Each year since 2010, Corinne Martinez renewed an application required by the state to serve wine at her building at 22 Main St. Yet save a handful of private events, no wine was poured there in a half-decade. For her, it was years of fees and effort invested into a vision for a business that would complement the town and its other tasting room experiences — a dream that’s now a reality thanks to an intergenerational team-up with two other businesswomen.
Founded in the sheer will of Martinez and the culinary creativity of renowned cookbook writer Georgeanne Brennan and Berryessa Gap winemaker Nicole Salengo, L’Apéro les Trois is Winters’ newest beverage product and tasting room experience. The business offers a European-style getaway, for locals and tourists alike, centered around a 100 percent wine-based aperitif. The three women, three generations, and three hyperlocal ingredients come together to encourage the curious to slow down and appreciate the fruits of collaboration here in Winters.
The L’Apéro tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Tasting flights across the six flavors — which range from Rosemary Orange, sourced from navel oranges from Karina Sparks’ Sparks Ranch, to Green Walnut, derived from the nuts of local grower Johnny Lopez — cost between $10 and $16. Each half ounce pour can be paired with Brut Rosé for an extra $2 or sparking Perrier for $1. A bottle costs $40.
Martinez says that upon first hearing about the idea, she quickly connected it with her long time vision for a curious local tasting room experience to compliment the others in town. “One of my first visions was people are going to buy a bottle of Lemon, they’re going to buy a bottle of sparkling water, and they’re going to have a bucket of ice and they’re going to sit outside in the middle of the summer,” says Martinez. “They’re just going to put some sparkling water with their lemon and they’re going to absolutely enjoy it over ice. It’s low alcohol, so you literally could sit out there with a group of four people.”
The aperitifs are between 15.5 percent and 16.5 percent alcohol by volume. The grapes come from Santiago Moreno and Dan Martinez, Jr. at Coble Ranch vineyard and the resultant wine was distilled by Patio29, at its distillery located at 723 Railroad Ave.
“I don’t think every place could say we have a local distillery,” jokes Salengo, the winemaker. “People don’t realize how awesome it is here and the quality that is coming out of this place… I’m here to highlight that.”
Although the tasting room is still recognizable as the one-time home of Rootstock, a shared wine tasting room that closed in 2017 and was once the home of then-nascent wineries like Seka Hills, the tasting room at 22 Main has today been historically-restored and seeped in European flair. An agricultural mural remains, but wood floors were brought up, the room redecorated with ample seating, and a self-playing baby grand piano now tickles its own ivories from near the front window.
“When Georgeanne and Nicole came in last April and said, “We want to do this product.” I was like, ‘This product needs its own space and this is it,’” says Martinez.
Now on display at L’Apéro is the Julia Child Award won by Brennan for Aperitif, the eponymous book that eventually launched the skunkworks project between Brennan and Salengo to bring the nectar to life here in Winters. The local cookbook author, who has also won a James Beard Award for her work, plans to host seasonal dinners themed around the aperitif of the season.
At L’Apéro, patrons sit under six large, Mediterranean-styled artistic illustrations of the locally-sourced fruits, as well as under the oversight of attentive staff, who wear long white aprons and welcome customers for equally-long stays to soak in the details. As you patrons look around the room, finishing touches abound: from the initials of Martinez’ parents in a tree within the mural, to the unique bugs that don the massive illustrations, each paired with a flavor as thoughtfully as the flavor was paired with its garnish.
Seating options include Parisian cafe-style tables and deep, studded-leather chairs. There are 13 tables, and almost as many warmly-lit lamps that complement a large glass window letting in plenty of natural light.
“It’s been really special,” said Salengo, looking out into the tasting room and reflecting on her experience after the tasting room’s opening event. “Winemaking, in many ways, in my experience has been hyper-focused… very individualistic. This experience with Corinne and Georgeanne has been this collaboration that I didn’t know how much I was going to enjoy until we’ve been doing it.”
The pleasantly-surprising experience is one that many are likely to encounter for the first time as they stroll down Main St. on their way to some activity or world-class meal around town. Don Lewis, a Winters resident, happened upon the establishment on a recent afternoon while walking family and guests over to Putah Creek Cafe for a late lunch. Curious, the group stopped in for a quick taste. “We’ve been here 22 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes,” he noted.
Others may seek out L’Apéro as a place to escape the hustle and bustle of Winters and slow down with a slightly-alcoholic beverage and player-piano. “We’re in such a hurry in our culture,” says Martinez. At L’Apéro, “you don’t have to be in a hurry. You can relax.”
Regardless of how one arrives, the pleasure of experiencing something new and different is perhaps undeniable. As one recent visitor, Nancy Young, put it, “It’s exciting to see things booming again.”