Wine & Beer

This Arroyo Grande winery is closing after 15 years — and all the wine is half off

Watch the hustle and bustle of a California wine grape harvest

Workers harvest pinot noir grapes at Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, California, on a recent October morning as the Autumn grape harvest kicks into full swing.
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Workers harvest pinot noir grapes at Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, California, on a recent October morning as the Autumn grape harvest kicks into full swing.

After 15 years producing wines on the Central Coast, Arroyo Grande-based Phantom Rivers Wine has announced it will be closing down at the end of May. 

The winery opened in 2004, under the leadership of Steve and Sue Mathis, John and Linda Thunen and Gary and Diana Smith. 

On Monday, John Thunen, the winemaker, said he and the other partners had decided to retire from the business because it was “time to move on.”

“We all started at pretty much — let’s put it politely — a healthy age,” Thunen, 77,  said in a phone interview with The Tribune. “Our partners  were anxious to say that it is time to move on.”

Thunen said Phantom Rivers began after he started making wine as an amateur in his spare time; he and his partners submitted them to several competitions and quickly began winning awards and recognitions, he said.

“We just decided, ‘Why not? Let’s make it happen,’ ” Thunen said.

According to the winery’s website, the name Phantom Rivers comes from “the streams of misty fog that roll in during the evenings at many of our vineyard sites.” The business uses grapes from vineyards around San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast, including Rolph and Still Waters vineyards in Paso Robles and Wolff Vineyards in the Edna Valley. 

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John Thunen, in red, his wife Linda and Steve Mathis at their Phantom Rivers Tasting Room in the Arroyo Grande village soon after it opened in 2009. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It wasn’t easy going at first, Thunen said. Though the wines were raking in awards, Thunen said he and his partners at times felt unprepared to run a winery.

“We didn’t frankly understand the business all that well at first,” he said. “We understood a principal ingredient of it was to be in the sales business, and we didn’t enjoy that. That wasn’t our objective.”

Roughly five years after starting the business, Phantom Rivers opened its signature tasting room in the Village, in the little blue house right next to Branch Street Deli and across from Rooster Creek Tavern.

That location was a boon for the business, Thunen said, because it brought them into direct contact with their customers — and helped remind them of why they began making wine in the first place.

“That was the reward,” Thunen said. “The compliments and the connections that we got from people.” 

All good things must end though, and Thunen said he and his business partners reached a point in recent years where they wanted to slow down and leave the business behind.

“It just became more than we can handle,” he said.

At first they sought out a buyer for the business, but when a potential purchase fell through, they decided instead to retire the winery as a whole, Thunen said.

Now they are hoping to sell out their entire stock before the official closing date of May 31. 

Thunen said they have approximately 1,000 cases of wine left to sell. Each bottle is on sale for 50 percent off.

“We would like the public to be aware of it and help us to get rid of the remaining wine — it’s more than what we can drink ourselves,” Thunen joked. 

Phantom Rivers will also hold one last wine event for its wine club members on April 13 and 14 to thank them for their patronage and support over the years.

“I think the motto we’ve used for it is ‘appetizers, cheers and tears,’” he said. “Because our wine club members are very sorry to see it happen, and we are too. But we’ve had a good time, and we hope we can maintain some of the relationships we’ve made.”

The Phantom Rivers Wine tasting room is open at 211 E. Branch St., Monday through Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m., with an additional hour on Fridays. 

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.


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