Group mentors home winemakers and brewers

NORTH COUNTY — Wines and Steins is a local organization developed to foster home beer and winemaking, located in the Paso Robles wine region of San Luis Obispo.

“Our focus is the promotion, education, and enjoyment of hand-crafted wines and beers,” said Wines and Steins president Michael Ferree. “We offer home beer and winemaking mentoring programs and have the major pieces of equipment needed for beer and winemaking, available to our trained members.”

Wines and Steins was started in the late spring of 1979 by a group of home winemakers in the Willow Creek area of rural Paso Robles. They felt that it would be rewarding to get together to share their knowledge of wine and beer making.

“It’s for people who want to understand and appreciate the finer elements of wine and or beer,” Ferree said. “If you are interested it can grow into whatever you want it to grow into.”

Ferree, of Atascadero, has been part of Wines and Steins for the past five to six years and has been a home winemaker for eight years. He makes Petite Sirah and Merlot each year, and Zinfandel when the quality and quantity is available.

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If you’ve driven down Highway 101 between Atascadero and Templeton, you’ve probably noticed the grapevines growing near Best Western Plus Colony Inn. Those petite sirah vines are farmed by Ferree and used in his wine.

“This is a very, very interesting year,” Ferree said. “The grapes are hanging longer than I have ever seen. We think it is good. Everybody says the longer it hangs the better it is.”

Ferree has seen first-hand the impact of both sides of mentorship. Club members mentor first-time wine and beer makers and provide nearly all of the equipment needed to make wine at home. 

“We have a great mentoring program. It’s encouraged me and it has certainly improved the quality of my wines,” Ferree said. “It is rewarding. You become good friends with the people you are mentoring.”

Ferree has been president of Wines and Steins for nearly two years. Members come from every corner of the North County and a sprinkling of members are from Central and South County cities.

Many wineries and industry-related businesses are corporate members. 

“We now have about 100 members,” Ferree said, adding that nearly a fourth are lifetime members, meaning they have been members for at least 10 years. “One of the great things about Wines and Steins is the neat people that are here, all different kinds of people. Some winemakers have been doing it for 20-30 years. Many of our members, some of the older ones have been bonded and are professional winemakers.”

Wines and Steins was the starting point for commercial wineries including Donatoni Winery and Vineyards (Hank and Sandi Donatoni), DeBellis Cellars (Mike and Johna DeBellis), Frolicking Frog Cellars (Stu and Maria Goldman), Poalillo Vineyards (Charlie and Joyce Poalillo), Croad Vineyards (Martin and Croad), Berardo Vineyards and Winery (John and Marilyn Berardo), St. Hilaire Vineyard (John and Laura Anderson), and Felten Cellars (Steve and Mary-Ellen Felten).

Members are encouraged to enter their wine and beer in various state and local competitions.

“Our members have won many gold medals at the California Mid-State Fair Home Wine Competition as well as at the Orange County Fair,” Ferree said.

Wines and Steins meets the first Friday of each month — a general membership meeting where they disseminate information about upcoming events, host guest speakers and conduct any necessary business.

This month the group heard from Stewart McLennan, co-founder of the Garagiste Festival. Wines and Steins will have an informational booth, something they do often over the year, at the Garagiste Festival on Nov. 8-10 in Paso Robles. 

Their December meeting will be a holiday dinner dance in the caves at Eberle Winery. The meetings are open to all members and guests are welcome. 

“During the month, we have various events such as tastings, visitations to wineries, technical seminars and workshops, and social events,” Ferree said.

While most of the membership is home winemakers, there are some homebrewers. Wines and Steins recently purchased new beer-making equipment that will make it easier to produce smaller batches than their previous equipment allowed.

Overall, Ferree enjoys being part of Wines and Steins and hopes to see its membership continue to grow. 

“I really enjoy doing this,” Ferree said. 

To see more details about Wines and Steins go to winesandsteins.org. If you would like to be on our mailing list email webmaster@winesandsteins.net.