Paso Robles is a very interesting wine region located midway between San Francisco and Los Angelos in California, USA. It is one of most dynamic wine regions in the US and now home to more than 200 wineries.
I spent a couple of very enjoyable days there in the summer of 2011 and have met some of the Paso Robles winemakers on the East Coast. I was thrilled to have such a large number of these guys back in town at the occasion of the 2012 Paso Robles Grand Tasting Tour.
I met all of the visiting winemakers at a tasting at Hotel Palomar (and four of them at a winemaker dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern. See: Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA ). Some of the pictures are from previous postings.
Paso Robles has a long history of wine making and grape growing beginning in 1797 when the first wine grapes were introduced by the Franciscan missionaries at the historic Mission San Miguel Arcangel. The Padres produced wine for sacramental purposes. After Mexico secularized the California missions in the 1840s, the vineyards were abandoned until European immigrant farmers started to arrive in the 1860s, following California's independence in 1850.
Today, Paso Robles is California's third largest and fastest growing wine region, with over 26,000 acres of vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading variety for the Paso Robles appellation, accounting for 1/3 of the region's vineyard area. Major progress has largely come from a group of producers often referred to as the Rhône Rangers, specializing in grape varietals of the Rhône Valley of France. With Italian, Spanish and Rhône varieties on the upswing, more than 40 other varieties with 300 to less than an acre are planted in the region. In the last decade, Paso Robles has seen an increase from 35 to about 200 wineries, of which about two-thirds produce less than 5,000 cases.
The Rhone Rangers
The Rhone Rangers is a group of winemakers who promote the use of grape varieties from the Rhône Valley in the US. They are mostly based in Paso Robles, 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.
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.
The City of Paso Robles
The city of Paso Robles is a charming small, quiet town. There is quite a number of boutiques, antique stores and eateries all surrounding the city park, including the Paso Robles Wine Centre.
Paso Robles Winemakers Came to Washington DC
About 20 or so Paso Robles winemaker came to Washington for about a week in April 2012, to present their wines. I have listed all of them below. I added comments on those wineries that I knew.
Ancient Peaks Winery
Ancient Peaks is owned by 3 local winegrowing families—the Filipponis, Rossis and Wittstroms—who joined forces to pursue their mutual dream of crafting wines from their own vineyards in Paso Robles. Ancient Peaks Winery was established in 2005, and the first wines were released in the summer of 2007.
Ancient Peak’s wines hail exclusively from the family-owned vineyards in Paso Robles, with the majority coming from Margarita Vineyard, the appellation’s southernmost boundary.
Wines are crafted under the guidance of Mike Sinor. His approach is to rely as little as necessary on fining and other cellar manipulations to achieve a desired outcome. Wines produced include Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Ancient Peaks wines were presented by Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, VP of Sales and Marketing. Amanda is a fifth-generation Paso Robles native. I met Amanda at the Grand Tasting at the Palomar Hotel and at the winemaker dinner at Jose Andres’ American Eats Tavern: Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA
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.
Cass Vineyards and Winery at Screwtop Wine Bar in Virginia?
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 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.
I met Branson look-alike and Cass Vineyards and Winery Partner Ted Plemons in Washington DC at the Grand Tasting in 2012 and a year earlier at Srewtop Wine Bar at a winemaker dinner: Richard Branson Presenting Wines from Cass Vineyards and Winery at Screwtop Wine Bar in Virginia?
Grey Wolf Vineyards and Cellars
J.Lohr Vineyards and Wines
Justin Vineyards and Winery
Le Vigne Winery
It all began in the early 1960’s when the Filippini family purchased the property where Le Vigne winery now stands. Hay and cattle were the main commodities until 1982 when the first grapevines were planted. Early on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were planted to supplement the growing demand of other wine growing regions like Napa and Sonoma. As the vines matured, growers and winemakers began to see real potential for the area with its unique soils, climate and costal influence.
The Filippini family began making wine with grapes from their property beginning in 1989. Then built a state of the art winery in 1995 and developed additional vineyards in 1998, expanding the wineries varieties to include; Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc; in addition to the original plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. 2007 saw the planting of a complementary diversification, when 5 acres of Arbiquina olives were planted on the estate; additionally small blocks of Zinfandel, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Tannat were planted.
“Le Vigne” comes from Italian, and means, “The Vineyard”. With his Italian heritage winery owner Walter Filippini takes tradition and old world processes very much to heart.
“At Le Vigne Winery our goal is to create unique and outstanding wines that portray characteristics of the vineyard and vintage that produced them” said Zina Miakinkova, Marketing Manager, who presented the wines.
I met Zina at the Grand Tasting at the Palomar Hotel and at the winemaker dinner at Jose Andres’ American Eats Tavern: Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA
Niner Wine Estates
Peachy Canyon Winery
From the Vineyard to the bottle, Proulx is a family operation that has been carefully tended and nurtured by owners, Genoa and Kevin Riley, since the beginning.
The name, Proulx, is Kevin's maternal family name and its roots lie in Genoa’s family vineyard, located in the heart of Paso Robles’ renowned West Side. The fifty-five year old vineyard has produced stellar wines for many years, and when the Rileys began crushing fruit for Proulx in 2004, it did not disappoint. After taking a chance and chasing their dream to make exceptional wine of their own, they hit the ground running, selling out of 200 cases of their first vintage in a matter of months.
The years following have brought continued success for Proulx Wines. Today, Proulx Wines produces 1500 cases yearly with a tight focus on creating high-quality, approachable wines that are ready to drink at an early age.
