Creating Buzz and Embracing Generosity: Tobin James Winery

Meet the Guests

Lance and Claire Silver are the dynamic duo behind Tobin James Winery in Paso Robles, CA. Their journey from the clothing industry to becoming renowned winemakers and creating buzz in the wine community is both inspiring and instructive.

Lance and Claire Silver, owners of Tobin James Winery in Paso Robles, CA enjoying a glass of wine from their cellar. Today they talked about creating buzz and embracing generosity.
Lance and Claire Silver, owners of Tobin James Winery in Paso Robles, CA enjoying a glass of wine from their cellar. Today they talked about creating buzz and embracing generosity.

Background Story

Lance and Claire met at UNLV and started their first venture—a women’s clothing company—right out of college. Despite having no prior employment experience, they navigated the highs and lows of the garment industry, learning invaluable lessons along the way. 

Transition to Wine Business

During the 1991-1992 recession, Lance and Claire decided to leave the clothing business. The shift to overseas production and a tightening economy provided the perfect opportunity to change careers while their children were young.

Entering the Wine Industry

The Silvers had a passion for wine dating back to their college days. They spent five years searching for the right winery, considering various regions, before falling in love with Paso Robles. Their journey took an unexpected turn when Gary Eberly introduced them to Tobin James, who offered to sell his winery. Lance and Claire quickly decided to partner with Toby, taking over day-to-day operations.

Financial Journey

Initially funded by personal savings and parental support, the Silvers grew their clothing business with strategic vendor and bank support. They brought a philosophy of minimal borrowing and quick loan repayments to the wine business, ensuring self-sufficiency and resilience against economic downturns.

Business Philosophy

Lance and Claire emphasize the importance of owning their business without relying heavily on debt. This approach provides them confidence in weathering economic challenges, informed by their experiences in the volatile garment industry.

Brand Identity

The star logo on Tobin James products, designed by a Cal Poly student, became a traditional symbol for the winery. The dot matrix look was retained for its authentic feel, symbolizing the winery’s commitment to quality and tradition.

Growing Organically

One key lesson from their clothing business was rapid growth can be unsustainable. In the wine industry, they chose to grow organically and incrementally, driven by market demand rather than aggressive expansion. This approach allowed them to build a solid infrastructure by creating buzz and gaining a loyal customer base.

Importance of Generosity

Generosity is a cornerstone of the Tobin James business model. Initially surprised by the industry’s practice of giving away wine for tastings, Lance and Claire quickly embraced it. Sharing their wine with customers has created lasting memories and strong customer relationships.

Challenges in the Wine Business

Agriculture-based businesses like winemaking are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Lance and Claire have navigated adverse weather conditions and challenging years, such as the El Niño year, by maintaining a commitment to quality. They learned to adapt and find buyers even for less-than-ideal batches of wine.

Creating Buzz for the Wine Club

The Tobin James wine club offers exceptional benefits, including exclusive reserves, significant discounts, and perks like guest house stays and special events. Their goal is to exceed customer expectations with every shipment. The wine club has grown from small gatherings to large events, creating a buzz to attract and retain members.

Being Copied by Competitors

Initially viewed as a negative, being copied by competitors is now seen as a compliment. The collaborative nature of the wine industry means sharing ideas ultimately benefits everyone.

Common Customer Questions

Lance and Claire often answer common customer questions with humor and honesty. When asked about the flavors in their wine, they joke about adding Cherry Lifesavers or cherry stones but explain the complex flavors come naturally from the grapes… news flash, that’s just a joke.

Love for Wine-Making Tools

Their passion for winemaking extends to their tools—stainless steel, concrete, and oak. These materials are essential for creating high-quality wines, and the Silvers appreciate the craftsmanship involved in their use.

Special Memories with Wine

One memorable story involves a special bottle of wine saved for their 25th anniversary. Despite its increasing value, they chose to share it with friends, illustrating the joy of sharing and creating lasting memories through wine.

Encouragement for Struggling Business Owners

Lance and Claire encourage struggling business owners to have patience, stick with it, and not panic. They believe in the cyclical nature of business and emphasize the importance of passion and commitment.


Lance and Claire Silver’s journey from the clothing industry to owning Tobin James Winery offers valuable lessons for any business owner. Their focus on incremental growth, creating a buzz, and embracing generosity has built a resilient and beloved brand. Their story encourages innovative strategies and a steadfast commitment to quality and customer relationships.

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Reach out to our guest: Tobin James Winery