Gift basket as art form? Absolutely, we say, especially when it’s in the hands of Gretchen Gonyer.
Gonyer and family have been creating custom works of art filled with SLO-made wine and goods for more than 30 years from their chockablock shop, Crushed Grape.
A one-person community Google with connections to the region’s winemakers, food producers, ranchers and farmers, Gonyer has proven she’s as skilled at reinvention as she is at invention, reshaping the shop and its offerings several times to meet changing demand over the years.
One thing that’s remained constant — her commitment to celebrating those producers and supporting the local community by donating dozens of baskets each month to nonprofits and schools.
We caught up with SLO’s resident basket master to talk craziest creations, attempting to woo Steven Spielberg and what no gift basket should go without.
Early riser or night owl?
Early riser — best time of day. Great time to drive down Higuera and window shop!
Something you do every day:
Before I get up, I meditate and envision what I want to accomplish and also remind myself how lucky I am to have wonderful friends, family, customers, the best employees and great place to live.
Treat you remember fondly from childhood:
Leftover dough from mom’s pies baked with cinnamon and sugar.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Forest ranger (still do).
Easy — anything chocolate.
How do you relax?
In a hot/cold tub in my backyard with a book and watching trains go up the grade.
Favorite thing about San Luis Obispo:
Exploring the back roads.
Farthest you’ve ever sent a basket of SLO goodness:
Beijing, China. We’ve sent baskets to many other countries including Belgium, Spain, England, Ireland, New Zealand and Japan.
No gift basket is complete without:
San Luis Obispo food products, wines and SLO love while making it!
How did you get into the gift basket business?
After moving back from the Virgin Islands and pregnant with baby #4, it seemed like a good time to start a business. In the islands we had a cocktail and hors d’oeuvre bar, so why not try a wine and hors d’oeuvre bar in SLO? There were 17 wineries in the county at that time.
That first year we made simple gifts, and it just grew along with 300 more wineries. I attended Cal Poly and took the Learn by Doing motto to my wine store and have made thousands of baskets in these 33 years.
What was the most unusual request you’ve ever gotten for a gift basket?
A gentleman brought in a large peacock chair and a diamond engagement ring and requested a $1,000 showstopper basket, which he got — along with a wife when she saw it.
Some of my favorites have been for stars: Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey and all kinds of fun stars who have come to the PAC. One was a donation we made for an event at Hearst Castle. I had heard Steven Spielberg was attending, so we went all out with a gigantic basket — we needed a ladder to cellophane it. Knowing how amazingly creative he is, we decked out the inside with a Rube Goldberg marble run and all kinds of twinkle lights and live plants hoping he would see it and become a regular customer. Didn’t happen, but it did help the fundraiser.
We like to think we are the small store with big ideas. It’s still a joy to go to work every single day. I’m deeply grateful for the farmers, ranchers, producers and mom and pop businesses that have continued to come up with great foods, wines and retail products.