Tag Archives: Paso Robles

SANTA RITA HILLS AVA – BURGUNDY ON THE CENTRAL COAST

I recently spent a couple of days in the Santa Rita Hills (LINK to Prior Posts), located north of the city of Santa Barbara and west of the cities of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. The unique geography and geology of the Santa Rita Hills AVA (the mountains and valleys run west to east allowing cooling Pacific winds and moisture to come further inland), make this an excellent location for Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is also a decent amount of Syrah grown here, along with a few other varietals in smaller lots.

Over two days, we visited five wineries and stopped at a sixth just to buy some wine. I am going to feature four, Ampelos, Foley, Hilliard-Bruce, and Pence Ranch.

Pence Ranch Vineyard & Winery (LINK): I visited here last year, when they were relatively new as a tasting room operation (LINK). At that time, I was told that their plan was to open the tasting room for regular hours in the future. When we stopped without an appointment, I was told that they were back to the appointment system, but there was availability. Jake, took us via a large golf cart to a part of the property where an outdoor tasting room area had been created. We had a very nice experience tasting the Pence wines, and then got a tour of the vineyard portion of the property. The Pence Ranch is relatively narrow and runs nearly two miles deep off Route 246 between Buellton and Lompoc. The front of the property is where the vineyards and wine tasting rooms are, the back is an equestrian center and a working cattle ranch. The winery is in Lompoc.

At Pence, you taste the Pinot Noirs before the Chardonnays, the former being elegant in style, the latter being more pronounced, if not the traditional butter-bomb California Chardonnay. Their wines are uniformly well-crafted and made to enjoy with food. This year, we also tasted a Gamay wine, which is young and crisp but very complex. I plan to take a bottle back to France to share with my friends used to drinking Beaujolais. So, make an appointment to visit, or order their wines from their website – you are not likely to find Pence Ranch Wines at your retailer.

Foley Estates Vineyard (LINK): Foley has been making great wine in the Santa Rita Hills for decades. Their tasting room is nicely appointed, next to the huge “barrel room” where special events can be held. Like all the SRH wineries with some history, Foley makes very good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. They also make a very good Syrah. Their blended Chardonnays, Pinots, and the single vineyard versions of these varietals each have their own characteristics. We particularly liked the 2015 “T-Ranch” Chardonnay and the 2015 “T-Ranch Pinot Noir (there are also 2013 and 2014 Pinots available currently), but all were good. Foley is worth a visit when you are in Santa Barbara County. You can also order wines from their website.

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards (LINK): A smaller, boutique producer, Hilliard Bruce Vineyards occupies 101 acres (21 under cultivation) to the west of storied Clos Pepe Vineyard along Route 246. This was my first visit to Hilliard Bruce and you have to be impressed with the beautiful grounds, architecturally striking winery/tasting room building, and the vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The wines do not disappoint. Four 2014 Pinots from their Earth, Sun, Moon, and Sky vineyards, each have nuances that separate them from the others, yet all are clearly in the same family. Spicy, peppery, soft and velvety Pinots will go well with food.

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The Chardonnay is also made to go with food, as the bottle we bought to have with our picnic lunch showed. Well-structured, with a hint of buttery mouthfeel, the 2014 Chardonnay is classic Santa Rita Hills in style and should drink well for several years. We did meet John Hilliard during our visit – he was most cordial and, like almost everyone in the wine industry, liked to talk about his wines and his property. Hilliard Bruce is open by appointment; their wines are available via their website.

Ampelos Cellars (LINK): Full disclosure – my wife has known Peter and Rebecca Work for a few decades, having worked with them years ago when they were all with Price-Waterhouse. But Dorianne was not with me on this visit, and Peter and Rebecca, sadly, were not at the tasting room in Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto when some friends and I visited recently. I have enjoyed their wines for years.

