The Miller Wine Company has worked with various in-house winemakers on staff over the years, but its latest label marks the first time the multi-vineyard brand purposely sought out a vintner who could offer an “outsider’s perspective.”
Local winemaker Joey Tensley hadn’t previously used grapes sourced from three of the company’s vineyard estates—Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria, Solomon Hills Vineyards in Santa Maria, and French Camp Vineyards in Paso Robles—prior to developing optik wines.
“The whole idea of optik—everything from the name to how the label has come to life—is the idea of this outsider looking in; a winemaker peering through his own lens onto vineyard sites which he has not worked before,” said Tommy Gaeta, senior director of marketing and hospitality for Miller Family Wine Company.
The company celebrated the grand opening of the first optik tasting room in April. Described as a pop-up tasting room, the Los Olivos venue will remain open through August—or longer if it proves to be a success, Gaeta said.
The pop-up is within walking distance from Tensley’s own tasting room, Tensley Wines. Gaeta described Tensley, who also owns a Tensley Wines tasting room in Los Angeles, as “a very heralded Central Coast winemaker—someone we knew could do incredible things.”
“This is the first time the Millers have worked with a truly outside winemaker,” Gaeta said. “There’s lots of clients and grape customers who are making wine out of the fruit that we’re selling, but Joey had never been one of those that had worked with any of our vineyards.
“I think he’s always secretly wanted to,” Gaeta added.
Tensely worked for multiple vintners across Santa Barbara County before starting his brand, Tensley Wines, in 1998. Over the past two decades, Tensley has approached his own winemaking process with the least amount of winemaker manipulation as possible and reduced oak treatments.
The optik wines label debuted its first vintage in 2019. Under this label, Tensley crafted a lineup of limited production, vineyard-designated wines that were not previously available in a tasting room setting before the pop-up opened in downtown Los Olivos.
“This is the first time we have ever done these wines direct-to-consumer,” Gaeta said. “It has only been sold wholesale in small bottle shops around the country. Some Central Coast stores carry it, in chains like Albertsons and other places. We have a wine club that we’re launching as well to get this in front of people on an ongoing basis.”
Over the past month since the optik pop-up tasting room’s opening, one of the most popular wines ordered so far has been the 2021 valdiguie, sourced from grapes at French Camp Vineyards in Paso Robles.
“The valdiguie has definitely raised some eyebrows,” Gaeta said of the wine, which can be served at room temperature or chilled. “It is one of the top sellers in [the tasting room]. It has been an early favorite.”
The new tasting room is located at the former site of the Bien Nacido Vineyards tasting room on Grand Avenue. With Bien Nacido’s main tasting room now located on its estate in the Santa Maria Valley, the Miller Wine Company decided to use the vacant Los Olivos space to make optik wines visible.
Gaeta said the pop-up has a very different vibe than the former Bien Nacido Vineyards room, which he described as elegant and traditional, while the contemporary decor in the optik tasting room reflects the label’s distinct flair.
“Optik is edgy,” Gaeta said. “If I’m to choose a word, it’s that.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is over the edge. Send calming comments to [email protected].