It was billed as an educational day courtesy of the Central Coast Wine Growers Association and was going to be held at Salisbury Vineyards in Avila Valley and it sounded too interesting to pass up.
Traveling back and forth on Highway 101 from San Luis Obispo to places in South County I’ve often passed that distinctive building on the right side of the road that looked like an old schoolhouse. I remember seeing it years ago in a very run down dilapidated condition and would think as I whizzed by on the freeway that it would be a shame if no one did anything to save it. Well, someone did and they have turned it into an unusual combination of businesses.
The Salisbury family are farmers. John Salisbury hails from the Sacramento Delta and is a 6th generation farmer with family farming dating back to1850. He’s been growing crops there and in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys all his life. He often came to the Central Coast to visit his wife’s grandparents who lived in the Avila Valley. So it wasn’t too much of a leap for him to pull up stakes, purchase some prime hillside land, and plant grape vines. Thus began Salisbury Vineyards and Winery.
Salisbury, his wife Maridel, daughter Jennifer and son-in-law Kevin all got into the act and they decided to purchase the old schoolhouse, renovate it, and turn it into a tasting room and art gallery. The marriage of the two businesses worked as well as John and Maridel’s marriage. He did the vineyard, she did the art gallery.
On the day of our tour we arrived at 11 A.M. and boarded the trolley for a short ride up into the hills of the vineyard. Once there John spoke to us about his method of growing grapes. We stood amongst dormant Pinot Noir vines that had grasses and wild mustard growing beneath between the rows. John gave us a demonstration on how he prunes the vines, a laborious process done with clippers by hand. I can imagine that it takes many days to finish this task.
John told us about clones and weather and irrigation and sustainability and bottling and aging until my head hurt, but all of it was a good lesson for a neophyte learning about the special wine industry here on the Central Coast.
I learned what it means when someone says “fruit forward” and I realized that I like that style of wine. I found myself signing up for Club Avila: the After-School Wine Club and went home with three bottles of my favorites after tasting. I especially liked the Pinot Naturale, a sparkling wine without the sparkle!
So the next time you are flying down the freeway toward Pismo Beach and glance over and see the old schoolhouse, now sparkling in the sun, veer off at San Luis Bay Drive and stop in and take a seat at the bar and enjoy some of the selections at Salisbury Vineyards. You won’t regret it.
Salisbury Vineyards and the Schoolhouse Tasting Room are located at 6985 Ontario Road, San Luis Obispo (Avila Valley). Open Mon – Thurs from noon to 5 P.M.; Fri – Sun from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M.