Jill Mittan looks tired. But despite the looming death of the five year-old winery dream she shared with her husband Kevin, she's still pouring tastes and telling visitors about the local wine scene at Midlife Crisis Winery. On Sunday, July 27th that will end too.
Every weekend for the past five years, the Mittans have made the three hour trek from L.A. up to Paso Robles to mind the shop, work the wine, and handle events. Jill wonders what it will be like to get up on Saturday and not have anything to do. Their day jobs in Hollywood will still keep them busy, but the winery was their labor of love.
When asked about how other small Paso Robles wineries like hers are faring, Jill Mittan shrugs. “We've heard about quiet [winery] sales going on, but we're a bit like a canary in a coal mine.”
The Mittans bottled their first wine, a Zinfandel, in 2004 (it won the Bronze at the 2006 LA County Fair). The 2005 vintage won Best of Class at the California State Fair in '07. Their 2007 Zin, allegedly their best yet (their 2006 zin is really delicious – big with jamminess with a nice, peppery bite on the lengthy finish) won't even see the light of day. It will likely get bulked out.
Jill sent out the closure notice to her wine club members a few weeks ago, with the stated goal of selling 800 cases before closing their doors for good. But even she admits that it's way too ambitious. As of last Saturday, they were at about 250 cases sold, and that was with steep discounts – cases of their 2005 Barbera, Syrah, and Roo Boy Red, all big award-winners themselves, lined the back wall for $8 a bottle.
On their website, the Mittans blame a perfect storm of lost winery operating capital (they funded the operation with their Hollywood careers, only to have Hollywood get gun shy with looming strikes and contract negotiations) and deflated real estate values. They could probably add the state's financial crisis to that list as well–a large number of Paso Robles residents, who make up about 50% of Midlife's customers, are state employees who are being furloughed or laid off.
“I had customers who'd call me and tell me they just canceled all their credit cards,” Jill said. “And being a member of a wine club? It's just not even on their radar. They can't justify it as an expense.”
The tasting room on Pine St. will be open until the 26th and the website will stay up until sometime in September. If you haven't tried any of their wines before, you won't get another chance, and the price is depressingly right.
Midlife Crisis Winery: 1244 Pine Street, Suite A, Paso Robles; open Thursday through Monday 10:30 a.m – 6 p.m., until July 26th.
Felicia Friesema also writes More, please.