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Visitor Center Sells Ventura Wines

It's a first: Oxnard branch of California Welcome Center hopes to educate tourists through tasting and bottle sales

by Jane Firstenfeld
California Welcome Center staffers show off the new wine tasting dispensers at the site in Oxnard, Calif.
Oxnard, Calif.—Through a new joint-venture an official California Welcome Center will sell tastes and bottles of local wines. Wedged between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, Ventura County is home to 30 wineries but is better known for its coastal attractions and as a scenic north/south route. The California Welcome Center in Oxnard is working with the Ventura County Wine Trail to change that perception with the debut of two automated dispensers and sales of bottled wines later this month.

The welcome centers are franchised by the state: 20 are strewn in key locations from Oregon to the Mexican border, many in major wine-producing areas. The Oxnard center is the first to partner with the local wineries.

“We are a new creature altogether,” said Susan Smith, president/CEO of the Oxnard Center, which opened in an upscale shopping mall in December 2013.

Two sleek new Italian-made wine dispensers from WineEmotion are already in place but not yet in use, pending the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s final approval, which Smith expects within two weeks. The beverage control bureaucrats “love the tasting machines,” she said, since they are programmed to pour standard 1.5-oz. tastes from participating wineries.

In addition to a rotation of wines to taste, the center will sell bottles of wine and has worked with restaurants in the Oxnard Town Center to waive corkage fees for wines purchased there. “I think we’re the first to do that,” Smith said.

Smith hopes that as an official state franchise, and the public face of Ventura County tourism, the center will bring added cachet to the wines and the wineries they represent.

The set-up will pay double dividends to participating wineries, since the center purchases the case goods outright and is designed to fuel visits to nearby wineries, building direct-to-consumer sales.
The California Welcome Center (in royal blue) in Oxnard, Calif., is ringed by wineries (indicated by maroon stars).

One-stop tour
“We want people to recognize Ventura winemaking for what it is. We source grapes from all over the state, from Lodi to Napa to Ojai,” said David Whittemore, marketing and PR manager for Oxnard’s 200,000-case Herzog Wine Cellars, which is a brand of Royal Wine Corp. 

“The biggest story for us is that someone could taste through all of California wine country in one stop” by sampling Ventura-vinted wines at the welcome center, said Whittemore who is also the spokesman for the trail.

Whittemore does not anticipate any decreases in direct-to-consumer sales when the center starts pouring. “If you come in as a tourist, typically you don’t even realize there is a wine trail,” he said. “Most of the wineries are centrally located around the facility.”

With the debut still in the offing, Whittemore was reluctant to speculate about the metrics. Each winery has agreed to a one-year commitment, rotating different varietals through the seasons. Wineries agreed to provide the welcome center with 12 cases per year. Given dispensed tastes and bottle sales, this is a rather modest goal; Whittemore said he’s hoping to sell at least 24 cases per year through the center.

The first wines to be poured include:

Four Brix Winery (Ventura, 1,800 cases): 2011 Zeductive

Panaro Brothers Winery (Ventura, 500 cases): 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Plan B Wine Cellars (Ventura, 1,000 cases): 2011 GSM Classic Rhône Blend

Rancho Ventavo Cellars (Oxnard, 2,500 cases): 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 

• Herzog Wine Cellars 2010 Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon

• Herzog Wine Cellars 2012 Eagles Landing Syrah

Magnavino Cellars (Oxnard, 2,800 cases): 2012 “Beautiful” 6-Blend White Wine

Cantara Cellars (Camarillo, 2,700 cases): 2011 Ruth’s Vineyard Chardonnay

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