Follow-Up File: Good news pours from tasting room

Name: Kari Kittinger

Job: Direct sales manager

Company: Clayhouse Wines

What she said then: In January 2009, The Tribune featured Clayhouse Wines, which had just opened a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles.

From the first day, referrals from other neighboring tasting rooms “slammed” Clayhouse with business, said Kari Kittinger, direct sales manager for the winery.

With a 1,400-acre vineyard off Highway 46 East, the winery is owned by the Middleton family of Hoquiam, Wash.

It’s named for a 150-year-old adobe structure on the vineyard property. The adobe look is incorporated in the design of 13th Street tasting room.

What she says now: Referrals, particularly from other nearby tasting rooms, continue to be a steady source of customers.

“Business has been good,” Kittinger said. “It has exceeded my expectation.”

There are 20 wine brands now represented downtown, she said. They continue to meet monthly to market themselves as a subgroup within the Paso Robles wine region.

“We’re always looking for new things to do to brand downtown,” she said. “People are still getting used to the fact that there are tasting rooms downtown.”

The group is planning a new event, The Art of Wine, on April 16. From 6 to 9 p.m. it will showcase the downtown wines at Studios on the Park. If successful, it could be held yearly.

To encourage repeat traffic from local customers, Clayhouse started the Locavore Club, offering a 10-percent discount to members who agree to purchase a bottle a month.

Unlike most wine clubs, members aren’t asked to register a credit card to pay for automatic shipments. Rather, they’re encouraged to drop in for the purchase and invited to after-hours tastings and other events.

“Basically it’s a customer-retention club,” said Kittinger. She wouldn’t disclose numbers, but said “it’s been successful for us. Now they know about our product and we can keep in touch with them.”

The ability to serve a full glass — as opposed to a 1-ounce taste — was granted by a new state law signed in October. Most days, it’s an option for customers who request it.

“Before the answer was always no,” Kittinger said.

But sales by the glass is the focus of Clayhouse’s new Friday Night Wind Down promotion held 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. through March, which offers food and live acoustic guitar.

To build the referral business it relies on, Clayhouse — like other wineries — gives hefty discounts to those in the local wine industry. Members of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance get Clayhouse wines at half price.

Kittinger also believes networking with representatives from tourism groups, chambers of commerce, hotels and restaurants to build word of mouth buzz about the tasting room has helped.

“It’s all about community here, and camaraderie,” she said. “The big picture starts with marketing and branding Paso Robles as a destination first.”

— Raven J. Railey