Gary Eberle, shown here with the bronze boar that welcomes guests to his Eberle Winery in Paso Robles - the name "Eberle" translates to "small boar" - is always good for an insightful interview, so naturally he was the first winemaker I called upon when I arrived in San Luis Obispo County today to gather information for a feature on the region's wine trade.
While much of our chat dealt with history, trends, issues and the like involving the Paso Robles wine scene, I had to ask him about something unrelated that's been on my mind lately: Why does he continue to enter his wines in competitions? Since founding his winery in 1983, Eberle has become perhaps the most identifiable figure and winery representing Paso Robles. Any additional publicity for the caliber of his wines would seem unnecessary. Yet, Eberle sends wines to nine competitions each year. Why?
"I want to sell wine in our tasting room," he says. "We have found that scores (in wine publications) influence buyers in the trade (distributors, retailers and the like), but not consumers. The average consumer doesn't get those publications. They don't know what the scores mean. But they do know what a gold medal means. So whenever we get a gold medal we hang it on a bottle in the tasting room. Those gold medals make me more money than a score of 95 points from a wine publication."
He's done the math, and it breaks down like this: Because the wine he sells at his tasting room generally is priced the same as it would be in a shop, he gets to keep the markup that otherwise would go to distributors, retailers and so forth. He calculates that he would have to sell 6.3 bottles of a given wine to wholesalers to realize the same revenue he gets from selling just one bottle of the wine at the tasting room.
"Gold medals make it easier to sell wine at the tasting room," says Eberle. Thus, he keeps entering competitions, and, incidentally, increasing production. Eberle Winery now is making 30,000 cases a year.