Meet Janis Denner owner of Pelletiere Estate
I generally meet vintners and winemakers at their place of business. We sip the wine, we talk shop and we walk the vineyards. When an interview goes well, some become friends and over the years we end up dining together at a local restaurant in their area when I am in town, or if they come down to SoCal, in mine. If we meet in Seattle we sip and dine aboard my Grand Banks. It’s the special ones I do this with. The ones with distinctive stories and special mojo.
I first met Janis Denner, owner of Pelletiere Estate winery at a press dinner in Paso Robles. The dinner was held at Il Cortile restaurant and hosted by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance for about eight wine writers. Four winery owners were there to mix mingle and pair their wines with the outstanding Il Cortile menu. A standout that evening was Janis Denner, owner of Pelletiere Estate.
When her pairing of 2012 Lagrein with braised pork cheeks on the purée of celery root was presented, there was a stillness that permeated the room. We were in the presence of one of those great pairings never to be forgotten. This was a vintner I wanted to know more about.
Janis and I had a long time to talk at the dinner. Our starting point may have been the bodacious pairing, but it was her passion for product and the lifestyle she has created that delighted me. The more we engaged, the more I liked her. She has a special something I don’t always feel with all winery owners. She has a canny connection to the elements that make a great vintner. Yes she is a woman owned and run winery, which makes her stand out, but beyond that there is a drive inside her for providing the ultimate wine and tasting experience I haven’t seen in a while. She’s bright, articulate, engaging and driven. I like that. I liked her. You will too.
The following interview gives an insider’s peek into this extraordinary woman’s mind set and her connection with the earth she lives off of and the community she lives in. I certainly hope it encourages you to visit her winery located in the trending Willow Creek district on the Westside of Paso Robles. Look for it on the corner of Township Road just off Highway 46 West in the foothills of the Templeton Gap. The bonus (I am finding that everything Janis touches features special extras) is a rich local history dating back to the late 1890's. She has taken the original Farmhouse and carefully restored it.
Interview with Janis Denner, Owner of Pelletiere Estate
LK: When did your interest in owning a winery begin?
JD: Who doesn’t dream of owning a winery? I'm not sure when it actually began, but I can recall being envious of the lifestyle the first time I went wine tasting.
LK: When did you open your current winery?
LK: Besides a tasting room, you also offer a lodging option that allows guests to really get to know the sense of place and taste that is uniquely yours. Tell me a little about the lodging on your property.
JD: I took a 19th century Farmhouse that sits at the edge of the vineyard and lovingly restored it. It was so fun repurposing what we could and giving an updated look to the entire house. The Farmhouse @ Pelletiere Estate is now a 2.5 bedroom/ 3 bath wine country retreat surrounded by vineyards. The decor is refined rustic with just the right amount of cozy and chic.
LK: Which of your jobs over the years has made the biggest impact on your current success as a winery owner?
JD: I've only ever had one job before I bought this winery. When I was 21 years old, I founded a market research company. I grew the company over the next 29 years into a national firm based in the San Francisco bay area. I am surprised at how much I learned at that business that is easily applied to owning a winery. Perseverance, deadlines, managing a labor force, customer service, and of course fiscal management to name a few....
LK: Did you do an apprenticeship or go through a formal wine school, program or course? If so, could you tell us about it? If no, how did you become a vintner?
JD: I did not attend a special school, but I did have a special person in my life that I was lucky enough to watch, listen to, and learn from. Living in Paso Robles, the wine business is everywhere, and since I was not the kid who grew up in a winemaking family or around a vineyard. Nor did my family sit around a big wood table, sampling wine and talking about our family wine making business...so, I decided to change all that...now my grandchild (children) will be those kids!
LK: What is your favorite part of owning a winery?
JD: Meeting the people that come into the tasting room. ....talking to people about wine is so fun. I am in such a great position to both learn and teach with a variety of different personalities. I have met wonderfully warm people who share my passion for wine, for which I feel incredibly fortunate!
LK: Which one of your current wines would you recommend for a novice drinker? Which one for the aficionado.
JD: I love all of our wines and think they are all very approachable, but the one wine that might be the stand out is our Lagrein, it's velvety, rich and luxurious!
LK: How much time do you spend in the vineyards (whether it is sourcing grapes, working with the viticulture team or just admiring your grapes?
JD: When I'm not in the tasting room, I'm in my vineyard!!! I walk it with my Winemaker and Vineyard Manager weekly. I take my workouts outside at least once a week and run the vineyard, which is quite sloped, and I take our guests on walking vineyard tours. It's natural, it's beautiful, it's educational....its wondrous!!
LK: What is your favorite time of the growing season?
JD: After the harvest...it's a rewarding and satisfying time for me, and I adore the colors of the vineyard during autumn. It feels good to put the vines to bed after a hard working season and watch their leaves change into such beautiful colors!
LK: If you could provide one or two tips for prospective winery owners, what would it be?
JD: I'd say follow your heart and chase your dreams!
LK: What are the highlights of your winery ownership, your “ah ha” or “wow” moments?
JD: Definitely a wow moment was our opening day. We opened on a Friday, instead of a Saturday, thinking it might be a slower traffic day ( not knowing what to expect)...the morning of opening, my construction crew of about 12 and I, were running around doing last minute preparations....I said good bye to each of them and realized that while we had successfully transformed this property and had reached our goal of opening on time...the routine and common goal we had been working towards for the last 4 months during construction, was ending...so it was quite bittersweet for all of us. The crew pulled out and within minutes people started arriving, I was overwhelmed by the amount of interest and support from the locals. We had a marvelously successful opening day, and I am truly grateful that my family including my daughter, and her husband and my baby granddaughter, who had travelled a great distance, were able to share that day in our family winery...which is now a beautiful part of our history.
LK: When you go out, where do you go to eat?
JD: I love dining out with a good bottle of wine. The restaurants in Paso Robles, are fabulous...I love farm to table dining.
LK: Do you work with local growers or just use estate grapes?
JD: We use 100% fruit from our estate in the willow creek district of Paso Robles.
LK: What is the one thing you haven’t done yet at your winery owner yet that you would like to do?
JD: I have lots of ideas and plans for future winery improvements, member activities, wine offerings and events … but, for now, I'm taking it step by step and enjoying every minute of it!!
LK: Anything else you would like to share about being a vintner?
JD: I have found my experience both rewarding and challenging, winery ownership has enabled me to share my love of wellness, celebrate my commitment to family tradition, and cultivate my entrepreneurial spirit.
As background, the Pelletiere Estate vineyards were planted in 1993-1996. It is family owned & operated per Janis with, “A commitment to the traditions of fine winemaking and responsible stewardship of its vineyard land for future generations to savor and uphold.” To taste here is to bond with history, sustainable commitment and creative energy.
The wines are terroir driven rich, smooth and elegant Italian style wines. 100 percent of Pelletiere Estate wines are sourced from its sustainably-farmed estate. I know you’ll enjoy them. I am certain you will love her.
3280 Township Rd.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Thursday-Monday: 11am to 5pm
Tuesday & Wednesday: By appointment