Behind the Bar in the Sierra Foothills

One of the many pleasures of wine touring in the Sierra Foothills is the relaxed, convival attitude we find in its tasting rooms.

Published: 1/13/2015

One of the many pleasures of wine touring in the Sierra Foothills is the relaxed, convival attitude we find in its tasting rooms. Wherever you roam through the counties of Nevada, El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras, you'll happen upon friendly people behind the bar--many with an interesting past or a fun story to tell. 

Many have come from other places and walks of life. In Amador County, Renwood Winery's Tasting Room Employee Erin Lee left Los Angeles to pursue a career in Sacramento's film industry, the new indie Film Hub of California. "I decided that being a starving artist eventually leaves you fairly hungry." Erin says. "Plymouth is new and there's a great art to the winemaking."

Former mortgage banker-turned-Jeff Runquist Wines Tasting Room Manager Brad Dehn began collecting wine back in the late 1980s when he lived in the Napa Valley. Later, he and his wife planted a three-acre Zinfandel and Barbera vineyard and made their own home wines. Brad left his job as a mortgage broker for the wine business and, today, he and his wife work in separate tasting rooms in Amador’s Shenandoah Valley. “I like to talk to people about wine and I have a good background in it,“ says Brad, whose wine cellar now holds about 1,000 bottles.

Terra d’Oro Winery Tasting Room Manager Steve Salvo says the best part of his job is the people. “I like interacting with visitors and finding out about them,” Steve says. “When I hire tasting room staff, I look for people who have people skills, so we make sure everyone has a good experience here.”

“Like most people in the hospitality world, you have to have a certain type of personality to connect with people and make them feel comfortable,” explains Sales and Marketing Director at Vino Noceto Gregg Lamer. “Our newest personality in the tasting room is Melinda Klescewski who came to us from Carmel where she worked in Chateau Julian and before in Sonoma at Rodney Strong. She has helped launch our Farm-to-Glass tour program and has made an impact in Amador since her arrival."

In El Dorado County, David Girard Vienyards' Rod Gideons served as General Director of the Sacramento Opera before moving to Placerville. "I had been retired for one moths, and David, whom I'd known through the opera, offered me a job." Rod is glad he said yes. "I really enjoy welcoming people to our space and giving them an all-around good experience. Customer service is paramount. We have a range of customers, from those who have tremendous knowledge to those who have never tasted wine before. I'm always learning. And when I don't have the answer, I run and get the winemaker!"

Matricia Haigood, now Miraflores’ General Manager, owned an advertising agency in Los Angeles before she moved to El Dorado County to raise her children. “I thought I’d want to be a winemaker but then my background in marketing kicked in and I got involved in the hospitality side,” she says.

Tara Pipes, Assistant Tasting Room Manager at Boeger Winery, was teaching English in Japan when she got her job at the winery. Since then, she has intermittently spent time in Hawaii, Rawanda, and Spain. “It’s amazing how many people from all over the world visit our tasting room,” Tara says. “With my travel experience, I can easily con- nect with people of all different cultures.”

Not all tasting room people come from other careers. Madroña Vineyards’ Ryan Wright got the tasting room bug when he worked there as a summer job while studying Recreation Resource Manage- ment at Sacramento State. He was hired to work full time in the tasting room, cellar, and vineyard. “Working all over allows me to give visitors a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he says. “I love seeing people come back to taste again. I watch them evolve as wine tasters.” Theresa Soffiotto works full time for Wells Fargo during the week and at Narrow Gate Vineyards’ tasting room on the weekends.

“What is there not to enjoy about working in a tasting room?” she asks. As an avid community volunteer, Theresa loves people in general. “In the tasting room I meet people from all over the world and we talk about one of my favorite passions: wine!”

“I was a blank slate,” says Mount Aukum’s Tashia Rynearson. Tashia married into a winemaking family and fell instantly in love. “It’s harder work because there is family pride in this,” Tashia says. “I meet so many interesting people and every day is different.”

Perry Creek Winery’s Ryan Roberts owned his own long skate- board business for 15 years before he moved to his girlfriend’s hometown of Placerville. “My job takes me beyond the tasting room to do sales and marketing, pouring at events, deliveries, you name it. I like the people I meet in the tasting room and learn more about wine from them. I learn something new every day.”


As seen in the issue Spring 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.


1) There’s no such thing as a dumb question
2) Don’t worry about what we like; it’s what you like that counts
3) Don’t be afraid to use the dump bucket
4) Keep hydrated
5) Don’t taste on an empty stomach
6) Monetary tips are always appreciated