Ampelos uses biodynamic and organic farming practices (LINK) and produces a range of wines, some of which are atypical for the Santa Rita Hills AVA. These include their Viognier and Grenache (bottled as a single varietal and blended with Syrah for their Syrache red blend). Viognier and Rose of Syrah constitute the lighter end of their offerings; two Pinot Noirs in the mid-range; and Grenache, Syrah, and Syrache at the heavier end. Of course, none of these wines are really big wines like you would find in Napa Valley or Paso Robles these days. Ampelos focuses on balance and elegance, putting them well within the Santa Rita Hills style in this regard. The vineyard is down the 246 a way; the winery is also in Lompoc. Wines are available for order at the website, and you will find them at better wine shops here and there.

I also stopped at Ken Brown Wines in Buellton to buy some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on our way out of the area. Brown is one of the pioneers of the AVA and produces some amazing wines in the Burgundian style. I frequently tell my friends in France about the Santa Rita Hills with their east-west mountains and valleys and their Burgundian style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Now I will have a few to take back and share with them.

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

A VISIT TO PASO ROBLES – THREE WINERIES

Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.

As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.

Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).

Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroir origins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.

Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.

The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online. 

Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).

The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75% Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56% Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95% Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.

Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2017

This has been a very unique year for me in terms of wine exploration and enjoyment. After traveling full time between North America and Europe for 2 ½ years, Dorianne and I have settled in Lyon, France. Although we continue to travel for various reasons (I’m writing this in Southern California), we have been exploring the local wine scene in and around Lyon since July – and have discovered that there is a lot to learn, and even more to enjoy.

Lyon France

The year began with our annual few days in Pismo Beach, CA with our friends to explore wineries from Paso Robles, the Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. The highlights of that trip were Sculptera Vineyards in Paso Robles (we all joined the wine club and bought two cases), Presqu’ile Vineyards in Santa Maria, and Pence Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. (LINK to Post about the last two)

The cases from Sculptera (mixed cases) were sent to Roam Miami (LINK), where Dorianne and I stayed last winter. A co-living/co-working space, Roam offered a haven of tropical peace and calm right next to downtown Miami and the Brickell area. We were surrounded mostly by Millennial digital nomads, and we conducted a few wine tastings and seminars to help educate them about wine enjoyment. (LINK to Post about Millennials and Wine).

In late March, we headed back to southern Oregon, Medford and Ashland, to see friends and explore more of the Rogue Valley wine scene. A month there took us to several wonderful wineries (LINK to Post) and some great restaurants.

The next highlight was two weeks in New York, staying in my daughter’s Harlem apartment, where we got to explore the burgeoning Harlem French wine and restaurant scene (LINK to Post about Harlem). Lots of good experiences there.

In June I traveled solo to Kelowna, British Columbia, the heart of the rich Okanagan Wine Region in western Canada (Link to Post about the Okanagan). Here I explored a variety of wineries and wines, as global warming has opened the region to growing red grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon, to Tempranillo, to Syrah. Kelowna is a boomtown for vacation homes and recreation on its 90-mile-long glacial lake. The wine scene is growing more sophisticated with over 200 wineries in the area. Dirty Laundry Winery showcases much of what is fun in the Okanagan (LINK to Post).

After Kelowna, we spend some time in London (LINK to Post) it was off to Ireland’s Connemara area, where we drank Guinness for the most part. Then, in July, we made the move to Lyon (LINK to Post on Living in France).

Lyon has been a revelation in terms of wine. Centered between Burgundy to the north, the Rhône Valley to the south, Beaujolais to the west, and Jura to the east, there is an embarrassment of riches. And some surprises.

  1. The French don’t like to spend a lot of money on wine. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but you rarely see a bottle above 20€ in a grocery store or over 40€ in the local wine cave (shop). Restaurants generally sell wine bottles at or just above retail. And winemakers sell wines for half to 2/3’s what they would cost in the US. A potis a 460ML bottle – a bit more than a half-bottle – of house wine which will cost 8 to 12€ in a Bouchon (Lyonnaise for bistro). There are also demi-pots and rare 500ML bottles.
  2. Box wines are better quality than I expected. For about 25€ you can get a 5-liter box of a very drinkable Luberon Valley red wine; 18€ for the rosé.
  3. Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
  4. Maconnais Chardonnays are wonderful wines. Just north of Lyon, the vineyards of Macon produce some wonderfully approachable wines which sell for ½ or 1/3 of what their Burgundian cousins to the north fetch. Another nice surprise was Aligoté, the other Burgundy white – crisp, with a mineral/floral nose, it is a great value choice from the same winemakers who make the expensive stuff.
  5. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is just Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc is just Sauvignon. Cases in France are 6 bottles. Just FYI.

