Initiation

Ever been a member of a wine club? I have visited and tasted wines at a fair number of wineries in California, and they all have wine clubs. Being a member typically offers the advantages of free tasting at the winery, discounted prices on wines shipped to your home, and special event offers. Usually you have to commit to a minimum amount of wine purchased and shipped to your home each year.

I only belong to one wine club, at Justin Winery outside of Paso Robles, California. This membership requires a minimum purchase of 6 bottles two times per year, for a total of 12 bottles per year. I’m such a lightweight drinker that those 12 bottles are plenty, and I often give them away as gifts. The box I received back in April is still sitting on the floor in my living room, unopened.

But I know people who belong to multiple wine clubs. Considering how much you have to purchase each year to maintain membership, I contemplate the possibility that they could be winos, despite them also being fairly hard-core bike riders. Or maybe they like hosting dinner parties where they pour freely (where’s my invitation???). Or perhaps they are stocking up their wine cellars while still employed and have the cash flow to support the habit.

I mentioned special event offers. Earlier this year I received a special event offer from Justin for up to four free tickets to their early August open house celebrating the completion of the remodeling of their public tasting room. Limited time offer, grab it while you can. So I put in for 4 tickets, thinking that I’d go with my galpal and invite some couple I know. That couple turned out to be my cycling bud Mario and his wife Ofra, but unfortunately I ended up going as a singleton with a spare ticket in his back pocket.

Some backstory is apropos here. Earlier this year I purchased a house in the town of Templeton, just south of Paso Robles, with the idea of retiring there. It’s a fabulous cycling area, and Mario knows he’s going to be visiting regularly once I make the move. But for this weekend, Mario and Ofra came up for an initiation to the area – he and I to go riding early in the morning while Ofra sleeps in, then we all take a nice Saturday afternoon cruise down scenic Vineyard Drive and visit the caves at Justin.

Mario and I rode the two-lane blacktops south and east of Templeton, including a bit of a grunt going up South El Pomar Road. Here is Mario at the top of the climb, with early morning fog from the coast still lingering over the upper Salinas Valley.

Mario at the top of the South El Pomar climb

Mario at the top of the South El Pomar climb

Heading into Templeton, we came upon an interesting arrangement of car and road embankment. I’m not sure if this is a statement about drinking and driving, an art piece, or maybe somebody just got fed up with the faulty electrical system in their old Jag.

seen better days

seen better days


yeah, slow down

yeah, slow down

We stopped in Templeton for coffee at Dark Nectar, where Max was on barrista duty and the coffee is half-off price for cyclists. That’s my kinda java.

Dark Nectar

Dark Nectar



Max at Dark Nectar

Max at Dark Nectar

Later in the day we took our drive out to Justin to see the remodeled public tasting room. There were three tastings and some appetizers at the new room, which was quite nice and immensely larger than the original facility. But the real action was at the member’s tasting room down the road. We headed over there on a shuttle built to look like a cable car in San Francisco and found tasting stations in the caves behind the member room. Here I am in the main cave space, picking my reserve barrel.

my kingdom for a tap

my kingdom for a tap

I’m not so convinced that the discounted prices members get on bottles are even as good as the prices at Bevmo, but it sure is fun being able to take your friends to the winery and get the “member” treatment. Mario and I even had a chance to chat with Justin Baldwin for a bit, he started this outfit back whenever. At the end of the day, Mario was ready to retire from his job and spend more time riding and wine tasting in this area, so the initiation was a good plan.

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