Central Coast Wine Insider Blog



Summer Vineyard at Sunset

You know you want to spend the day in wine country!

Summer is upon us ~ Check out some of the fun in the sun!

Looking for Wine Country Events happening in June in one of
California’s Central Coast Wine Regions?
Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara County
Well, drink up!

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BT: What’s your role at Monochrome Wines?
Dave McGhee: 
Owner and co-winemaker. [I do] a little bit of everything: planning and making the wines, working on the branding and marketing aspects, paying the bills, running the tasting room, etc.

BT: How long have you been working in wine and what inspired your start?
Dave: 2016 was Monochrome’s first vintage, but before that, I worked harvests with Villa Creek Cellars and Alta Colina. I got into the business (a) because I like wine, and (b) because I enjoy the creative process of making wine.

We believe in a quote by Coco Chanel:
“To be memorable, you must first be different.”

BT: What’s your educational background?
Dave: I originally trained as an engineer (BS and MS) at Stanford, then went back for an MBA. Only years later did I take the online version of UC Davis’ winemaking program. After that, I received some hands-on experience working at Villa Creek Cellars and then Alta Colina.

Breakaway Tours (BT): What do you love about wine? 
Dave: I love the diversity in the styles in which wine can be produced. It would get rather boring if all wines tasted the same!

BT: Tell us about Monochrome? What sets your wines apart?
Dave: At Monochrome, we focus exclusively on white wines, which sets us apart from nearly all the other wineries in California. While many people assume white wines lack the depth and complexity found in the best reds, we make a point of standing against that notion. We make our white wines with the care and attention to detail that most wineries reserve for their top reds. Our style is sort of a Wall of Sound approach to winemaking: we make all our wines in very small batches (typically barrel or half-barrel sized) and intentionally make each of the batches differently to maximize the range of flavors we have available for blending. It’s a very labor-intensive process, but we think it results in wines with more layers and complexity than we could achieve using more conventional techniques.

BT: Who else is contributing to the success of Monochrome?
Dave: Riley Hubbard and I collaborate on the winemaking (with help from the team at ONX winery, where we make our wines). My wife Erin and I collaborate in the tasting room and other aspects of the business. Bill Kauker helped with the branding, logo design, and website construction.

BT: What other relationships are essential to your success? How do you cultivate those relationships?
For a small winery just starting out, it’s important to get the word out, so relationships with others in the industry are crucial. That [especially] includes tasting room staff at other wineries, wine tour operators, and local hospitality personnel. Ultimately, however, the most important relationship is the one with our customers. Providing a good product and a great experience to them is our primary concern, as they are the ones who drink our wines and hopefully spread the word to their friends!

BT: You’re right! We believe customers are the magic ingredient. What do you love about working with Breakaway Tours and our guests? They’re pretty great, right?
Dave: We are a brand new winery, so have not yet had the pleasure of working with Breakaway. However, we are very much looking forward to it!

BT: There is a lot of incredible wine coming out of California! What do you think are the benefits of producing wine here?
Dave: Diversity and the opportunity to exploit it. California includes a huge number of microclimates, from very warm and dry to cool and damp. That means a huge range of grape varieties and styles are available to wineries such as us. Furthermore, unlike many European winegrowing regions, in California, there are no restrictions on what blends can be produced. That allows winemakers to craft, and consumers to enjoy, an extensive range of wine blends and styles.

BT: Take us on a walk through your average day at work.
Dave: During harvest, it’s up early to greet a load of incoming fruit, then spend the rest of the day processing it. During other times of the year, my day might focus on anything from stirring wine in barrels to supervising bottling to pouring wine at a festival or in our tasting room.

BT: Speaking of harvest, that’s always a wild time of year in the industry. What’s your craziest harvest story to date?
Dave: While trying to load a bin of fermented grapes into a big basket press, a co-worker accidentally dumped them on my head. My observation at the time: “Well, you’d like to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen at Chateau Lafite…. but it probably does.”


BT: Yout mentioned your tasting room in Tin City, Paso Robles. What can your guests expect to have when they visit you there?
Dave: We are set up for tastings by appointment, and guests will be tasting with the actual winemaker (i.e., me). Our goal is to have the experience feel more like tasting wines in a friend’s living room rather than just standing at a bar. Hopefully, guests will enjoy the experience and have the opportunity to learn a bit about wine and winemaking!

