Siduri Wines takes the leap with a new Healdsburg tasting room
Adam Lee, the winemaker at Siduri Wines, had to be talked into opening his winery’s new tasting room right off the busy Healdsburg Plaza.
It was a matter of numbers. In a town of almost 11,000 residents, there are 36 tasting rooms - 34 clustered in its small downtown alone.
“In Santa Barbara, there are tons of tasting rooms. How does a place distinguish itself? That was a concern of mine,” Lee said.
Lee, 52, and his wife, Dianna, founded the Siduri pinot noir label in the early 1990s and then became a kind of Horatio Alger story when it was bought in 2015 by Jackson Family Wines. They were already comfortable in their Santa Rosa industrial warehouse location where they made the wine, carving out a small wooden tastings bar for the in-the-know fans drawn to its vast West Coast vineyard selections and minimalist winemaking.
David Bowman, executive vice president of estate brands for Jackson Family Wines, made his pitch to Lee over glasses of wine. (Since the sale, Dianna has left the day-to-day operations to raise their three children.) The new space, at the former Kendall-Jackson Partake location on Healdsburg Avenue, could draw more customers while still reflecting their ethos: They take their wine seriously... themselves, not so much.
“We wanted to make it true to him and true to Siduri,” Bowman said of the label, which is named after the Babylonian goddess of wine. “What it doesn’t feel like to us is a tasting room. Really, it’s a wine lounge where we want people to hang out.”
Indeed, this is not your father’s tasting room. The decor has an urban industrial design, with a motif that appeals to Gen Xers. There’s a turntable with LP records (U2’s “War” is visible from the stacks) and games such as Trivial Pursuit.
Craft beer is on tap and starters and bites are provided by the chefs at Forestville’s Backyard restaurant. There’s also one TV, as Lee is a big Dallas Cowboys fan.
The Siduri Wine Bar and Tasting Lounge opened three months ago at the tail end of the tourist season, and it already feels like a success to the couple.
“We actually had to be won over in some way, in shape and form. That it really works to what we feel comfortable with. And it has,” Lee said over a Journey song playing on the turntable.
But Lee and Jackson Family Wines face the same quandary other vintners are grappling with.
The average winery today is making about ?60 percent of its sales directly to consumers, according to an estimate by Rob McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division.
What is the best way to reach them?
There is a debate in more rural areas of Sonoma and Napa counties over events and the influx of tourists they generate. But there is another debate in the industry about “wine ghettos,” areas of small cities and towns with a large concentration of tasting rooms within walking distance, which create an urban experience.
In Santa Barbara County, for example, cities such as Lompoc and Los Olivos are often packed with visitors on weekends, and locals debate how much is too much.
Woodinville, Washington, 30 minutes from Seattle, also has a large cluster of tasting rooms, capitalizing on the off-putting four-hour drive to the Walla Walla wine region. But even that area has experienced a backlash among visitors, who complain it has lost some of its charm, McMillan said. The emerging trend is the opening of tasting rooms in the warehouse districts of Seattle.
And there is Healdsburg, where local officials earlier this year again worried about how to balance tourism with the needs of local residents. The city has a policy that limits tasting rooms around the plaza to two per block, on opposite sides of the street.
There is also debate within the industry about whether wine ghettos boost sales.
“The whole notion of urban tasting - the jury is still out,” McMillan said.
Research in 2012 by Sonoma State University economics professors Steven S. Cuellar, Robert C. Eyler and Rich Fanti found higher retail sales growth at wineries with lower traffic.
“Wineries with low-density tasting rooms create a more relaxed and enjoyable tasting room experience and build greater brand loyalty, ultimately resulting in greater growth in retail sales than their high-density counterparts,” the summary read.
Indeed, while Siduri has seen more visitors in Healdsburg, the average sales are bigger in Santa Rosa, Lee said.
“The people who come to the winery are seeking you out and they are going to drop more coin,” Lee said.
Tim Meinken, owner and winemaker at Gordian Knot Winery in Healdsburg, said he doesn’t think there will be many more tastings added in the city unless the label is backed by a large wine company that has the financial resources.