Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Branson look-alike and Cass Vineyards and Winery Partner Ted Plemons
No, not the Virgin Boss Richard Branson - it was Branson look-alike and Cass Vineyards and Winery Partner Ted Plemons, who was in town to present his new releases. I caught up with him at screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington. Cass Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, California, predominantly uses grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in France and belongs to the group of Rhone Rangers. With a production of 8000 cases, it is a boutique winery.
The Rhone Rangers
The Rhone Rangers are a group of winemakers who promote the use of grape varieties from the Rhône Valley in the US. They are mostly based in the Central Coast of California, but also in other parts of the US. In particular, the Rhone Rangers are considered a catalyst in making Syrah more prevalent on the Californian wine landscape. In the 1980s, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard and Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wine Cellars began popularizing the marketing of the Rhône varietals.
The French government recognizes 22 varieties in the various appellations that comprise this large and diverse wine-growing region. Rhone Appellations, including Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu, Chateuneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Bandol and Cotes du Rhone each choose a different subset from the collection of these 22 grapes.
Pictures: Ted Plemons
The most common red Rhone varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhone and Grenache in the Southern Rhone. Other relatively common red grapes include Cinsault, Carignan, and Petite Sirah. The Rhone Rangers have also adopted Zinfandel as a "cousin" grape. The principal white Rhone varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhone Valley, with Grenache Blanc a widely planted but less well known contributor in the Southern Rhone.
Cass Vineyards and Winery is in the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA), which is located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s central coast. More than 26,000 acres are planted to vineyards that provide fruit for Paso Robles wineries and others throughout the state. Today there are more than 170 wineries.
Picture: The Wine Regions of California
The Story of Cass Vineyards and Winery
The story of Cass Vineyards and Winery began in 2000, when Steve Cass decided to retire after having worked for 20 years with Charles Schwab and to start a second career as an entrepreneur in the wine industry. He moved from the east coast to the west coast and bought land in Paso Robles.
Then enter Richard Branson look-alike Tim Plemons, now his junior partner, who had been a builder all his live and who helped Steve with the construction work. Tim constructed the Cass Vineyards and Winery facilities, a home for Steve and his family and then a home for himself and his wife and became a junior partner in the Cass operation. He is mainly into the selling side of Cass. “I am now the public face of Cass” he said.
Pictures: Ted Plemons with Christian G.E.Schiller
Initially, Cass was supposed to be a grape growing operation only, with all the fruit of its 160 acres being sold to winemakers. But when Steve and Tim went to South Africa to play some golf, they met the young winemaker Lood Kotze from Stellenbosch and decided to also make wine. Cass Vineyards and Winery was borne. Lood Kotze, a native from South Africa, studied viticulture and enology at the University of Stellenbosch. He has been permanently with Cass since 2007.
Cass Vineyards and Winery
Cass Vineyards and Winery is located in the rolling, oak-studded hills between Paso Robles and Creston on California's beautiful Central Coast. Its vineyards are situated on the west side of Paso Robles, which benefits from the evening breezes of the Templeton Gap, surrounded by hills covered in oaks.
All the wines crafted at Cass Vineyards and Winery are estate grown. In total, there are 12 grape varieties planted with a focus on Rhone varities, but also some Bordeaux varieties. Cass now produces 8000 cases per year. “We will always stay a boutique winery and will not go beyond 10.000 cases” said Tim.
Tim told us about the beautiful set up: “The winery building is surrounded by giant oaks and well tended vineyards with picnic tables and horse shoe pits. The modern hacienda-style barn with patio houses a café- style tasting room and winery.” I hope I can swing by in June, when I am in California.
What Ted Poured
2010 Cass Viognier
The estate-grown Viognier opens with a fragrant bouquet of white flowers, tropical fruit, and sweet cream. Aromas of Satsuma mandarin, banana, and guava are pure and focused, highlighted by notes of mineral. The round, creamy texture is balanced with crisp acidity that brings the intense fruit to life. Flavors of white peach, ripe banana and Granny Smith apple engulf the palate, finishing with notes of honey and wet stone.
Picture: The Cass Wines Ted Poured
Aiming to preserve the intense fruit and aromatics of the variety, this Viognier was fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel. Hand-picked in the early morning, the cold grapes were pressed within moments after coming off the vine. Following juice settling, a long, cold fermentation commenced using a unique South African yeast strain. Malolactic fermentation was inhibited to preserve acidity, keeping the wine fresh and crisp.
Harvest Date 9/27/2010 Sugar 24.5 brix Acid TA: 5.8 g/l PH 3.58 Fermentation 100% Stainless Steel Alcohol % 15.4
2010 Cass Oasis
This Rosé is a blend of Grenache (40%), Syrah (40%) and Malbec (20%). Off-dry with aromas of watermelon. On the palate, flavors of strawberry shortcake and cinnamon.
2009 Cass Mouvedre
This Mourvèdre was cropped from an estimated 6-8 tons per acre to 4 tons per acre to improve the intensity of the flavor and the color. It was hand picked and fermented in open top fermenters, punched down 3 times a day and pumped over once each day. Mourvèdre is often blended with Syrah to bring spice and fruit to the blend. The downside to the blending is that the character of the Mourvèdre is easily overpowered by wines with strong character. Lood Kodze went very light, adding only 5% Syrah.
Picture: 2009 Cass Mouvedre
Sugar 25.1 brix Acid TA .64g/100ml Aging 75% Neutral; 25% New French ½ medium, grain ½ tight grain. 17 months in barrel. Alcohol % 15.6
275 cases produced
2009 Cass Rockin One Red
A true SMG blend, this wine brings you the white pepper of Mourvèdre (26%) , strawberry of Grenache (17%), earthy chocolate and cherry notes of Syrah (50%); there is also a bit of Petite Syrah (7%).
Harvest Date Syrah - 9/16/08 Grenache 9/22/08 Mourvedre 10/2/08 Sugar 25.7 brix Acid TA .79g/100ml PH 3.42 Aging 18 months in barrel Alcohol % 15
2007 Cass Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Merlot (10%) and Petite Verdot (5%)
Cabernet Sauvignon comprises the largest planted acreage at Cass. Picked in early September, the grapes were fermented into 5-ton open top fermenters and pumped over multiple times per day to achieve maximum extraction, which was necessary to match the ripe flavors of the vintage. Aged for 22 months in French oak, 75% of which was new.
Displaying the ripeness of the vintage, the Cabernet shows rich aromatics of red currant, plum, caramelized maple syrup, and roasted red pepper. Dense on the palate, it offers up a mouthful of chewy tannins that are balanced by pleasantly fresh acidity and a soft, round mid palate. Chocolate and coffee flavors coat the bing cherry, red currant, and dried berry notes. The finish firms up slightly, which in addition to the tight acidity suggests that this Cab will age gracefully.
Harvest Date 9/6/2008 and 9/11/2008 Sugar 26.7 brix Acid TA: 7.0 g/l PH 3.46 Aging 22 months in 75% new French oak Fermentation 5 ton open-top fermenters Alcohol % 14.2
Retail $ 41.99
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