BT: What do you hope your guests will say about Monochrome Wines?
Dave: Hopefully they will say our wines are unique and among the best white wines they have tasted. And hopefully, they will tell that to their wine-loving friends!

BT: Of your current releases, what’s tasting great right now and what would you pair with it?
Dave: Our Albarino (Barrel Distortion) seems to be a consensus favorite. It is more complex and full-bodied than most Albarinos, so while pairing beautifully with seafood (Albarino’s traditional strength), it will also go well with chicken, pork, a vegetable dish, or even steak!

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BT: Where do you find inspiration? Who are your wine heroes?
Dave: I’m actually more inspired by artists in other fields: music, painting, etc. Anyone who embodies creativity and individuality.

BT: Any wine trends you love right now? 
Dave: I appreciate the trend among producers and consumers to try things other than just the standard big, bold Cabernets and buttery, oaky Chardonnays. Nothing against those styles, but it is nice to see more interest in some of the less well-known varieties and wines made in unique or individual styles.

BT: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career in wine so far?
Dave: I learned one of my most important lessons while I was making experimental wines in my garage. The lesson was that a blend of wines is invariably more interesting than any one single (component) wine. This realization led to our approach to winemaking at Monochrome, in which we intentionally make a lot of different wines, in different styles, and then blend them back together.

I’m inspired by artists in other fields: music, painting, etc.
Anyone who embodies creativity and individuality.

BT: What’ the hardest part about making wine year in and year out?
Dave: Avoiding the temptation just to be lazy and make the same thing each year! I enjoy challenging myself to do something completely different each vintage.

BT: Is there anything that’s taken you by surprise about winemaking?
Dave: It is nowhere near as glamorous as it seems from the outside!

BT: Do you have any advice for those interested in starting a career in wine?
Dave: Do something different and unique. At a recent class I took at UC Davis, the running joke was that 90% of small wineries had mostly the same story: “We’re a small, family-owned winery. We handcraft wines that reflect our terroir. And we’ve won a few awards.” Don’t be just another one of those!

BT: What do you think is the best way to select a wine to drink? Do you have any tips for wine newbies?
Dave: Your palate is as good as anyone else’s. Don’t be cowed by the “experts.” If you like a wine, it’s good wine. [And] a good wine should continue to be good (if not get better) after the first glass. Sometimes big, heavy wines taste great for the first half glass, but quickly lose their charm. Sort of like beers that are too heavy or deserts that are too rich.

BT: With so many good wines to choose from, tell us: If you were stranded on a desert island, what wine would you bring with you?
Dave: Probably either a complex white or a lighter red, since both of those will pair with a lot of different foods (and who knows what there will be on the desert island!)

BT: So do you usually base your meal on the wine or the wine on your meal?
Dave: I find the “what you like goes with what you like” approach works out at least 90% of the time!


Breakaway Tours Calendar of Events Wine Tours

Spring is upon us! And there is so much good stuff to look forward to in Central Coast wine country. Discover new wines, enjoy a gourmet meal, or contribute to a heartwarming cause. Whatever you do, you’re gonna love it.  

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Erich Russell Rabbit Ridge.jpgBreakaway Tours (BT): What’s your name, where do you work, and what do you do there? 
Erich Russell: Erich Russell. Owner/winemaker/cellar rat at Rabbit Ridge Winery.

BT: How long have you been working in the industry?
Erich: 38 years.

BT: Do you have a formal education in winemaking?
Erich: [I] worked my way up learning at wineries in Sonoma.

BT: What do you love about winemaking?
Erich: [There’s a] new challenge [with] every vintage.

BT: What’s your winemaking style? How do you think your approach differs from others winemakers?
Erich: Natural. We never add acid, but let the vintage speak for itself.

first day of crush.jpgBT: Who are the key players on your team?
Erich: My wife, and [my] step-daughter and her husband who also make their own wine [called] Serrano.

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heart hands.jpg

These romantic Valentine’s Day inspired dinner recipes are sure to get the love flowing. From appetizers to main dishes and sweet treats, take your pick or cook them all to create a special four course meal for you and your sweetie.

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According to a brand new study from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, there’s a positive correlation between ovarian counts in women and moderate red wine consumption*. Trying to conceive? Pour yourself up a glass and turn down the lights, honey! Here are 5 well-loved varietals from across the Central Coast.


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Stephen Ross Dooley.jpg

Stephen Ross Wine Cellars launched in 1994. The intimate, urban tasting room in the heart of San Luis Obispo, California is just steps away from the cellar where owner/winemaker Stephen Ross Dooley and team produce small lot Pinot Noir and other wines.

