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Small wineries, locals soak in 34th Paso Robles Wine Festival

Locals, visitors celebrate 2016 Paso Robles Wine Festival

The 34th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival was held May 19 through May 22, with the main attraction being the Grand Tasting. A few thousand visitors flocked to City Park to enjoy music, food and — most importantly — samples from 73 area wineries.
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The 34th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival was held May 19 through May 22, with the main attraction being the Grand Tasting. A few thousand visitors flocked to City Park to enjoy music, food and — most importantly — samples from 73 area wineries.

A 3-decade-old Paso Robles tradition continues to inspire winemakers and beckon visitors to the Central Coast’s growing wine industry.

The 34th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival was held Thursday through Sunday, with the main attraction being Saturday’s Grand Tasting. A few thousand visitors flocked to City Park to enjoy music, food and — most importantly — samples from 73 area wineries.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance puts on the yearly event, which is a celebration of all that the local wine industry has to offer. Winemakers who pour at the Grand Tasting get free exposure — the event hasn’t charged a booth fee for the past two years — and a chance to grow their customer base, said Chris Taranto, the Alliance’s communications director.

“It’s like an instantly qualified audience,” he said. “They’re there to have a good time. They’re interested in what (wineries) are pouring. They’re already basically a customer of wine, and now all they’ve got to do is turn them on to what it is that they’re pouring.”

Winemakers’ goal is to sell their products directly to customers, Taranto said. Wineries can also sell wholesale to restaurants and clients, he said, but building a fan base through individual purchases or wine clubs is their real goal.

“Wine is that special,” Taranto said. “Wine is not a jar of mayonnaise.”

The winemakers who poured for festival attendees on Saturday hoped their products would draw visitors to their wineries on Sunday. Though bottles weren’t sold at the festival, Taranto said, attendees could join a wine club or order bottles for pickup.

Small wineries and winemakers appearing at the festival for the first time were happy for the chance to connect with customers.

Pedro Vargas of Vino Vargas started his small winery in the northwest Paso Robles region in August. This festival was his first, although he said he’d taken his European-inspired wines to events throughout California. Visitors come to Vino Vargas on an appointment-only basis, which Vargas said is part of his attempt to make his winery a “destination.”

“We just thought that now being a local Paso winery, we would have to represent,” Vargas said of pouring at the festival. “Plus, it’s a fun place.”

Larry Rasmussen and his son, Niles, of Rasmussen Vineyards and Winery made their second appearance at the festival. The two are dipping their toes into winemaking — they previously only grew grapes for other wineries, but began saving some to make their own creations. Right now, they’re producing fewer than 1,000 cases.

“When I got into this business, I saw too many people getting ahead of themselves,” Larry Rasmussen said.

Bigger wineries used the festival to connect with friends and gain new customers. Chronic Cellars has been pouring at the festival for more than a decade. This year, they handed out free koozies for attendees to put around their glasses.

“It’s almost like you have to do it (participate) because it’s part of town,” said Josh Beckett, Chronic’s founder. “I don’t see us ever not doing it.”

Although the festival mostly drew out-of-towners — Taranto said 88 percent of attendees were visiting San Luis Obispo County — local residents enjoyed getting the chance to try out lots of area wineries at once.

That was certainly true for Helena Moze and Jason Boswell of Paso Robles. The festival allowed them to sample “places that we haven’t actually been to yet, even though we’re local,” Moze said, adding that she’s proud to live in a region that’s known for its wines.

“It’s fun to go on vacation and see wines from our town,” she said.

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