Much has changed over the past two years since Ali Rush Carscaden opened her Templeton wine bar named 15 degrees C.
First of all, she no longer has a partner. Good friend Allison Dominguez, who began the business with her, decided to pursue her interest in environmental science and has since moved on (amicably) to another job in Edna Valley, leaving Carscaden the sole owner.
Her original inventory of 300 wines from around the world has expanded to more than 500, and her beer selection has grown to more than 30 international brands. She’s also added a panini maker to the shop, a professional meat slicer for her expanded charcuterie selection and a wide selection of artisanal cheeses. And just last month, Carscaden achieved her goal of becoming a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the second revered wine organization to certify her status as a sommelier.
But some things haven’t changed, such as her love of wine and her desire to help others share in the experience. “We’re always willing to help people, no matter what their price point, no matter what they’re looking for,” Carscaden said.
In fact, the last two years have gone beyond even Carscaden’s original expectations. “The bar has actually been far more successful than I had ever imagined,” she said.
That success is the result of Carscaden’s creative marketing, relentless hard work and vast knowledge of the world of wine.
The Cal Poly grad started in the wine industry when she was still in school, first working in sales and marketing positions at Eberle and Castoro and then selling wine as a representative for the Henry Wine Group for four years.
She opened 15 degrees C (named for the ideal storage temperature for wine) with Domin-guez when the friends were just 27 years old. Their goal was to feature wines not otherwise found on the Central Coast, including wines from France, Italy, Spain and Germany.
She also carries a small selection of local wines from selected small wineries such as Villa Creek, Booker, L’Aventure and Four Vines. Wines are offered by the taste and by the glass, in addition to full bottles and cases.
And a full menu of sandwiches, salads, cheeses and other nibbles is available to savor with the wine or to take out.
Local winemakers immediately found new sources of inspiration in the wine carried there and made 15 degrees C a favorite destination. “It’s definitely quite the industry hangout,” Carscaden said. In fact, she estimates that close to 80 percent of her sales go to clientele that are somehow associated with the local wine industry.
But it’s clients without vast wine knowledge that Carscaden is intent on bringing into the shop and educating. In January she is starting her fifth “Wine University” program, an intense six-week course on wines from around the world, based on a class she has taught at Cal Poly.
“We end up tasting thousands of dollars of wine in the class because I get really enthusiastic about something, and I have to go and open it,” she explained.
The 15 degrees C calendar also includes Thursday wine & food pairings, Friday champagne and oyster bar and Monday industry night. Every day represents a new opportunity to taste new wines and introduce them to her customers.
She also carries a wide assortment of olive oils, salts and wine-related merchandise for customers looking for gifts in addition to wine.
Her location next to Trader Joe’s has been ideal for attracting walk-in traffic, and she has partnered with her other neighbor, fish market Pier 46, in programs like her recent sushi night tasting, featuring fresh fish from just across the parking lot.
She describes the Vineyard Center, which also includes Joe Bella, a local organic coffee house, as an “old world marketplace” where everything for dinner is within a short walk.
Although she has hired a full-time assistant to help staff the store seven days a week, Carscaden is usually found behind the bar. Asked how many hours a week she works, she laughed and replied, “I have not kept track of that. It would be far too scary to actually try to add it up.”