Biz Buzz: Former Wild Horse owner opens Paso tasting room

A once-large presence in San Luis Obispo County’s wine industry is returning with a new tasting room on the west side of Paso Robles.

After starting Wild Horse in Paso Robles in 1981, winemaker Ken Volk sold the winery, inventory, vineyards and brand for $32 million to Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc., the makers of Jim Beam Bourbon, in 2003. It was one of the highest prices paid for a local wine company at the time.

Volk then started another winemaking operation called Kenneth Volk Vineyards in Santa Barbara County with a refocus on what he loves best.

“At Wild Horse, I became more of a general manager and salesman than a winemaker,” Volk told The Tribune. “But what I really love is making wine — to be in the cellar and vineyard — and now I’m at the right size where it’s fun again.”

Volk has now opened a tasting room for Kenneth Volk Vineyards that’s under the same roof as Lone Madrone’s tasting room on the old Sycamore Herb Farm on Highway 46 West and across from the new Niner Winery and tasting room at Heart Hill.

“With the nature of the wine economy, I need to capture as much consumer-direct business as possible,” Volk said. “Selling to the wholesalers has gotten stretched to the limit, as far as it being profitable. To have traction, I have to spend more time selling it myself.”

He’s also been downsizing because of what he calls a “rough patch” in the economy. He was making 200,000 cases at Wild Horse and was producing about 28,000 cases in Santa Maria Valley about two years ago.

Now he’s down to 12,000 cases. It’s to hedge against an economy that he sees may get “worse before it gets better,” he said.

The new tasting room is small, about 700 square feet but can serve customers outside, Volk said.

The bulk of Kenneth Volk wines range in retail price from about $18 to $48 a bottle and focus mostly on pinot noir, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

But he says he’s working a lot with more esoteric varieties as he searches for the next breakout wine that everyone’s going to want. His bet, he thinks, will be on a Spanish varietal and it will most definitely “be red.”

A graduate of Cal Poly, Volk has served as chairman of the board of the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association and was part of the founding board of World of Pinot Noir. He is a founding board member and chairman of the Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture Advisory Council, according to the Kenneth Volk Winery website.

— Melanie Cleveland

Cuesta’s Stork joins Sierra Vista

Cuesta College interim President Gil Stork has been elected to the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center Governing Board, which consists of 17 members elected for three-year terms.

Stork will fill the remaining term of Dave Pelham, the former Cuesta president who left in November 2009 to lead a college in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Stork has served Cuesta College in a variety of roles since 1967. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Cal Poly and a doctorate in educational administration from Brigham Young University.

— Julia Hickey

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A French Touch Parisian Skin Care Salon has hired aesthetician Sara Salisbury, 22, of Arroyo Grande.

Patricia Kaspian, 53, of San Luis Obispo opened the salon in February in the historic Soda Water Works building at 1023 Nipomo St. in San Luis Obispo.

The salon offers French product lines and services including waxing, facials, mineral makeup and body treatments with an emphasis on gentle and continuous skin care.

— Julia Hickey