As I noted in the Moving to France Post (LINK), we tend to shop every day for fresh items at the open-air marchés and the mom-and-pop bakeries, butchers, etc. This may also include a stop at the wine cave to pick up a bottle or two and have a conversation with the proprietor about what is new and interesting.

We have not yet begun to explore the wineries and vineyards in the area – our focus has been on learning French, getting to know the city, and finding a flat to purchase – however, we expect to do a lot of that in 2018.

We are winding up 2017 in Southern California with friends and family. Our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends will feature a cold lobster appetizer that I am making and a Ken Brown Chardonnay to accompany it; then roast leg of lamb with a 2005 Opus One and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to see the year out with something wonderful.

Next week, we return to Pismo Beach to explore the Central Coast some more, then . . .

Who knows?

Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

A RETURN VISIT TO PASO ROBLES

Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.

On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK) on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.

Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.

Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?

Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.

Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back.  So many good wines.

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The Gang at Sculptera’s Wine Tasting Room

Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.

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Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.

The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

DEMYSTIFYING YOUR WINE ENJOYMENT

The wine world is filled with possibilities. There are dozens of nations, hundreds of regions, thousands of appellations, tens of thousands of vignerons and wine makers, and probably hundreds of thousands of wine outlets if you count restaurants. You can add to that all of the wine knowledge, science, literature, publications, websites, bloggers, and well, it’s a lot. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant, asking for a wine from a specific label which you happen to like, and them actually having it?

How is one to make choices about what to drink and when?

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Dorianne at Gallerie Lafayette’s Chateau d’Yquem Display – Paris

And there are price points to consider, wine rating points (should I order a 91 or an 88?), sometimes snooty sommeliers and wine shop employees, various vintages of differing quality, and labels, labels, labels. And those labels are on bottles with corks, bottles with screwcaps, boxes, cans, casks, and more. And by the way, how should you store that wine?

Wine Angst
Too many options can be frustrating.

Oh, and what wines to serve with which foods? Which wines to sip alone? What kind of wine opener should I use? What other wine accessories should I buy? What temperature at which to serve the wine? In what kind of glass (or slipper)? Bubbly, sweet, dry, demi-sec? Port or late harvest? And ice wine!

wine-redness
Many “experts” are just guessing.

All of this can be seen as a huge obstacle to wine enjoyment, or it can be seen as a vast array of opportunities to enjoy wine. Like much of life, it all depends on your attitude.

Entry into the world of wine is really quite easy. Wine is practically ubiquitous – it’s pretty much everywhere. I was just in eastern Ukraine and had local wine, some of which was delicious (LINK).

One way to view the many options in the wine world and all of the different types of knowledge and skill that goes into the whole process of bringing wine to your table, is to see an opportunity for almost endless exploration. You can have a different wine every day and never repeat yourself (assuming varied wine retail options in your area and online).

Another way to approach the wine world is to find a few wines that you like and stop there. I have a friend who rarely drinks anything beyond Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay; another who will only drink oaky chardonnays. Some may only drink Port wines; others Napa Cabernets.

wine-pouring-gig

You can study broadly or do a deep dive into a narrow range of wine knowledge and experience. Most will be somewhere in between the extremes, but there is a niche for everyone. The key is not to pay too much attention to what the “experts” or the marketing forces tell you as they try to steer you toward their own preferences. Find your own way – if it isn’t interesting or fun for you, you’re not doing it right.

Me, I have some favorite wines, some favorite producers, some favorite growing areas, and some favorite countries. I also like to experiment with wines I have not tried yet, but I tend to favor a known quantity with a good meal. For example, we were in Kraków, Poland recently (LINK), dining at Padre, a local Polish restaurant. I was having lamb and noted that there was a very nice French Malbec from Cahors on the list. Knowing how a rich, inky Cahors Malbec would go with lamb made my decision easy – so I passed on some Polish wines. I picked a favorite over the chance to explore – that time. At other times, I will make a different decision. But that is me. You may well do something different.

