Dreams of purple lines

George Barber

PHOTO BY Meredith J. Graham

George Barber has a vision for the roads of this region to be painted with purple lines—to assist wine lovers in visiting all the local wineries. That’s why he named his downtown Oroville-based winemaking operation Purple Line Urban Winery. As part of the North Sierra Foothills Vintners Association, part of Barber’s goal—and the goal of the association—is to build on the region’s wine-related tourism. “We haven’t painted the streets yet, but someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to negotiate with the city and county.” A 21-year Oroville resident, Barber and his wife, Kate, opened the winery in November 2013. Their wines are not available in stores, but they are poured at Bird Street Café in Oroville and at Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro in Chico. Purple Line Urban Winery is open Wednesday through Sunday for tastings and can be booked for special events. It’s located at 760 Safford St., 534-1785, purplelinewinery.com.

How’s business?

We’ve been so busy. Every week is busier than the week before. One thing we do every week is a potluck dinner on Wednesdays. Close to 80 people show up. It’s from 6-8 p.m. Just bring a dish to share.

I understand you’re a former California Highway Patrol officer. How did you make the leap from CHP to owning and operating a winery?

I retired from the CHP almost eight years ago. [Opening the winery] was a bit of an ordeal. It took us about 10 months to even get a building permit, and almost another year to build the winery. During that time we also had the grape crush. We started making wines well before we opened the winery. We had the crush come through and managed to open in November.

You probably had to do a lot of research to start this business. What was the most unexpected thing you learned?

How hard it is to get a label approved. You have to upload your labels, front and back, and send them to the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Taxation Board. If there’s anything they don’t like, or they’re not in the exact format they want with the government warnings and all, it’s rejected. Sometimes it takes 45 days to get approved, which is a long time if you’re not expecting that kind of delay. That was rather surprising. But so far all of our labels have been approved, if not the first time, by the second.

What’s the difference between an urban winery and any other winery?

An urban winery is in town, in the city limits. Secondly, we don’t grow any of our grapes. We outsource grapes, going out to vineyards and bringing them to town. If we can buy them locally, we do. But [if we] can’t get the variety we need, we shop the grape market. We’ve gone as far as Hollister to pick up grapes, as well as to Murphys and Sonoma.

What makes your wines special?

The flavors make it special. Our whole process is very gentle on the grapes. Everything we do is with gravity flow, so grapes are never agitated by running them through any kind of a pump. We don’t pump anything anywhere on the premises. It’s very old-school, but very gentle, and it makes great wine.