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When I first developed a keen interest in wine, it began with with great classes from a teacher/writer named Norm Roby. He was our counselor and wine instructor who made every lesson fascinating at the (now defunct) California Culinary Academy in 1986. I never imagined then that I would work with him at Wine Spectator magazine only three years later.

Following graduation, I was a cook at the popular Postrio in San Francisco, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. It was his first outside of Los Angeles. At the end of our shift, we were allowed a drink at the service bar. Each day, I tasted different wines, teaching myself to recognize the nuances of their characters and styles.

But it’s not easy, simply tasting on your own. You need guidance from someone who’s wine savvy. Fortunately, Postrio allowed me to attend wine classes for the wait staff. I was able to taste alongside servers while we learned about the wines from the winemaker. I met many famous winemakers from Napa Valley, such as the famed Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, founder of Grgich Wine Cellars.

Those tastings were amazing, and good enough to eventually help me land a job at Wine Spectator as assistant tasting coordinator. It was like earning a scholarship to the college of fine wines!

The point of this story is if you find the right people to teach you about wine, the lessons are fun and never intimidating.

I believe you will find that in most of our excellent Central Coast tasting rooms. The staff will gladly help you better understand the wines you’re tasting, and how to choose perfect wines for a special dinner you’re preparing or if going out to dine.

But if you find a tasting room where the winemaker can be often be found, that’s the best learning situation possible. That’s why I always recommend Tercero, where you’ll find owner/winemaker Larry Schaffer frequently enlightening and entertaining his visitors.

“Wine is intimidating, but it is always fascinating to talk about. That’s why I spend so much time in my tasting room,” the personable winemaker admitted recently.

Tercero has been in Los Olivos for seven years, operating at the same address --  2445 Alamo Pintado Road. The first tasting room beside the back parking lot was practically invisible. Fortunately, a space opened facing Alamo Pintado, beside Dragonette, another popular tasting room. Schaffer seized the opportunity to lease the space, which is far roomier than his original site. My husband Dan Hardesty and I visited him his first week in the new tasting room to stock up on his fine Rhone wines that we love so much.

We asked why he moved?

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“Los Olivos has gotten a lot busier over the last three years," Schaffer said. "But people couldn’t see us in the back. It wasn’t easy to find, not even for people who had been referred to us. I had been leaning on the rental company to spit the space for us, and we doubled our space in the new tasting room.”

If you are a novice just beginning to take an interest in wine, Tercero is the perfect tasting room for you. Here, you won’t find wine snobs looking down their nose at you. Schaffer and his staff treat everyone with respect. You can ask any simple question (you know, there’s no such thing as a dumb question), and you’ll get an answer that’s easy to understand. Not only that, you’ll realize this is why you want to learn more about fine wines and how to find them.

There is one kind of wine aficionado Tercero doesn’t appreciate -- the uppity wine snob. A sign on the wine bar warns tasters, “Pomposity not allowed.” They aren’t kidding. Some tasters, armed with just a little knowledge, often try to sound superior, intimidating everyone else. That’s not acceptable at Tercero. The winemaker, who earned a master's at the University of California, Davis, is quick witted enough to call you out on any topic. You might want to spare yourself that embarrassment. That said, Schaffer is always kind.

The new, nicer space will allow Schaffer to provide tables and chairs for seating, as well as stools at the tasting bar. During our visit, a touring service brought in a party of eight people. That would have been overflowing for the first tiny tasting room. With the wider space, Schaffer is already planning to offer winemaker dinner parties and family-style dinner buffets for his wine club members.

If you’re lucky enough to arrive on a day when he’s in the tasting room, you may get to taste one of the fresh breads he frequently bakes. Isn’t that what wine appreciation is all about? Savoring amazing artisan wines with gourmet treats, shared among fellow wine aficionados who aren’t snobs.


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Kathy Marcks Hardesty can be reached at