Mira set to teach all about wines

Jim “Bear” Dyke, owner of Mira Winery, holds a bottle of wine recovered from its underwater aging project in Charleston. Mira is opening a wine tasting and education center downtown.

At most wineries, tastings are designed to help drinkers understand wine, so they’ll purchase whatever wine the host venue is selling. But at Mira Winery’s new downtown education center, tasters start by buying Mira wine, and then learn how to better understand wines from all over.

Because of a quirk in South Carolina liquor laws, Mira is prohibited from offering its “Edutasting” to anyone other than wine club members, a status that requires at least a $61.85 buy-in (and comes with two bottles of Chardonnay and a camouflage hat.) But starting next month, drinkers who meet the state’s requirements will be able to participate in an hourlong four-wine session enhanced by video, maps, flavor wheels and a cork tree.

“If you went to a tasting in Napa, the glass setup might be the same,” says Jim “Bear” Dyke, president of the winery best known for its underwater aging project. “But this is about teaching you to understand flavors and smells. We’re interested in reflecting the poetry of winemaking, so maybe when someone goes into a restaurant the next time, they can say, ‘I like a floral Chardonnay.’ ”

According to Dyke, the classes will meander in deference to attendees’ prior knowledge and current curiosities. “The participants really drive the tasting,” he says. “They’ll say ‘how many clones does (winemaker) Gustavo (Gonzalez) like in his Pinot?’”

The tasting is one of three program tracks planned for the converted Queen Street office building. Mira also plans to organize a distinguished speaker series, featuring working members of the wine industry, and short workshops covering topics such as wine faults and the significance of terroir.

With Mira’s feet planted in St. Helena, Calif., where its wine is produced, and Charleston, where Dyke lives, the winery has a bicoastal interest in promoting its portfolio. According to Dyke, the classes will help explain why Napa Valley wine is more expensive than wine from other California growing regions, and nourish the Lowcountry’s wine-drinking tradition.

Dyke acknowledges that the Edutasting isn’t cheap, but he’s confident the winery’s fans will fill the dozen seats around the tasting table. “The target demographic we’re looking at is going to be pretty excited to have this experience,” he says. “But, as in other things we’ve done, nobody’s done it before. We’re still playing with a lot of this.”

Under South Carolina’s three-tier distribution system, it’s illegal for wine makers to sell directly to customers, unless the wine is classified as a South Carolina product. Nobody has ever before challenged the rule, since Mira is the first out-of-state winery to open a South Carolina tasting room. But Dyke, who worked his way up from a U.S. Senate parking lot attendant to become Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s communications adviser, suspects legislators could be swayed to adjust the law.

In the meantime, he says, “we’re going to find out what people are willing to do.”

Edutastings will be offered at 6 p.m. Fridays and by appointment. Mira is planning to hold a grand opening celebration after the Charleston Wine + Food Festival in early March.