Ancient Oak Cellars' timing couldn't be better. The grand opening of the Santa Rosa winery's tasting room in Corrick's Stationery Store is this weekend, just as the travel media spotlight shines on Sonoma County.
The travel website TripAdvisor last week ranked Sonoma County as the premiere wine destination in the country and number two, must behind Tuscany, in the world.
"It's great news and now our secret is out ...," said Brad Calkins, executive director of the Santa Rosa Convention & Visitors Bureau. "A big part of the reason is the personalized experience you get in Sonoma County. You can go into a lot of tasting rooms and meet the winemakers or owners. A perfect example is Ancient Oak Cellars. They're going to be there."
Ancient Oak Cellars' debut is significant because it's the first tasting room in downtown Santa Rosa. It benefits from an easing of zoning regulations that took effect October 18th.
"I think the changes (in zoning) will allow the city of Santa Rosa to take advantage of its position in the heart of Wine County," said Noah Housh, one of Santa Rosa's city planners. "The Santa Rosa City Council wanted to make it easier for these types of businesses to open up in downtown Santa Rosa and throughout the city."
Housh said his research suggested there was widespread interest in the wine industry, although he doesn't know of any other projects in the works just yet. But Melissa Moholt-Siebert, co-vintner of Ancient Oak Cellars, expects other wineries to follow their lead.
"I'm guessing by next spring there will be another couple (tasting rooms) down here," said Moholt-Siebert. "We don't see that as competition. Once three or four more tasting rooms will be here, it will make downtown Santa Rosa more of a destination and that will be good for us."
Moholt-Siebert has her eye on this compelling statistic: Approximately 24,000 of the 52,000 visitors expected to come to the California Visitor's Center in Santa Rosa this year have specifically shown interest in visiting tasting rooms in the city of Santa Rosa. She crunched these numbers from statistics compiled by the California Visitor's Center and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.
Housh said the statistic suggests a new demographic — a group that likely doesn't have time to visit vineyards but still hopes to take in Wine Country by foot. He said these visitors may be business travelers who say: "Well I'm in Wine Country. Let's go have some wine."
Ancient Oak Cellars is hoping to draw in that foot traffic with its line-up of wines, its swanky 15-foot tasting counter made of elm and oak, and its cork flooring. The tasting room fills 800 square feet of Corrick's, formerly occupied by the china and silver collections, which have been relocated.
"I think it's great there's another place to taste wine, and in such a historic place like Corrick's," said Steve Michel of Santa Rosa, a customer in Corrick's earlier this month.
Moholt-Siebert said she doesn't feel any competition with other tasting areas, like Healdsburg, which has more than a handful of tasting rooms around its plaza.
"In Healdsburg, there's a party atmosphere, certainly during (Wine Road Barrel Tasting)," she said. "Here we have a little more of a laid-back feeling. That's what we're going for."