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Smith Vineyard's bustling new tasting room

DESPITE THE RECESSION, WINERIES ARE rushing to open tasting rooms downtown, making a trip to one of the region's historic towns more worthwhile.

In Grass Valley alone, three new tasting rooms have opened recently: Avanguardia Wines has come to town; Sierra Starr Winery has relocated to a bigger location); and Smith Vineyard is opening a new tasting room, just down the street from Lucchesi's tasting room.

"It's the location and the unique space that drew us downtown," says winery co- owner Christine Smith.

Smith renovated a building from 1871 that used to be Bunce's Place, a well-known watering hole. Bunce's was popular for its outdoor bar, located between its entrance and the sidewalk on Mill Street.

Smith built a splendid wooden bar there instead, making it a perfect spot for wine tasting, visiting and people watching. "There's something about tasting that is a little intimidating, and I like that it's open and inviting," says Chris.

The bar also has a flat-screen television that presents slideshows about the nearby vineyard and winery, a reminder that you can't grow your grapes downtown.

Inside, there's a long bar, artwork and handsome used brick walls. A grand opening celebration is set for May 1-2, 12-6 p.m.

Neighboring tasting rooms embrace the trend—they call it "co-opetition," observing that people like to try a few wines on their visit. They also report improved sales.

Restaurants, art galleries and other merchants support the trend too, because it draws more visitors to town.

Grass Valley isn't alone. Nevada City, Auburn and Truckee also have their own wine tasting spots. Downtown tasting rooms are gaining popularity in other wine growing regions too, including Healdsburg, Sonoma and Paso Robles.