When Signe Zoller started her custom winemaking service just over three years ago, she had no clients, no equipment, no staff and no office — except the one in her house. Much has changed in the last three years.
Today she has more than 20 clients, a bonded, state-of-the-art winemaking facility in downtown Paso Robles, and estimated production of more than 7,000 cases a year.
Next weekend, in conjunction with the annual Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend, Zoller will open a tasting room in her winemaking facility on Pine Street to sell her clients’ wines and promote her services to more customers.
“We didn’t expect to be selling wines at all, that was not our plan,” Zoller said. “But then we realized that these people had made large enough lots that they couldn’t possibly drink it all themselves.”
In addition to the tasting room, which will be open weekends starting Oct. 16, she will feature the wines on her Web site.
The tasting room hasn’t been the only surprise Zoller has encountered since starting the business. The model for ZWS initially was Crushpad in San Francisco. Begun in 2004, Crushpad has a 17,000-square-foot facility, where it helps over 200 clients — who can’t afford the start-up costs of a winery — make wine in small, customized lots.
Zoller thought most of her clients would be individuals seeking wine in 50- to 100-case quantities for themselves, their friends and family.
Instead she has a base of growers and start-up wineries that have extra fruit to process — and no way to make it into wine.
To attract some of the individuals she initially targeted, Zoller now has full barrels of premium wines that can be purchased and bottled for a minimum of one barrel, or about 24 cases. All the barrels are listed on her Web site, along with prices. Zoller’s prices include bottling and custom labeling.
“I’m looking to attract those people who want to get their feet wet in making wine,” she said, “but don’t want to go all the way.”
Zoller’s winemaking resume is impressive. After graduating from UC Davis with a master’s degree in enology in 1984, she worked 11 years at Kendall Jackson, followed by another 11 years at Meridian Winery in Paso Robles, where she succeeded industry veteran Chuck Ortman as head winemaker in 2003.
She was named Winemaker of the Year in 2002 by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and is a past president of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.
Zoller named her business “wine styling” to directly reference the element of style that goes into winemaking. “I like to work with people to find out what style they really like, and then I cater to that,” she said.
Zoller’s clients range from a Torrance fire department investigator to a dentist from Newport Beach to a local landscape company owner.
But most share one thing: “A number of my clients feel like I do — they love every single thing about making wine — all the equipment, the steps you take and all the attention to detail.”
Zoller described her 4,000-square-foot facility as an “upscale studio for an exciting haute couture style of luxury, made-to-order winemaking.”
She is also making her own wines there. Last year she released her first “Helping Hands” label, from which all the proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Club. And last year she bottled her own irreverently named “Gr8 Ass” Cabernet, which will be available at the tasting room.
More important to Zoller than selling wine, however, is just sharing the joy of winemaking, she says.
Zoller Wine Styling
525 Pine St., Paso Robles, 226-9707
Owner: Signe Zoller
Tasting room hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Harvest Wine Weekend
More than 130 Paso Robles wineries will open their doors and host winemaker dinners, barbecues, winery tours, special tastings, seminars and other educational and entertaining events on Oct. 16-18. Check www.pasowine.com for a listing of all the wineries and events planned. Many require reservations, but many are also free of charge.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at email@example.com.