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Cabernet SauvignonDaou Cabernet Sauvignon.jpg

Capricorn is known to be a hard worker, dedicated to family and tradition. They appreciate structure and routine and can be so tireless in their pursuit of their goals they become workaholics. Take a load off with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Their dark fruit flavors and savory tastes are sure to get the job done. Try a glass of Daou Vineyards.


Aquarius (Jan 20 – Feb 19) – Viognier

Outgoing, bubbly, and a friend to all, Aquarius is frequently the life of the party. Never conventional, their flexible and eccentric personalities mean they’re bound to surprise you just when you think you’ve got them all figured out. A bright Viognier like the one from Sculpterra Winery, will please with flavors ranging from light and fruity to creamy aromas of vanilla and spice.


Pisces (Feb 20 – Mar 20) – Rose

Pisces. The compassionate dreamer. The artsy-craftsy multi-talented friend who’s there when you need to bend someone’s ear. We suggest they add a little whimsy with Laetitia Winery’s Brut Rose. Pink and bubbles. What more could you want? 


Bogle Vineyards Essential Red.jpgAries (March 21 – Apr. 20) – Big Bold Blend

Aries loves to take the lead and relishes a challenge. Represented by the ram, they are confident, passionate, and headstrong. A big, bold red blend is the only suitable wine for them. Try Bogle Vineyards Essential Red for a big flavor on a budget.


Taurus (Apr 21 – May 21) – Chardonnay

Practical and well-grounded, Taurus enjoys gardening, cooking, music, and romance. Unlike Aries, who loves the game, Taurus loves the rewards of winning the game. Sensual pleasures are number one. Chardonnay is the most popular varietal on earth. Only the best for Taurus. Try a bottle from Kynsi Winery. 


Gemini (May 22 – Jun 21) – Pinot Gris

Represented by “the twins,” Gemini is known to have a double personality. They are sociable, communicative, and ready for fun, but don’t be surprised if they suddenly turn serious. They are quick-witted and expressive. A full-bodied Pinot Gris has the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity and is just dynamic enough to keep up. We suggest Wild Horse Pinot Gris.


Cancer (June 22 – July 22) – Moscato

Cancer is sensitive and emotional. Deeply connected and attached to the ones they love, they are known for their sentimentality and quiet sweet nature. A little Moscato is a perfect match for this loving and charitable sign. We love Flirtations from Opolo Vineyards

Underwood Can Sparkling Wine.jpgLeo (July 23 – Aug 21) – Bubbles in a Can!

It’s all about Leo the lion. If the spotlight isn’t on Leo, you’ll surely hear their mighty roar calling your attention like the cork popping from a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. Their drive to be loved and admired can give off the impression that they are shallow or vain, but they are deeply warm and are quick to take action to make sure you know they care. Leo is sure to stand out with with Underwood’s canned sparkling wine.


Virgo (Aug 22 – Sept 22) – Pinot Noir

Analytical, kind-hearted, practical and hardworking, Virgo tends to worry often and hates to be the center of attention. Their attention to detail means they can be picky and not easily satisfied. A Pinot Noir is sure to please. This varietal has a light to medium body and high acidity, pairs well with a wide range of foods and age well. Enjoy a bottle of Sextant Wines.   


Libra (Sept 23 – Oct 23) – Sauvignon Blanc

Harmony and balance are most important to Libra. They are concerned with fairness, and this gentle sign has the heart of a servant, always seeking to make others happy. This super-intellectual sign uses his mind to weigh and measure every option in detail, which means Libra can be indecisive. The refreshing and subtly savory flavors of a Sauvignon Blanc even out the scales and make choosing this varietal a breeze. Try Vina Robles. 


Claiborne & Churchill Dry_Gewurztraminer.jpg

Scorpio (Oct 24 – Nov 22) – Gerwurztraminer

This fierce sign is known for its passionate yet calm and collected demeanor. Scorpio can be intense, jealous and secretive, but they understand the ways of the world and the rules of the game. They are fearless and ambitious. Just like the incomparable Scorpion, Gerwurztraminer is a surprisingly rare wine grape and does well in cold climates. A perfect match for cool Scorpio. Claiborne & Churchill’s is a favorite.


