Biz Buzz: Atascadero tour pairs artists and wineries for quarterly event

The Atascadero Art & Wine Tour originally sought to connect shoppers with local artists and businesses. Over the years, vino has become a main attraction.

“I’ve learned to put the winery in the back of the building,” said Peabody and Plum office manager Rhonda Curtis. “They don’t often get past the wine tasting.”

Tonight, 21 businesses will stay open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Each featured artist is paired with a winery.

“It’s the same night as the tree lighting,” said founder and photographer Heather Young. “December is our biggest tour every year.”

The quarterly tour began in 2008 as a grassroots effort by a handful of local artists and businesses, inspired in part by San Luis Obispo’s Art After Dark.

Many locations served wine from the start, Young said, but were responsible for providing it themselves.

“Everybody expects to have wine at events around here,” Young said. “It adds another business to help promote the event.”

Tonight’s event will be the first tour officially under the auspices of Atascadero Main Street.

But as soon as the organization joined as sponsor two years ago, it used contacts from its annual Atascadero Wine Festival to coordinate wine donations.

“Most of them are new wineries,” Main Street executive assistant Gail Kudlac said.

Others, such as Castoro Cellars, are well-established.

For vintners, it’s an opportunity to connect with potential buyers who may not know their brand.

Tonight will be Whalebone Winery’s first time on the tour, said owner Janalyn Simpson. Her goal is to attract tasting room visitors.

She and husband Bob Simpson have grown grapes along Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles since 1989, selling to such notables as Justin Vineyards & Winery.

Three years ago, they opened a “tasting barn” on the property. They produce just 1,750 cases a year.

“As Vineyard Drive became the Westside wine trail, we decided to take advantage,” said Simpson. “We don’t do any distribution. Word of mouth is actually our best advertisement.”

In 2011, events will be held March 11, May 13, Sept 9 and Dec. 2.

Recognizing the importance of wineries in attracting visitors to the Central Coast, the San Luis Obispo County Business Improvement District has launched a new website at

The tourism site offers interactive itinerary planning, with an emphasis on the county’s rural, unincorporated areas.

“We have such a diverse and beautiful county,” said district board Chairman Mike Hanchett, owner of San Simeon’s Best Western Cavalier Inn. “This website showcases that diversity and beauty.”

— Raven J. Railey

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