When Chris and Melody Johnston thought to open a gallery and tasting room in Idyllwild, they thought the official permitting processes might take several months. They envisioned a gathering spot where patrons could relax, taste Middle Ridge wines, experience art from Idyllwild’s own and purchase wines to take home. Fifty-one weeks later, they received final approval to create that vision and sell wine to go.
That, as Melody explained, had been what took so long. It turns out their Tasting Gallery on North Circle is the first “remote wine tasting room” in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County. The Johnstons have a license to age and bottle wines in Temecula that permits one “remote” tasting room — the Middle Ridge Winery Tasting Gallery in Idyllwild.
Although wine tasting within the gallery confines had been approved by the county earlier, it took longer to secure the conditional use permit for wine “to go.” That approval, said Melody, came just before the Memorial Day weekend.
What is now fully up and ready for all intended use is a 4,000-square-foot high- end gallery and wine tasting room, at which patrons may sample and now purchase wines to take out. “The Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend we had significantly more business than just an art gallery,” said Melody.
Chris “designs” his Middle Ridge varietals in Idyllwild at his Innovation Lab. Wine production takes place in Temecula. Melody manages the day-to-day business of the winery and the Tasting Gallery. Together they host a beautifully designed Idyllwild gathering place and social destination.
Middle Ridge Winery and Tasting Gallery evolved from the Johnstons’ shared commitment to bring people together socially to appreciate and understand fine artisanal wine and to have conversations with everyone who experiences their wines.
Their tagline captures their philosophy — “When the conversation is as important as the wine.” The Tasting Gallery is located across from the Rustic Theatre at 54301 N. Circle Drive in the historic Idyllwild business district. With permits complete, wine tasting, to-go sales, locally hand-crafted furniture and art in place, the result is, as the Johnstons note, “a perfect pairing — wine and art.”