As the most southeastern winery in the Paso Robles appellation, Chateau Margene has always had a loyal following, but for many wine tourists, the 30-minute drive from the more popular wine trails has been a bit too daunting. Owner Michael Mooney solved that problem late last year by opening a second tasting room in the heart of the west side, at the well-traveled corner of Vineyard Drive and Peachy Canyon Road.
“In my past business world, it’s all location, location, location,” Mooney explained. “We love where we live, but it is remote.”
The advantage of having the second tasting room is reflected in the numbers. On an average Saturday or Sunday, Mooney will have a dozen or so customers coming in to taste at the Creston location. At the Peachy Canyon spot, the traffic is more like 200.
Since all of Mooney’s business is direct — either through the tasting rooms or his wine club — those are significant numbers for this former stockbroker and business development consultant.
Mooney bought the Creston property in 1998, but had already started making his flagship Chateau Margene wines in 1997 from bulk grapes. He said he started the winery, named after his wife, Margene, after many years in business that were frustrating and unrewarding.
“I wanted to do something I could be passionate about,” Mooney said.
He didn’t know anything about growing grapes or making wine, so he turned to two of the area’s most respected consultants for learning both: Jim Smoot for viticulture and John Munch for winemaking.
“Both were great teachers,” Mooney explained. “We wouldn’t be where we are without Jim and John — no question about it.”
In the vineyard, Mooney’s emphasis is on low yield and high quality. “We’re going to make the best fruit we can, bar no expense,” Mooney said. And in the winery, the emphasis is on blends: “John’s initial influence was you can create a lot of complexity when you blend.”
Chateau Margene’s real launch pad came for them in May of 2003, when out of 300 world-class cabernets, they won first place at the Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout co-sponsored by Wine Enthusiast magazine. They sold out immediately.
Today Mooney produces about 4,000 cases of the Chateau Margene label, along with his Mooney Family label, which he started with his sons Jon and Chris in 2006. Both sons work full time in the winery and tasting rooms, and are part of the “tasting panel” the entire family is involved with in every blend. “It’s a team effort, all four of us,” Mooney said.
Both sons also work in the tasting rooms, with Jon managing the Peachy Canyon location, and Chris pouring at the Creston winery. Mooney’s philosophy is: “We are not in the wine business, we’re in the customer service business.”
The popularity of his wine clubs — five in all, with three wait-listed — is evidence of his success.
“The business plan was always to be 100 percent direct,” Mooney explained. “We’ll get to the point that if you want the wine, you’ll be in the wine club. That’s the holy grail.”
Chateau Margene/Mooney Family Wines
Address: 6996 Peachy Canyon Road, Paso Robles, 238-3500
Owners: Michael and Margene Mooney
Winemaker: Michael Mooney
Cases produced: 3,000 to 4,000 annually
Varietals: Cabernet and Rhone blends
Tasting room hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.