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Pedernales Cellars

Julie Kuhlken
 
July 16, 2020 | In the News | Julie Kuhlken

Meet the Pedernales Cellars Tasting Room Manager, Marissa Contreras

We are celebrating the five-year anniversary of our Tasting Room Manager, Marissa Contreras, working at Pedernales Cellars.  For many of our guests, Marissa is a familiar face at the winery, and we want to take this opportunity for you to get to know her a little better.

Marissa joined Pedernales Cellars in June 2015 as our Special Projects Manager. She excelled in her first project, the launch of our special release, allocated wines, Kuhlken-Osterberg. It was a fantastic way for her to become immersed in our winery culture, working closely with the owners, for such a momentous new wine introduction.

“It was awesome to plan the premier release of the K.O. wines, and the launch event,” remembers Marissa. “I had such a great beginning to my role at Pedernales Cellars. I shadowed team members the first two weeks, attended wine tastings and educational sessions, and met with vendors. It was an incredibly immersive experience and mind-blowing interesting. The wine industry seemed so romantic and such a great fit for me. I was hooked!”

Before joining the winery, Marissa had not worked in the wine industry. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, with a focus on racial and gender stereotypes. Following graduation, she worked with at-risk youth at a nonprofit in East Austin, and then worked as a retail manager at Walgreens for seven years. In that role, she discovered that she had a keen business sense.

During her time at Walgreens, she started attending wine dinners. Through these wine dinners, Marissa became reacquainted with an old friend who worked at Pedernales Cellars and operated a wine shop in San Antonio.

“The first time I stopped into her wine shop, I picked out my first wine, which happened to be a Texas wine,” says Marissa. “It was a Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo, and I was really impressed. That experience made me super interested in exploring wine, and my palate expanded. I realized that I had a knack for tasting, which further sparked my curiosity. My passion for wine and my friendship with someone in the industry opened doors for me to have a broad exposure to wine. I knew I was ready for a new adventure at the same time that Pedernales Cellars was hiring for a new position. It was perfect timing, and my retail background with multi-tasking and a focus on customer service was a good fit.”

It was clear that Marissa was capable of handling big assignments. She took on the role of managing our wine club, where her customer relations experience helped her shine. At the time, the winery was growing rapidly, and we counted on her to ensure things ran smoothly. She assumed more responsibility for our direct-to-consumer manager role too, and eventually requested to take on more responsibility for marketing, working directly with me. Her passion and drive to help the winery is impressive.

Guest Education in the Tasting Room 

Two years ago, we had an opening for Tasting Room Manager, and she immediately threw her hat into the ring for the role. It made terrific sense for her to be in that position. Not only did Marissa’s customer service background make it a great fit, but she also had a great relationship with the tasting room staff. It was where she needed to be.

“That was the start of a great journey to enhance the focus of our tasting room on wine education,” says Marissa. “Hospitality and customer service are essential, and it is paramount that we make customers feel fantastic when they visit. We’ve built a strong tasting room team that is dedicated to education and customer service.”

Wine can be a bit daunting when people are first getting interested in it. It’s almost like learning a new language. Because of that, the Pedernales Cellars team works hard to be knowledgeable about wine, so we can make it easier to understand for our guests. We have educational sessions for the staff to learn more about a wide variety of topics, such as grape growing and the specifics of grape varietals, regional influence on wines, vintage variation, and how to evaluate wine in blind tastings. Marissa inspires curiosity in the staff. She has pursued additional educational opportunities outside the winery with Guild Somm and TEXSOM, plus she has attained a level 2 certification with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Marissa is excited to continue her wine studies to achieve WSET level III.  

Marissa says, “I take delight in that it is all about teamwork. We are all dedicated to educating each other. It inspires me to push myself to keep learning. Our tasting room team learns a lot from our production team. We spend time in the cellar to understand the winemaking process and the direction that our winemakers, David and Joanna, have for our wines. Understanding how our wines are made really helps us relate our wines better to our customers and wine club members.”

She continues, “I find it inspiring and eye opening to see our production staff putting in such long hours during harvest. The day is not done until the work is done. When the grapes come in during the middle of the night, David and the team are there well past middle of the night even after being in the vineyards before dawn.”

Marissa’s experience at the winery has helped her sharpen her palate and deepen her appreciation for wine. Her favorite wine is the Pedernales Cellars Valhalla 2016. “I still have two bottles in my cellar. It is such a beautiful wine to pair with food. I’m drawn to Italian varietal wines, and think it is perfect served with a red sauce with homemade meatballs. The Valhalla is like a dream. I also love the Kuhlken Vineyard Reserve 2015. It is so unique. I love to have this with a very special meal like lamb chops and roasted vegetables. I love it so much.”

While the romance of wine initially drew Marissa to Pedernales Cellars, it is the unique experiences she has with our guests that inspire her. She is touched by the numerous marriage proposals that happen on our property. The sweeping Hill Country view draws people to propose to their loves on our property, and the delightful experience they have has led many couples to become wine club members. It’s that family-like connection with guests that fires her up.

“I will never take for granted that we are here for our members and our loyal customers,” says Marissa. “What we have to offer can add to the richness of their lives. The wines that they take home can lead to an incredible experience with their families or friends. I love seeing our wines travel the world with our customers. It is special to me that we can be a highlight of people’s vacation or can help them create a special moment at home.”

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