Sagittarius (Nov 23 – Dec 22) – Malbec

Sagittarius is an extroverted and energetic wander. Curiosity combined with optimism and enthusiasm for constant change, they are the travelers for life. They are adventurous and friendly, sometimes known as the wild-child of the zodiac. A robust Malbec from Edna Valley Vineyards will match up well with your energy and confidence.

We see a wine tour with Breakaway Tours in your astrology chart. Request a proposal or reserve your seat today!

Holiday Cocktail Recipes


There’s nothing better than cozying up next to the fire with a loved one on a cold winter’s day. And while there’s nothing wrong with cocoa, it’s nice to warm up with something a little harder on occasion. If you’re looking to up your holiday cocktail game with hot or cold cocktails or seasonal punches, follow along for some sip-worthy recipes that are sure to make this season merry and bright!


Fall Harvest Sangria from EatYourselfSkinny.com
Serves 6

1 Bartlett pear
2 Honeycrisp apples
1 Orange
¼ cup pomegranate
2 cinnamon sticks
2 ½ cups apple cider, fresh
1 cup club soda
1 (750ml) bottle favorite white wine
½ cup vodka




  1. Place chopped apples, pears, orange slices, pomegranate seeds and cinnamon sticks in a large pitcher. Pour in wine, apple cider, and vodka and mix well.
  2. Allow flavors to marinate in the fridge a few hours before serving then add club soda. The longer it sits the better!



Bourbon Pecan Pie Cocktail from BasilandBubbles.com
Makes 1 Cocktail

1 ounce Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 ½ ounce Evangieline Pecan Praline liqueur
½ ounce vodka of your choice


  1. Pour all ingredients over ice and stir



Holiday Spiced Mulled Wine from JoyfulHealthyEats.com 

Makes 1 Cocktail

1 orange
1 Pink Lady apple
¼ cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves, whole
2 star anise
1/3 cup brandy
1 bottle red wine




  1. Add all of the ingredients to a medium sauce pan or Dutch oven. Cover.
  2. Turn burners to medium heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Serve!


Cranberry Margaritas from GimmeSomeOven.com
Makes about 3 cups

1 ½ cups 100% cranberry juice
¾ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup tequila
½ cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple Sec
ice cubs


  1. Stir all ingredients together until blended. Serve

Champagne 101 for Valentines Day!

How to Open Champagne Bottles

Don’t know how to open Champagne bottles? Don’t fret! While opening a bottle of sparkling wine may not be intuitive, it is quite easy and we will give you a few tips on how to do it best. You want to open a Champagne bottle in a way that both respects the precious beverage inside the bottle but is also elegant and fun.champagne-cheersopening a bottle of sparkling wine may not be intuitive, it is quite easy and we will give you a few tips on how to do it best. You want to open a Champagne bottle in a way that both respects the precious beverage inside the bottle but is also elegant and fun. While we recognize that not all bubbles are champagne (we have love for prosecco, cava and sparkling whites as well!) for today, we will us the term champagne to stand in for all these marvelous libations!

Opening a bottle of Champagne has a feeling of excitement and celebration about it. It is classically associated with parties, celebrations and special occasions. However, Champagne and other sparkling wines have many more purposes than just celebration. Many sparkling wines are much more versatile at table than most people realize. Champagne is a brilliant match with a number of cuisines. It shines with spicy foods like Indian and Thai cuisine. It’s bright intensity is a great foil for sushi and it pairs beautifully with rich, creamy cheese.

Therefore, Champanges, or other fine sparkling wines,  are a great choice for a wine theme dinner party or wine tasting. But before you go and plan your next Champagne tasting, be sure you know how to open Champagne bottles comfortably first!

    • To Pop or Not to Pop, That is the Questionchampagne-popping
      Most people have seen Champagne bottles shaken up and popped violently, shooting the cork across the room followed by a fountain of foam shooting across the room. While this has helped build the reputation of sparkling wines as the perfect celebratory beverage, this is not the ideal way to open a champagne bottle. For one, shaking up the wine causes excessive bubbles and the wine you are left with is under-carbonated. Also, you loose a large part of the bottle in that foam that shoots out. When learning how to open Champagne you should realize that in fact the correct way to open a Champagne is by gently sliding out the cork so that only a small hiss of air comes out. Granted, this is not as exciting and celebratory. However, it maintains the appropriate carbonation in the wine and prevents losses of your precious liquid! Some people will pull out the cork just fast enough to make a bit of a pop noise but without causing excessive foaming and loss of wine. The choice is yours, but if serving wine in an elegant way which is respectful to the beautiful wine in the bottle is your goal, then go slow!
    • Use a Champagne Bucketchamp-bucket
      When serving Champagne or other sparkling wines, they often show best when well chilled. They tend to get flabby and coarsely carbonated when they warm up. Chilling will also help prevent excessive foaming when you learn how to open Champagne bottles. A Champagne bucket is simply a large (usually metal or glass) bucket into which you put ice water and your bottle of wine. It sits on the table, or some have their own stand, and keeps your wine well chilled while you drink and discuss the wine or enjoy your dinner. After you learn how to open Champagne, we strongly recommend using a Champagne bucket when serving sparkling wines.