The Proulx wines were presented by owner and winemaker Kevin Riley. Kevin Riley has always had his feet wet in the wine industry. Growing up in Westport, Connecticut, he worked along side his father and grandfather at Greens Farm Spirit Shop, where his passion for wines and winemaking all began. In 2002, he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Business and a minor in Viticulture.
I met Kevin at the Grand Tasting at the Palomar Hotel and at the winemaker dinner at Jose Andres’ American Eats Tavern: Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA
Tablas Creek Vineyard
In 1989, the American Robert Haas and the French Perrin family purchased a 120-acre parcel in west Paso Robles and named it Tablas Creek Vineyard, after the small creek running through the property.
Robert Haas is the founder of Vineyard Brands – a major American wine importer - in 1971. Robert Haas began his career in 1950, as the buyer for his father’s wine shop in New York City. Today, Vineyard Brands employees more than 50 people and represents over 25 growers of estate-bottled wines in Burgundy, Chablis, the Rhône, Loire Valley, Alsace and Southern France as well as some of the best wines available from Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Germany and Italy.
The Perrin family owns the famous Château de Beaucastel winery in the southern part of the Rhône valley in France.
Tablas Creek Wines from Paso Robles and Belgian Food at Brasserie Beck with Tablas Greek GM Jason Haas and Chef Robert Wiedmaier in Washington DC, USA
Tablas Creek in Paso Robles follows the centuries-old Châteauneuf du Pape tradition of blending varietals. Each varietal is hand-harvested when completely ripe and fermented separately. Winemaking preserves the wines' ties to their soil, climate, and varietal character by applying native yeast fermentation and using neutral French oak barrels for aging.
The winery's flagship Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc wines debuted in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Total estate production ranges between 12,000 and 20,000 cases depending on vintage, with an additional 7,000 cases of non-estate Patelin de Tablas beginning in 2010.
At the dinner at America Etas Tavern, I was happy to sit next to Danny Haas, the son of Robert Haas. Danny Haas continues the tradition of a close family relationship with the French proprietors and makes a number of trips to taste and select wines during the year for Vineyard Brands.
The Tablas Creek wines were presented by Tommy Oldre, the National Sales Manager. I met Tommy at the Grand Tasting at the Palomar Hotel and at the winemaker dinner at Jose Andres’ American Eats Tavern: Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA
Since 2004, the Thacher Winery has been hand-crafting wines from vineyards found on the Westside of Paso Robles and in Southern Monterey County. It is a boutique winery that specializes in Rhone blends and Zinfandels.
Thacher Winery is a family operation of Sherman Thacher and his wife Michelle. Sherman started as a brewer and became an award winning brewmaster. He held that responsibility for 16 years but he is now a very successful winemaker. “I may do something with apples and produce hard cider in the future” said Sherman. The orchard that lies between the entrance gate and the winery will provide the fruit. As a big fan of applewine from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, I am looking forward to this.
Sherman and Michelle’s home and the home of the Thacher winery - the Kentucky Ranch - was part of a 4,000 acre Spanish Land Grant until 1869 after which it became a thriving horse breeding operation. In addition to Shermand Michelle’s home and the winery, the ranch includes a 1920’s Kentucky Ranch barn, outbuildings, barley fields, riparian habitat for deer, coyotes, bobcats, turkeys and the occasional mountain lion as well as the vineyard (2 acres), which was planted in the spring of 2007 and which consists of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. The “KR” on the barn is a well-known landmark of old time Paso Robles.
Construction of the tasting room and the 4600 square foot winery was completed in 2008, just in time for the fourth harvest of 33 tons of premium wine grapes. Case production was about 1800 cases in 2008 - almost double the production of previous years. Currently, Thacher Winery produces 2000 cases. Sherman does not want to expand production beyond 3500 to 4000 cases. This is an output level which he thinks he can handle with his wife without overstretching.
Sherman Thacher and his Thacher Winery in Paso Robles, California
Although the farm includes some vineyard land, Sherman buys most of the fruit and “that will remain so” he said. He is more interested in the fermentation and aging part of winemaking and less in growing the grapes. This dichotomy between vine growing and wine making is very common in the US, but a bit difficult to comprehend from an European perspective. “I will always buy – it is like buying different spices” said Sherman.
The Paso Robles wineries have teamed up to various groups. The Thacher winery is part of the “Far Out Wineries”, all wineries that are situated west of the Paso Robles town. We took the scenic drive on Peach Canyon Road from Paso Robles downtown to the winery. It took as a bit longer than on Adelaida Road, but it was worth every minute. The area their reminded me very much of Southern France. It was a gorgeous drive.
I met Paso Robles Wine Maker Sherman Thacher in Washington DC at the Grand Tasting 2012 and at a winemaker dinner 2 years ago: Meeting a Rhone Ranger and Tasting His Wines - Sherman Thacher from Paso Robles in California
Treana and Hope Family Wines
schiller-wine: Related Postings
Celebrating Paso Robles Wines and Classic American Cuisine - Winemaker Dinner at Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern in Washington DC with 4 Paso Robles Winemakers, USA
Meeting a Rhone Ranger and Tasting His Wines - Sherman Thacher from Paso Robles in California
Richard Branson Presenting Wines from Cass Vineyards and Winery at Screwtop Wine Bar in Virginia?
Visiting Sherman Thacher and his Thacher Winery in Paso Robles, California
Tasting Wines at the Paso Robles Wine Centre in Paso Robles, California
Tablas Creek Wines from Paso Robles and Belgian Food at Brasserie Beck with Tablas Greek GM Jason Haas and Chef Robert Wiedmaier in Washington DC, USA
Tasting with James Brian Judd and Eric Alvarez their “A Cellar Full of Noise” and Judd Family Wines in Paso Robles, California