JACKSONVILLE — By all accounts Porscha Schiller would have loved what she saw at South Stage Cellars Sunday afternoon.
Scores of friends and associates sat beneath shade trees, while a parade of musicians played for six hours in a newly expanded backyard garden, and patio. It had long been Schiller’s vision to create easier access from California Street — the main drag in town — but it wasn’t until Mark DeBoer acquired the Historical Register property from the heirs of Robbie Collins last year that work began on the project. Now with a new access to downtown, and more open space inside in the tasting room, the location is much like she imagined. But Schiller, who managed South Stage Cellars for eight years, died March 9 following a short battle with cancer and never saw the project come to fruition.
Sunday afternoon was dedicated to her memory with 45 musicians taking their turn before a full house.
“Porscha was always an idea person, she was always try to think of something new and better,” South Stage Cellars owner Traute Moore said. “The two of us were idea people, and we had a lot of fun. Definitely this place has become unique; it’s not where you just go to buy a glass of wine or bottle of wine, but a whole community. The sad thing is she got sick and she never got to see the results. For years she kept talking about opening up the walls between the three rooms; we couldn’t afford to do that.”
South Stage Cellars opened two years before Moore met Schiller, who had been for Mediation Works here, and a New York clothing designer.
“She was obviously the right person for the job,” Moore said. “Wine was a new thing for her, but whatever she did she wanted to be he best. She had this joyous spirit where she always made people feel good and connected with them.”
Schiller pioneered musical activity at local tasting rooms, launching a rising star competition, combining the event with catering that inspired other wineries to follow suit.
“We found a lot of new musicians that had not really had a public audience before,” Moore said. “The combination of those things really created an atmosphere that no other tasting room had; then everybody else started following us.”
Jacksonville Inn owner Jerry Evans, whose renown restaurant is a couple of minute’s walk from the 3rd Street location, said he didn’t anticipate the impact tying music together with a tasting room would have.
“It’s actually bringing people from out of town, out of state,” Evans said. “There is absolutely no question what they’ve done here at South Stage Cellars is really enhancing the town. It’s working out great from a business standpoint and also a cultural standpoint. It’s a real attribute to the town.”
In its early years, South Stage Cellars had a bit of a “Cheers” atmosphere, said Larry Brewster, who now works sales for DeRose Vineyards in Hollister, California. Nonetheless, there was a crowded feel.
“Porscha was headstrong,” Brewster said. “She thought on her own, and I don’t know if any of us saw what we did. But we saw bits and pieces all the time. What she started with the music, and not to exclude people in the other rooms and open that up. We all get to relish what Porscha’s dreams were. Slowly but surely, the backyard became more presentable and more ergonomic for people to sit, it’s what South Stage Cellars always should have presented. As you walk down town, you see that beauty, it’s a big invitation to come on in, and that’s really cool.”
Hidden down a side street, the tasting room isn’t an easy find for tourists or someone who hasn’t been to town before.
“It’s tough being off the beaten path, so a lot of it has been word of mouth and the reputation South Stage developed over the years,” said Kim Moulton, the operation’s business manager between 2009 and 2017. “Porscha was the one that pretty much drove that train. She was the creative one, and I was the practical one. She would say here’s what I want to do, how do we do it?”
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.