When Wine Notes first met Ron Mullins in August last year, he was putting the finishing touches on his 4,000 square foot tasting room, the Meritage Lounge.
With 10 tasting bars in a contemporary and sophisticated environment, he hoped it would set a new standard for Paso Robles tasting rooms.
“What we’re trying to create here is really a lounge experience,” he said then, “a destination where you come and hang out, and along the way you get to taste wines from 10 different wineries.”
But at that point he was just months away from opening, and had a commitment from only one of the 10 spaces he had available. He also was opening during the worst recession in 50 years, and his concept had never been tried, even in Napa or Sonoma.
Today, five months after opening in February this year, Mullin’s vision for a hip, multi-winery tasting lounge has proven successful. All 10 wine bars are leased, with 12 labels represented.
Wineries include Liberty School and Candor from Hope Family Wines, and Summerwood, both from Paso Robles; Line Shack and Michaud Vineyards in Monterey County; and Grizzly Republic in Amador County. Previously unknown labels such as TKL and Hammersky are also represented.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, Meritage definitely has a nightclub atmosphere, with music, conversation and groups of well-dressed 20- and 30- year-old patrons enjoying the wine and food.
“I’m really happy with the response that we’ve gotten back from the public,” Mullins said. “It’s exceeded my expectations.”
Roxo Port Cellars, the first, and for a time the only, winery to sign up for space, is similarly happy. “We’ve been very pleased sales-wise and people flow-wise,” said Jeff Steele, owner and winemaker for Roxo.
“We all seem to complement each other,” Kim Steele says of the other wineries, “there are not 10 competitors all with the same style of wine.”
A partnership among Mullins, his wife Stacy, and friend Bill Ridino of William Ridino Construction, Meritage is in a building at 11th and Park streets facing Paso Robles City Park.
The building is owned by his mother, Vicki Mullins, and the two are talking now about tearing the wall down separating the tasting room and her real estate office to create a large banquet room and expanded kitchen.
They have already started work on a cigar patio out back that would be an ideal space to sip port and enjoy one of the many cigars offered.
The food has also been a big hit. Created by executive chef Bryson Maughmer, the menu includes many seasonal items such as crostini, salads, sandwiches and pizza along with cheese and charcuterie plates.
The food is specifically designed to complement the wines, and almost all items are about $10.
Although he admits the original construction was fraught with delays, Mullins says it was all worth it.
“We’ve only been open for five months, and if we can keep everybody happy doing the sales we’re doing now, then I think our future is unlimited.”
810 11th St., Paso Robles
Owners: Ron and Stacy Mullins, Bill Rudino
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday/Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesday
Wine tasting generally starts about 2 p.m., food after 4 p.m.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at email@example.com.