Pear Valley: Crafting Low-impact Californian Wines

Tom and Kathleen Maas, the husband-and-wife co-owners of Pear Valley, always dreamed of owning a winery. This may partially be because Tom was stationed on an army base in Germany, which was surrounded by vineyards. There, he developed a passion for wine, which only deepened as the years passed.

“We started building the business in 1998,” says Kathleen. “It was always Tom’s dream; when the kids were gone, he said he wanted a vineyard.” The more the pair looked into the idea, the keener they were on getting the operation off the ground. “We started with 20 acres and two varietals,” says Kathleen.

After nearly 15 years, Tom and Kathleen have expanded the Paso Robles, Calif.-based operation greatly. Pear Valley operates on 115 acres of vineyards with a 14,000-square foot winery and a 5,000-square foot tasting room where customers are invited to uncork and unwind with reds, whites, blends and snacks. The winery offers tastings and tours, with Pear Valley being licensed for sales in 40 states.

“We’re still pretty small,” says Kathleen. “We have 11 employees. We’ve experienced steady, organic growth, and we’ve learned what we can handle effectively.”

Fine, Fine Vines

The farm operation is overseen with hired labor. “That’s one of the few things we outsource,” explains Kathleen. “It keeps our costs down so we can focus on the wine.” The ground’s three separate vineyards supply estate-grown fruit. The Pear Valley, Mission Almond and Union Road vineyards are full of healthy vines grown in a natural, low-impact environment that produces grapes with French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese heritage. The varied flavors and subtleties of the grapes allow Tom and Kathleen to produce a wide range of classic wines and unique blends.

Pear Valley’s recent offerings include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Orange Muscat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and the couple’s signature blend, dubbed Distraction. “That’s our flagship wine,” says Kathleen. “We named it that because it’s Tom’s distraction.”

Pinot Priorities

While all of the raw material for the actual wine is sourced on site, Pear Valley relies on a network of suppliers for production and packaging supplies. “We have suppliers for bottles, labels, foils, boxes and corks for the packaging end,” says Kathleen. “On the other side we need materials for production like yeast, equipment and barrels. When we were going through planning and coming up with an economic plan, we threw all of the extras out the window. We found that people are looking for the best wine for the best price, so we changed our bottle and label to cut down on costs and focus on the wine.”

Visitors’ experiences are almost as important as the quality of the wine. Tom and Kathleen are focused on giving Pear Valley customers a tasty and memorable experience. “What really makes us stand out is our tasting room and the grounds,” explains Kathleen. “We love to share it with people and just have a great time.”

To encourage business and thank the regulars, Pear Valley operates a wine club. Members of the Distraction Club receive two bottles of wine, three times a year. Shipments include prereleases, special limited production wines and exclusive, members-only wines. Members can also enjoy free tastings and private tastings. Club members also have access to exclusive events and special pricing including a 30-percent discount on wine.

Tom and Kathleen are constantly producing new, complex wines for customers. “Right now we’re working on a Malbec and an Albariño to release for our wine club,” says Kathleen. Other initiatives include concerts, festivals and open houses, with food, music and specialty wines.

In 2013 the winery is celebrating 15 years in business. “Things are only getting better for us,” says Kathleen. “We opened through the worst of the recession, and we’ll keep growing.” The last year has presented weather-related challenges for the operation, but Tom and Kathleen employ planning to build a buffer. “We’re always worried about the weather,” says Kathleen. “You can get early frost, late frost, a lack of rain. That can affect the grapes.” By continuing a dedication to quality and customer experience, the couple has overcome the obstacles.

Pear Valley has constructed a solid business plan and a reputation for ingenuity. Years of hard work have paid off and now Tom and Kathleen are enjoying their dream business. “We’ve stuck to the same philosophy,” says Kathleen. “We cut down all costs where we can, except where it affects the wine.” The winery remains competitive, even as a small business in the vast Californian wine market. Pear Valley offers quality wines at a competitive price and a winery experience that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.