Biz Buzz: Niner Wine offers classes for all levels

Those wanting to deepen their experience of world wines might consider Monday evening courses that Niner Wine Estates will offer in the first half of 2011.

The series could help people prepare for basic-level exams given by Court of Master Sommeliers, Wine and Spirits Educational Trust and Society of Wine Educators. But Niner’s classes, which cost $75 individually, also attract those just curious to learn about and try wines.

“It really is meant to demystify, make it simple and easy to enjoy,” said Rick Toyota, sommelier and director of hospitality for the Paso Robles winery.

A couple planning a trip to Italy, for example, could attend the classes focused on that country. Some may just want to find what they like from a region or to get help reading the labels and making more satisfying choices when shopping.

For more than eight years, Toyota offered similar courses at wineries in Morgan Hill and Oregon.

“I worked for Mondavi years ago,” he added. “They were in the forefront of education. That’s where I got my bug for this.”

Finishing his first year at Niner, Toyota’s mission includes developing programs on food and wine. Last summer, he offered basic weekend classes that attracted both consumers and winery workers.

“It brings more customers to our facility,” which opened to the public earlier this year, Toyota said. “It helps establish within the industry our credentials as a winery and wine education leaders for the region.”

He expects the upcoming series to attract between 12 and 30 people per class. About a dozen winery staff and wine club members have signed up for one or more evenings.

Discounts range from 10 percent to 20 percent for those who purchase a five-class or full-course program, wine club members and those in the wine, restaurant or service industries.

From 6 to 8:30 p.m., each session focuses on a specific topic or region. After lecture and discussion, students evaluate six to 10 wines in a blind tasting. January’s classes are introductory, while the final one on June 27 covers standards for serving wine.

The other 17 evenings each pick a specific region from the West Coast, Europe, South America, South Africa or New Zealand.

Students learn the grapes and wines common to each region, plus the laws and traditions that govern winemaking there.

Classes will be held at Niner’s hospitality center on Highway 46 West.

For more information, call 239-2233 or e-mail

— Raven J. Railey

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