Locals interested in an entertaining wine night signed up to “come away” to Paso Robles Friday, September 25 for a virtual getaway, tasty sips, their own accompaniments — and all for a good cause.
The Coronado Rotary Club hosted a wine tasting event online for the first time to continue its polio fundraiser tradition of a tasting gathering, wines for sale and an auction — despite the pandemic.
Coronado Rotary has been meeting weekly online since March 15, said club member and one of the event organizers Kris Grant. The gathering was the club’s 12th wine tasting end-polio fundraiser but a first virtual occurrence, with proceeds still going to the worldwide Rotary cause End Polio Now. Funds also included large donations, matching and auction items often ramped up during the unique and amusing online chat bidding.
Tastings focused on Paso Robles wines including two guest speakers, Stacie Jacob from Travel Paso and Christopher Taranto from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. The “Pioneers of Paso” winemakers featured were Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines and Janell Dusi of J Dusi Winery.
The wines selected were an Eberle cabernet sauvignon, a Hope treana chardonnay and a J Dusi pinot grigio. Each winemaker shared about their featured wine, followed by tasting thoughts from a local “celebrity” Rotarian wine-taster; participants included Coronado City Manager Blair King, resident Fred Mougayar — a sommelier by profession — and Jim Laslavic, recently retired KNSD sports director and a former NFL player; Laslavic and Eberle played football together at Penn State under legendary coach Joe Paterno.
“We almost didn’t have anything this year,” Grant said of the annual fundraiser, adding how she called Sue Maack (the wine-tasting planning committee’s co-chair along with Kitt Williams) and suggested a virtual event — based on Grant’s experience with webinars as a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. “It is amazing what you can learn about a region and how much a virtual wine tasting can whet your appetite to travel to an area.”
Paso Robles is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as about half an hour from the coast, with over 32,000 residents. And with over 200 wineries, Jacob shared how it’s the epicenter of the craft beer and distillery movement.
The California central coast city has a western border six miles from the Pacific Ocean and a diverse landscape, from river bottoms and flat lands to rolling hills and mountains on either side as well as the Salinas River running through it. Taranto explained how the climate, porous soil absorbing moisture like a sponge and even spongy lightweight rock, contribute to the region’s high-quality wine.
Jacob described the feeling of the area as casual, unpretentious — “cowboys who surf.”
And probably love wine.
Various participant screens during the event covering Paso Robles, delicious wine and generous auction items showed fun Zoom backgrounds, single tasters as well as duos, trios and larger gatherings in backyard patios complete with charcuteries and lots of laughter.
Eberle said grinning that his rules of wine start with how it has to be red. A typo added an extra thousand to a bid and that got a laugh. And auction items included a local champagne brunch for six, an heirloom video bumped up to two, and time with a couple consisting of two past Rotary presidents.
The final tally for funds raised will occur after the Rotary meeting Wednesday but $150,000 is a conservative estimate of what has been raised to date, Grant offered. She also noted the purchase matching provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the effort to eradicate polio everywhere. The World Health Organization reports we’re 99% of the way to no longer having polio exist.
This summer Grant and a friend went on a road trip to visit a third friend in Monterey. Grant suggested they stop in Paso to wine taste and called Taranto, who put her in touch with Eberle and Dusi. She stopped at their wineries, and Eberle suggested Grant taste at Hope’s as well. And when Grant connected with Jacob at the tourism bureau, Jacob helped arrange the auction prize for a Paso getaway.
“I feel like I have so many friends in Paso now,” Grant said, “and that’s something that I’ve seen people say over and over. It’s the people that make that area special.”
Grant shared how the Rotary’s wine-tasting committee got involved with a series of Zoom planning meetings.
“Ray Karno has been spectacular creating videos and organizing all the people,” she said. “Jim Kaufman (who normally hosts the event at his home) has been the repository for the 72 bottles of wine I brought back. It was really hot in Paso when I was there, so I had to whisk the wine into my car and quickly into my air-conditioned hotel room, and then not make any stops as I hightailed it home!”
Grant said she heartily recommends Paso for a road trip with wineries having outdoor settings, patios overlooking vineyards and cooling misters — as well as many restaurants which beckon since she heard about them on a recent Paso Wine podcast.
The evening concluded with encouragement to get back to Kaufman’s house and photos of past events set to nostalgic but inspiring music.
The Coronado Rotary Club has over 250 members with its average Zoom attendance around 100.