Take a Cruise Through Wine Country
Captain Katie Hayward and Uncorked Wine Tours
If you were to schedule an island tour of an area brimming with over 300 tropical isles, each with its own unique features, you would probably select a captain knowledgeable about destinations, safe routes, calm harbors, tides, and popular sights. In the same way, if you wished to tour an area where over 300 wineries thrived, each offering its own styles, varietals and tasting experiences, you’d be wise to call upon a certain “captain” of wine country, Katie Hayward.
Though she and her husband were briefly the First Mate and Captain of a 50-foot catamaran in the Virgin Islands, around San Luis Obispo County, Hayward’s signature captain’s hat serves more as an indicator of her extensive wine knowledge (she is a certified Sommelier), spirit of fun and adventure, and seasoned experience in guiding visitors safely through an area known for its vast and swiftly expanding wine country.
Her voyage to becoming a wine tour operator began when Hayward, an Atascadero native, was temporarily on leave from her five-year-long career at a local bank due to a snowboarding accident. The economy had taken a turn for the worse, making a position in small business loans suddenly a much less enjoyable place to be, and Hayward was not anxious to return to her work. Her husband had a luxury conversion van for sale at the time that was the perfect wine touring vessel and the opportunity presented itself to start a wine touring business in the growing wine country. “I could do wine tours!” she thought to herself. With the spirit of a natural-born adventurer, she thought of the Uncorked Wine Tours name the next day, stopped working at the bank, and hasn’t looked back since.
A sweet, bubbly “people-person,” Hayward’s new and uncharted career path tied in nicely with her skill sets: Having grown up in wine country, she knew she could help wine tasters find their way to the wineries and wine styles they sought with grace and ease; having studied business and marketing at Cal Poly, she knew she could make her venture flourish; and having worked advising small business owners (many of them the same wineries she would take tourists to) for many years, she knew she had the financial sense to keep a business afloat. To round out her portfolio, Hayward earned her certification as a sommelier and took a wine diversity class at 15 Degrees C in Templeton so that she could more fluently and knowledgeably speak to her customers about wine.
A passion for adventure
The business venture also fed her passion for adventure. “It’s like traveling without having to go anywhere,” she says, “because you’re meeting people from all over, but you’re staying in the same place.”
Since Hayward set out for the “open seas” of owning her own business—a dream she had always harbored—she has added a new vehicle to her fleet of luxury, captain’s-chair-seating vans each year. Now offering a six-passenger luxury conversion van, a 10-passenger van, and most recently a 14-passenger turtle-top bus, she and her six drivers swimmingly navigate private parties of up to 30 people through Paso Robles and Edna Valley wine tasting areas.
Personalized, custom & private tours
Aside from offering a comfortable and smooth ride, “Captain Katie” prides herself on her personalized, customized and private wine tours. “There are no cookie-cutter tours, it’s always different for every tour,” she says, explaining that she is always happy to map out good options if customers aren’t sure where they want to taste. “That’s actually more fun for me,” Hayward says, noting that she loves being able to offer insights about special wineries and to set up private tastings, vineyard tours and barrel room tours for her customers.
Meanwhile, she is equally happy to don her photographer’s hat, capturing the day’s festivities to send to her customers, and concierge cap to arrange other tour details like lunch, dinner, entertainment and even massages, telling guests, “All they have to worry about is drinking wine that day.”
What really sets Uncorked Wine Tours apart, though, seems to be Captain Katie’s infectious spirit of fun and genuine enjoyment of her work. “It’s really fun because people are always celebrating something—marriage, anniversaries, birthdays or vacations.” Hayward fits right in to the festive environment with her easy banter and free-flowing laughter. “Most of the time people want to invite us out for a drink afterwards, we often feel like friends by the end of the tour.”
And although Uncorked Wine Tours grows every year, she plans never to lose that personal touch—or her sense of adventure. When not leading a tour, Hayward can often be found out in wine country, exploring new wineries to get to know the staff, the wines and the stories to build her arsenal of first-hand recommendations. Of course, she says with a laugh, “If I’m driving, I’m wearing the captain’s hat, if I’m drinking, the hat’s off!”
Step aboard Uncorked Wine Tours by calling Call (805) 459-4500.
— By Jamie Relth, San Luis Obispo County Visitors Guide