  • Champagne Stopperchampagne-stopper
    After you open Champagne the carbonation starts to dissipate. If you are quickly pouring most of the bottle at a large party, wine tasting or dinner party, or if you plan to consume the bottle quickly, this is not a problem. However, if you have wine left in the bottle which will likely sit for a while, then a Champagne bottle stopper is a good wine accessory to have handy to prevent the wine from going flat. There are different versions which can be bought at wine shops but basically they are a crown that goes on the bottle and has some mechanism for securing it to the top of the bottle. You can’t use a standard wine cork or bottle closure because the carbonation will push it up and will leak. These special stoppers hold pressure so that your carbonation dissipates much slower so that you can keep your Champagne to enjoy over a prolonged period. Keep the bottle chilled in your Champagne bucket while stoppered!


  • Doing the Deed
    We finally get to it! Now the fun part. For practice to learn how to open Champagne, if you have never opened a Champagne bottle before, I recommend trying once or twice at home before hosting a wine tasting or dinner party. While real Champagne can be quite expensive for practice, you can find inexpensive American sparkling wines at most markets with which to practice.

    • Opening champagne

      Opening champagne

      One important first step when learning how to open Champagne is to recognize the importance of chilling. Before opening, make sure your bottle of sparkling wine is well chilled. Sparkling beverages bubble and foam much more at warmer temperatures. I suggest sitting your bottle in an ice water bath for at least 15 to 30 minutes before opening. Alternatively, you can set your bottle in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

    • Find a kitchen towel (preferably an attractive one if you are serving guests!) and bring that and your chilled bottle to your table.
    • The first step is to remove the foil capsule on the top of the Champagne bottle. Some bottles have a tab that you can pull to cut the foil around the top for easy removal. If not, you can simply pull the entire capsule off or cut it with a foil cutter like you would for a regular wine bottle. However, note that you should cut further down on the neck of the bottle as the very top of the capsule is over the cork and wire cage.
    • Once your foil is off, you will have exposed a wire cage that covers the cork and holds it down. This cage has a little handle, shaped like a wire loop, which is bent up against the side of the cage. Pull this down so that it is perpendicular to the bottle. Twist it with your fingers counterclockwise until it releases. When it is loose you can open and remove the cage completely from the top of the bottle. Set this aside. Alternatively, some people choose to simply loosen the wire cage but to leave it on while pulling out the cork.
    • From this point on, be aware that the cork is free and can occasionally be pushed out by the pressure in the bottle. This is particularly true if the bottle is not adequately chilled prior to open. So keep an eye on it or keep your hand on it at all times. A flying cork can actually cause harm so watch out!
    • Now the important part! Wrap the towel around the head of the cork and grasp it firmly with your left hand, holding the body of the bottle in your right hand.
    • With your right hand and the base of the bottle steadied against your hip or the side of your body, slowly begin to twist the bottle while holding the cork still and providing some counter-traction with your left hand. As you twist, slowly increase the distance between your hands so that the cork twists out slowly. This should all be done in a slow and controlled manner so that the cork does not pop out too fast.
    • As you get to the end of the cork, slow your pulling and twisting so that the last bit of cork comes out very slowly and in a controlled manner. It actually helps to slightly resist the cork’s movement out and try to push it back in. This will help slow its exit so that it comes out gently. In this way you can limit the escape of air to a faint hiss. Be sure at this point that the bottle is angled upward somewhat so that when the cork does come out you are not pouring wine all over the floor or yourself! As it comes free, return the bottle to a fully upright position and return gently to your Champagne bucket or serve immediately!

If you’ve never enjoyed Champagne before and don’t know how to open a Champagne bottle it may seem daunting, but just give it a try. Good sparkling wine is a thing of beauty. Besides being fun, romantic and celebratory, it just tastes good and compliments a wide range of cuisines. Enjoy!