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Visiting Wineries can be both Fun and Educational.

My point is that the bulk of the effort in learning about wine should go into learning what YOU like about it. Then go from there. You may become an expert in Cabernet Sauvignons from the east side of Paso Robles; or you may be the go-to person for advice on Hungarian reds. Or, you may be that person who always drinks Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.

So, if you are new to wine, consider building yourself a starter case (LINK) to see what you like. Let your local wine retailer know your preferences, including if you like to try new things or stick close to what you already know. If you travel, check out the local wine scene, either in town – wine bars, urban wineries and restaurants; or head out into the local wine country to taste and explore. In an airport? Stop at Vino Volo and try a wine that you’ve never had before. Sign up for an online service like WTSO.com (LINK) and opt for something new to you.

Starter Case Slide
A Starter Case is a great way to find out what wines you like.

Maybe you are a long-time wine consumer who is ready to spread your wings a bit. You might begin with your local wine shop – tell them what you like and ask them how you can explore some new wines that have a similar profile. Go to a Greek restaurant with good Greek wines on the wine list, and try some if that is new to you. See if there are some small producers of wines in your local area and give them a try. There are lots of possibilities. Try not to be intimidated by the experts or by too many choices. Take your time and stick to what you like – and maybe explore around the edges.

The world of wine is literally at your feet. Enjoy!

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Text Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

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Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

JIM LOCKARD ON WINE FEATURED IN THE WINE STALKER’S LATEST POST

This blog has been pretty quiet since returning from Oregon last week. But that is about to change – next week will see several posts including our full product line tasting of Chile’s Los Vascos wines, the recounting of a tasting of Paso Robles’ LXV wines and a new boutique local wine tour business serving California’s Central Coast AVAs, and Dorianne and I will be heading up to Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills AVAs this coming week for a bit of a tour.

In the meantime, The Wine Stalker (LINK) has included us in a really great article about wine bloggers who live a distance from wine regions.

(LINK TO ARTICLE) 

Winestalker

Here is a quote from that post:

The Rest Of Us: Wine Blogging Outside Of Wine Country ~ The Wine Stalker – A blog for WINE GEEKS & WINE LOVERS (LINK):

“How is your travel availability to actually go to wine regions or blogger conferences?
Again, my wife and I travel nearly full time, 1/2 in the US and 1/2 in Europe. I lead wine tours in France (http://deluxewinetours.com/), so I get to meet a lot of French winemakers. We also spend a lot of time in Spain. This year we will also travel in the Ukraine and Poland, so I am looking forward to seeing what’s happening there.”

So thanks to The Wine Stalker for including us in the blog.

And, since you are here already, time is running out to register for our amazing October 2016 Tour of northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône where we will enjoy some of the finest wines in France. 

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We will spend seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River in a 5 star hotel, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.

Hotel

Hôtel Le Prieuré

This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.

Here is the (LINK TO THE WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER) 

PASO ROBLES TRIP, PART 2.TABLAS CREEK VINEYARD AND CALCAREOUS WINERY

As I noted in my last post (LINK), Dorianne and I went to Paso Robles  along California’s Central Coast region for three nights and two days of wine tasting with her sister and brother-in-law, Debby and Mike. Our daughter, Grace, joined us on the first day of wine tasting, but the four of us were on our own as we set out on Tuesday morning. We decided to keep it to two wineries to allow time for a nature walk later in the day.

Our first stop on the west side was Tablas Creek Vineyards (LINK) in the Adelaida AVA of west Paso Robles. Long known for their expertise in Rhône varietalsTablas Creek has a Rhône River partner, Chateau Beaucastel (LINK) in France. You could spend months studying the Tablas Creek history, viticulture, wine making techniques, and tasting their wines (maybe a lifetime on that), but we only had a couple of hours.

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From the website (LINK) with embedded links:

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain.

