Monday, March 20, 2023     Volume: 24, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Winemaker Mike Sinor's latest venture, Shuck Shack, highlights his love of the Central Coast and its bounty


Mike Sinor of Arroyo Grande prefers to fly under the Central Coast wine-industry radar, according to friends and colleagues. However, his long list of accolades and endeavors continues to keep him in the spotlight.

Raised in Visalia, Mike Sinor studied industrial technology at Cal Poly then discovered winemaking and never left SLO County. In 1997 he and his wife, Cherie, founded Sinor-LaVallee, and then opened the Avila Beach tasting room in 2015.

Among his achievements during his 30-year career are producing a Wine Spectator 96-point pinot noir, helping launch the nonprofit organization World of Pinot Noir, being named SLO County winemaker of the year, and co-founding Ancient Peaks Winery as well as his own label, Sinor-LaVallee.

Kathleen Naughton, executive director of the SLO Coast Wine Collective, also credited Sinor with being “one of the handful of winemakers who began the petition for the [SLO Coast] AVA over five years ago and helped with the fundraising for the research that was needed.”

The new American Viticultural Area, which was finalized in March, spans about 60 miles from Nipomo to San Simeon and is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Its 408,585 total acres include the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande sub-AVAs.

The coveted federal AVA designation establishes the SLO Coast as an official wine region, confers labeling rights, and helps promote the unique characteristics of its cool-climate terroir.

Sip and shuck
Sinor LaVallee is located at 550 First St. in Avila Beach. Tasting room hours are daily from noon to 6 p.m. Oysters are available daily until they run out. To reserve a half or full dozen ahead of time, visit Follow the winery on Instagram and Facebook @sinorlavallee. Follow the Shuck Shack on Instagram @shuckshackavila.

“[Sinor] is extremely modest,” Naughton said, “but very proud it has finally come to fruition.”

Winemaker Aaron Jackson, who spearheaded the AVA process, said Sinor “has a tremendous winemaking history here locally and brought a wonderfully forward-thinking and pragmatic mind to our efforts.”

Jackson also credited AVA advocates Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards, Maria Bennetti of Stolo Vineyards, June McIver of Tolosa, and Steve Vierra of Derby Wine Estates.

Sinor said he was privileged to be part of the founding group. “It will help our area continue to grow and prosper,” he explained. 

The Sinor-LaVallee tasting room patio in Avila Beach accommodates 40 seated and standing guests for daily seaside imbibing and oyster shucking, monthly pizza parties, and occasional live music.

Brette Ann Womack, a certified sommelier and consultant for sales and marketing at Sinor-LaVallee’s tasting room in Avila Beach, said Sinor is her mentor. 

“My first full-time job out of college was at Domaine Alfred, for which Mike was the winemaker,” she said. “He put Edna Valley on the map with the 2004 Califa pinot noir, which received 96 points in Wine Spectator. That winery was sold and became Chamisal Vineyards, and I worked there for six years.

“I have admired him as a winemaker since that time, but as I got to know him over the years, I was inspired by his commitment to the community we’re so lucky to be a part of.” 

Sinor-LaVallee’s pinot noir, syrah, grenache, chardonnay, pinot gris, and albariño are sourced exclusively from Avila Valley’s Bassi Vineyard, which Sinor purchased in 2013. 

“We make 500 to 1,000 cases per year, depending on the vintage of Sinor-LaVallee wines,” he said. 

However, he’s got plenty to share.

Mike Sinor’s 30-acre Bassi Vineyard, situated in the new SLO Coast AVA—which extends from Nipomo to San Simeon—overlooks Avila Valley just off San Luis Bay Drive and is accessible by appointment only.

“New for us is selling grapes to local young winemakers—Scar of the Sea, Dunites, Raj Parr, Delmore Wines, Outward Wines, to name a few,” he said. “It is really exciting to see this new generation of winemakers use our fruit.”

He also partners with food providers at his tasting room for unique experiences.

Customer Johnny Kenny, who resides in Avila’s See Canyon, visits Sinor-LaVallee regularly.  

“They have a great patio … and the staff is really friendly,” he said. “Mike is a legend and one of the nicest people you will come across in the wine world.

“Brette, the manager, is also amazing. She always has a big smile on her face and she’s very knowledgeable about the local wine scene.” 

However, he added, the biggest draw is the wine and food.

“The pizza party on the first Sunday of the month is an awesome event,” he said. “They have Earth & Oven cooking wood-fired pizzas. Get there early; they sell out quickly.”

He’s also enamored with Shuck Shack, the winery’s latest venture, offering patrons the opportunity to shuck their own oysters—with provided instructions and shucking gear—on the patio daily until sold out.

Kenny enjoys pairing the fresh shellfish with the winery’s sparkling pinot noir.

Mike Sinor’s 2021 pet-nat—pétillant-naturel—is a natural sparkling pinot noir sporting a bison skull label. Artist Teddi Fuller’s original oil painting of the skull hangs in the winery.

Sinor said the motivation for establishing Shuck Shack was plain and simple: He and his wife, Cheri LaVallee Sinor, co-owner of the winery, “have a long love for oysters,” and having a vineyard with an ocean view got his creative juices flowing.

Neal Maloney, owner of Morro Bay Oyster Company, said, “When Mike came to me with his idea, I was so excited because I’ve been a huge fan of his wines from the Central Coast for so long.”  

Morro Bay Oyster Company’s Pacific Gold oysters are raised on a 134-acre farm in the high intertidal zone, Maloney said. They grow slowly over a period of a year, he added, as they are exposed to air for 20 percent of the day.

“This helps them grow a nice tight seal and strong muscle, for better shelf life. The oyster also reserves its glycogen, giving it a sweeter flavor,” Maloney said.

The notes of fresh sea salt and green melon rind “pair beautifully with the brininess and high acidity of Mike’s coastal chardonnay,” he added.

Sinor and Womack wholeheartedly agree.

“Life really doesn’t get better than this,” Womack said. “My favorite part of the whole thing is that we’re seeing people who’ve never shucked before. We show them the way and they leave with a new party trick and a deeper appreciation for this special place we call home.”

Contributor Writer Cherish Whyte thinks the Shuck Shack is a hidden gem. Reach her through the editor at

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