A Santa Rosa wine and beer shop allowing customers to try before they buy won approval Thursday from the Santa Rosa Planning Commission.
Rincon Valley Wine and Craft Beer would be the first shop in Sonoma County to feature automated self-serve wine dispensers that let customers sample wines on tap before they decide to buy a bottle.
The new venture would be a cross between a wine shop and wine bar, and would be a departure from the time-honored Wine Country tradition of having trained professionals pour wine samples.
Instead, a sleek wine robot would do the job, dispensing 1-, 2- or 4-ounce pours of 16 to 20 wines from machines specially designed to preserve the wines for weeks.
Owners Michael Scalet and Renee Reynolds of Sonoma are behind the new venture, their first foray into the retail wine business.
"Renee and I just noted that there was a complete absence of real wine shops in Santa Rosa," Scalet said.
While there are shops like Bottle Barn and BevMo and supermarkets with shelves bursting with wine selections, the city is solely lacking in wine shops with "real customer service," he said.
Scalet, an author and wine blogger who recently returned to Sonoma after seven years in Oakland, said the dispensers are a service to help customers make better wine purchases. They are not meant as a revenue generator, but are designed to drive sales of wine bottles and discussions about wines, he said.
Shoppers put money on electronic cards, which they will then insert into the dispensers before making their wine selection. Scalet is in talks with three different manufacturers and hasn't decided on a brand yet.
Wine dispensers are becoming more common in restaurants and bars and have been credited with expanding the range of wines they can offer by the glass. The machines force an inert gas, usually argon, into the bottle, preventing oxygen from spoiling the wine.