April 10, 2018 – Sangria—a mainstay of college parties and vacation libations—suffers from a bad reputation, often coming off as sickly-sweet and unsophisticated. Now a company in Hollister is out to change all that at California’s first-ever sangria tasting room.
Epicenter Wine Room, home to the Seizmic Sangria label, opened in March in the newly designated walking district of downtown Hollister. It’s situated at 620 San Benito Street, just down the block from two popular local restaurants, Fisher’s and the Running Rooster, and across the street from Farmhouse Café, San Benito Bene, and Heavenly Bakery.
So far, says owner Diane Castaneda, the response has been even better than she hoped it would be. The wine room, open Wednesday through Sunday, features her sangrias along with a selection of wine and craft beer, as well as appetizers, small plates and plates. The names are derived from Hollister’s dubious honor of being one of the most earthquake-prone places in California.
And because it’s easy to walk to restaurants and other attractions, people appreciate it after a long day commuting to and from work. “On Friday nights, you can park and walk around downtown,” says Castaneda. “You don’t need Uber, you don’t need to drive.”
Castaneda, who founded her San Andreas Beverage Co. several years ago, is now trying to raise the profile of sangrias with creative flavor combinations. The wine room offers sangria flights so that people can taste several different styles, and sangrias can also be ordered by the glass or by the bottle.
The reason why sangrias have gotten a bad rap is that typically people mix them using cheap wine. “If you use better wine, you’re going to have a better sangria,” she says, much like a well-made craft beer is going to be more appealing than a mass-produced American lager.
They’re also working to source the best fruit possible, with apples and berries coming from Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, for example. “See the fogging?” says Castaneda, holding a glass of sangria up to the light. “That’s the fruit. It’s a fruit fest in the wine.”
“They’re handcrafted from start to finish, and everything’s fresh. We don’t use fruit juices, either,” she adds.
The idea, though, is to find the right balance between the fruit and wine, and so her sangrias employ complex and appealing flavors that aren’t too sweet. The fruit also brings down the alcohol content, so that most of the Seizmic Sangrias are around 8.5 to 9%.
Although sangria is typically thought of as being a red wine with citrus fruit, Castaneda and son Ron Ownbey have come up on numerous creative twists on the concept. Their flavors range from peach to chili mango, and they’ve even developed a winter sangria called Apple Spice, which tastes like a mulled wine and can be enjoyed either warm or cold. Another, Savanna Rosé, was named for Castaneda’s granddaughter.
Sangria has been a family tradition for Castaneda, with her father mixing up wine and fruit to take to events and tailgating at Candlestick Park. As an adult, she carried it on, but didn’t think of it as being a potential business until a friend tasted it and urged her to bottle and sell it.
She and Ownbey started researching and developing the idea, and now they’re bottling a number of different varieties, from a traditional red to their white wine-based 4/18, and fruit-focused varieties such as Summertime Peach, Tropical Paradise and Berry Bueno. These are bottled in small batches, and can be purchased at the wine room. They are also available at several local supermarkets and liquor stores in Hollister, in addition to Paine’s Restaurant in Hollister and La Parilla restaurants in Modesto.
When the opportunity to open the wine room came up, an old family friend jumped in as well. John Kouretas, the owner of Paine’s Restaurant for 40 years, wanted to be part of the effort and came on board as co-owner. Kouretas created the menu of light bites for the wine room, and Castaneda also relies on his considerable expertise in dealing with wine and food questions.
There’s not really anything else in Hollister like Epicenter Wine Room. Decorated in a rustic-industrial style that incorporates old apricot drying trays, galvanized metal and Edison lights, it’s a place Castaneda envisions for couples and groups of friends who want to get together for conversation and good sangria. The wine room will also benefit from events such as the upcoming Wine & Beer Stroll on May 5, sponsored by the Downtown Hollister Association.
And because some of their sangrias are seasonal, there’s a lot of anticipation about what’s coming up next, which is announced on a big chalkboard on the wall. “People look forward to what we’re conjuring up,” says Castaneda.
Epicenter Wine Room
620 San Benito St, Hollister