Since Coy Barnes started his wine tour business, The Wine Wrangler, in summer 2004, he has been in relentless pursuit of growing the wine tourism industry in Paso Robles and promoting the awareness and understanding of Central Coast wines.
His business has grown from one vehicle and one driver (himself), to six vehicles — ranging in size from a 4-passenger Hummer to a 24-passenger bus — and 12 drivers.
In 2005 he started the Paso Robles Wine Club, a venture that enables people who have visited Paso Robles, and enjoyed the wines there, to receive three shipments a year of premium local wines, hand-selected by Barnes.
Last year, Barnes and his wife, Sarah, moved their operation into the Paso Robles train depot, opening a beer and wine bar for travelers who go through the station.
It serves as the ideal location for coordinating wine tours for newly arrived visitors, and offers them another opportunity to attract wine club members.
And to further grow the number of travelers coming to Paso Robles, the couple has been developing creative marketing packages with Amtrak that include transportation to and from Paso Robles, along with hotel packages, discounts and Wine Wrangler wine tours.
The arrangement with the city for the lease is an unusual one. The rent is free for the duration of the five-year lease, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any cost.
As part of the agreement, Barnes must keep the doors open and the operation staffed six days a week, all year long.
As it is, he is currently open seven days a week in order to service the travelers coming into the station.
In addition to selling wine and other Paso Robles products, the couple offers information on local hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and upcoming events.
Until last summer he was working full time as a middle school teacher in King City. He juggled his teaching job with his growing Wine Wrangler business for as long as he could, but in June last year decided the business was growing too large to handle on a part-time basis.
“I do miss the kids,” he says of finally leaving teaching, but he continues to be an educator of sorts — teaching his customers about the process of making wine, and the experience of drinking it.
A winemaker himself, he has been making about a barrel a year from his own small vineyard of zinfandel, cabernet and syrah.
“A lot of the people coming to the area are brand new to wine. They like wine, they drink wine, they have wine for dinner, but they’re just new to the experience,” Barnes explains. “That’s where it’s incumbent upon us and the industry to promote the best face, and say, ‘Hey, you’re welcome to come and see us.’ ”
Barnes is working on a variety of new programs to attract and excite potential visitors and locals to his wine tours.
He has just started offering midweek afternoon tours so people who can’t dedicate an entire day can go wine tasting and touring for a few hours.
He is planning to offer tours to the Monterey wine country from Paso Robles, and vice versa.
He is finalizing a “pub crawl” that would include local breweries from Paso Robles, Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. And he continues to offer his popular Hearst Castle tours.
With publicity like the October issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine’s six-page feature story on Paso Robles, and its assessment that the area’s unique winemakers have “launched Paso wines into the stratosphere,” Barnes sees limitless opportunities in the region.
“The quality of the wine here is better than any place in the world, based not only on grape quality, but beyond that based on their value,” Barnes says.
People tell me on these tours, “I can’t believe how good this wine is, and how inexpensive it is.”
The Wine Wrangler
800 Pine St., Paso Robles, 238-5700 or (866) 238-6400
Owners: Coy and Sarah Barnes
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.