October 27, 2015 – Cannery Row’s newest attraction is much more than a tasting room, it’s an entire wine experience where you can choose how deeply to indulge—from simply sipping and nibbling, to taking classes, creating your own blends, designing bottle labels or making your own wine from fresh grapes.
“Everyone knows what a micro-brewery is, this is going to be an urban micro-winery,” says owner and mastermind Brent Virgin. The Wine Experience, located at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, is still gearing up, offering nine wines by the glass and a small selection of snacks, but before the end of the year plans to start holding daily classes in wine appreciation and blending.
Virgin describes himself as a “corporate refugee” and had a successful 25 year career as an IT executive before finding himself out of work in 2013 when HSBC sold off its Salinas office to Capital One, which closed it the very next day. Rather than accept a new post with the company in Chicago, Virgin decided follow his passion for wine in Monterey and he’s been working on his retail concept ever since.
“I noticed there are coaches available for all sorts of things—cooking, fitness, lifestyle—and I thought why not a coach for winemaking,” he explains. “There are stores out there specializing in helping people make beer, but nothing for wine.”
To prepare for the opening, Virgin has been studying winemaking for the past year and a half at UC Davis and consulting with local winemakers, like David Coventry, the former winemaker at De Tierra and Puma Road. Eventually he plans to offer 14 Monterey County wines on tap for tasting at the Wine Experience, four whites and 10 reds. And he hopes that some of them will be wines he’s already making himself.
Meantime, he is preparing course material that will be used in five core classes.
Class number one is “Introduction to Wine,” to be followed by “Wine Sensory Analysis,” which will help wine enthusiasts train their palates and know what to look for in wine.
Class three will be “Wine and Food Pairing” and here Virgin is getting lots of assistance from his girlfriend Claudia Quirarte, executive director of Monterey Chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
The signature Wine Experience class will be on “Wine Blending.” Customers can create their own custom blend in a glass and then have it replicated in a bottle to take home. But why not leave the blending to the pros?
“You know your own palate better than anyone else,” he explains. “You know best what you like and here you can dial in the flavors to be exactly what you want.” Virgin says he’s already tried out the class at “Blending Parties” for his friends with great results.
The next step is labeling and Wine Experience will have a label machine and graphic designer on staff to help customers create their own fantasy label. It could say “Happy Birthday” to someone special or might feature a photo of a couple enjoying their vacation in Monterey to be taken home as a souvenir. Virgin also sees potential for small batch labeling for parties or weddings.
The fifth class he plans to offer is “Winemaking,” which will be the full experience of crafting your own wine starting with fresh grapes. “I will provide all the equipment and source the grapes and follow the fermentation,” says Virgin. “The customer can be involved as little or as much as they want.” Each batch will result in a 6 gallon carboy, enough wine to fill 30 bottles, and Virgin estimates the cost will be $400-600 depending on the grapes.
Wine Experience is currently in a soft opening phase, with tasting and nibbles available Wed-Fri from 2-8pm and Sat-Sun from noon-8pm. We can hardly wait for the rest of the innovative project to get underway.
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.