Wine Classic moves back to Avila Beach

On Thursday, one of San Luis Obispo County’s oldest annual wine events moves back to Avila Beach, where it began in 1984.

The Central Coast Wine Classic has held the bulk of its tastings, symposia, cooking demonstrations and fundraising auctions in Shell Beach the past several years, Chairman Archie McLaren said. This year, most will be at Avila Lighthouse Suites and the Avila Beach Golf Resort.

“We’ve moved the entire event, in essence, except winery dinners and the dinner at Hearst Castle,” said McLaren, also a longtime Avila Beach resident. “The town is essentially finished. It’s ready to be presented to the world at large.”

Contamination from Unocal’s tank farm was discovered in 1989, leading to a cleanup project that leveled and rebuilt Avila Beach’s commercial center. The reconstruction turned the funky beach town into a more upscale destination.

Most Wine Classic attendees are visitors who tend to return year after year, McLaren said. Many do know Avila Beach.

“They are people of means and mobility,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re not impacted very much by the things that take place in the general economy. Our audience comes from probably about 30 states and 200 California communities.”

It’s unclear exactly how many people the four-day Wine Classic series draws between its various events, which range from a 20-person cycling classic to a barrel tasting that attracts more than 300 people. The largest — the Rare & Fine Wine & Lifestyle Auction and the Reserve Wine Tasting — sold out last year at 500 attendees.

Thanks to the ample lawns at the golf resort, the July 10 reserve tasting from 1 to 4 p.m. could accommodate as many as 1,500, Wine Classic spokeswoman Linda Parker Sanpei said. Tickets are $45 per person.

Between events, McLaren hopes visitors might explore the Avila Beach Fish & Farmers Market from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 8 or frequent local tasting rooms.

For McLaren, the highlight is “The Rejuvenation of Avila Beach Through Rhythm,” a July 8 concert that seeks to raise “rhythmic energy to heal the town.”

Concert tickets are $25 at the gate, but those who also want dinner should call 544-1285 for reservations. Those tickets are $125 per person.

The healing music is something McLaren and lead percussionist Airto Moreira began years before, with an event called Avila Drum Days.

“I did it when the oil was bubbling out of the beach,” McLaren said. “I did it again when the buildings were reconstructed. This may be the last time that I do it, but I need to do it.”

The Wine Classic also helps raise funds for local nonprofits. It gave $245,918 to 13 charities in 2010.

For more information, go to or call 544-1285.

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