of our business resources to make the wine as affordable as we can so we can sell it for a reasonable price,” Munsey said.
That includes doing all the design work in house, from the tasting room to the labels to the website. The wines are made in a small winery shared by other boutique winemakers and share expenses like bottles and production. Munsey and Alvarez buy grapes from friends in Edna Valley, Paso Robles, Alexander Valley and Sonoma, all of whom they’ve known in the industry for many years.
They’ve created a comfortable atmosphere in the tasting room by adding stools, so customers can sit and relax, and they even have an option for teetotalers: soda pop.
“It’s unfortunate when somebody is left out of the experience of tasting,” Munsey explained. So he created a line of Pithy Little Sodas, which use only cane sugar and natural ingredients. He’s producing root beer, orange cream and black cherry, and he has plans for new flavors in the future. Served in the same Riedel glasses as the wines, he said it offers everyone, including kids, “the opportunity to participate in the sensory analysis.”
Always looking for more opportunities to bring wine to more people, Munsey is starting a new project in the fall that will offer personalized wine labels for customers. He’s creating a small studio in the tasting room where customers can design them with the help of computer graphics. He’s also making a second label of his own to hit key retail price points through distribution.
“We’re burning a lot of candles right now,” Munsey admitted, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Pithy Little Wine Co.
Address: 1037 Chorro St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Owners: Jeff Munsey and Felicia Alvarez
Winemaker: Jeff Munsey
Cases produced: 2,500 this year
Tasting room hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Closed Tuesdays.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.