The partners imported the traditional varietals grown on the Perrins’ celebrated estate, including Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise for reds, and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc for whites. These imported vines passed a rigorous 3-year USDA testing program, were propagated and grafted in our on-site nursery, and used to plant our organic estate vineyard.

Dorianne and I were members of the Tablas Creek wine club for a couple of years before we moved from Southern California. Their wines are beautifully crafted and many of their varietals are unique on the Central Coast, or even in all of California. They produce a few dozen wines, only three of which, called their core blends, are distributed widely. Here is the link to their wines page (LINK) for a more thorough description of each one.

Tablas Creek Vineyards and Tasting Room is located at the far west end of the Paso Robles area, which means that they are closer to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling influence. The tasting room is modern and state-of-the-art, with views into the winery. Several tasting stations surround a central core with displays of wines and other things for sale. As you approach the entryway, a display of grape vines for sale and a tub of stainless steel water bottles for guests to use during their visit.

The tasting room was crowded when we arrived. We found some space at a station being staffed by Suphada Rom, a very knowledgeable and well-traveled young woman from Vermont. Like many of the winery and tasting room workers in California, she arrived after some experience in Old World wine regions and developed a love for wineSuphada writes a wine blog (LINK).

The tasting experience at Tablas Creek involves the core blends and one or two varietals. To keep it short, I will just say that the core blends are always of a very high caliber. What I seek out at Tablas Creek are the single varietals. Our tasting included the 2013 Viognier and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were very good – the Cabernet being smoother and lighter, more elegant  than the typical Paso Robles-style Cabernet, which are big powerful wines.

Before departing Tablas Creek, we purchased a four-pack of varietals that included the 2013 Cabernet, 2012 Tannat2012 Picpoul Blanc (a varietal we enjoyed in France), and the 2013 Vermentino – a set that should provide many pleasures in the coming months.

Our next stop was farther east, up on a very high hill closer to Paso Robles on the border between the Adelaida and Willow Creek AVAsCalcereous (pronounced with two hard “C’s”) is another wonderful Paso Robles wine experience. The name comes from the limestone soils of the area.

From their website (LINK): “Father and daughter Lloyd Messer and Dana Brown realized their dream of finding a place to express their passion for wine in 2000, when they established Calcareous Vineyards on one of the highest limestone plateaus on Paso Robles’ westside. Both Lloyd and Dana, experienced wine distributors in their native Iowa, recognized the westside of Paso Robles had potential to produce world class wines. Their acquisition of 342 acres atop solid calcareous rock reaching 1,800 feet above sea level confirmed their dedication to producing the highest quality, terroir driven wines possible.  It is a labor of love to cultivate fruit on this challenging land, but the reward is immediately apparent when tasting the wines.”

 

Everything about Calcereous is beautiful – the wines, the land, the tasting room, and the experience. Our tasting room host, Karl Jepsen, is from Denmark. He gave an animated and informative “wine seminar” as we tasted six wines (five from the list and one additional).

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Karl led us through the tasting, going over the provenance of each wine and adding some additional bits of information, such as how to determine which aspects of the bouquet of the wine come from the fruit and which come from the barrel.

Calcereous wines are premium wines – every wine we tasted was in the 90’s in my own mental ratings chart. We were given an impromptu tour of the  vineyard & winery as well. I think we spent nearly 3 hours there. Wine highlights were the 2014 Estate Chardonnay, the 2013 ZSM (a fantastic blend of Zinfandel, Syrah & Merlot), and the 2012 Lloyd Bordeaux-style Blend, a truly exceptional wine Our 1/2 case purchase contained all three of those.

A note about the restaurant where we ate lunch after these great winery experiences – Fish Gaucho (LINK) in downtown Paso Robles did not disappoint. Very good Mexican dishes, large portions, and a nice atmosphere with good service. It’s worth a look when you are in Paso Robles.

There are over 200 wineries in Paso Robles, California. We visited just five of the more established producers on this short trip. I look forward to returning soon and exploring some of the smaller and newer producers.

As always, your comments are welcome.

And it was chilly – here are Dorianne and Debby clearing the ice from the car in the morning.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

PASO ROBLES TRIP, PART 1. EBERLE, TOBIN JAMES & CASS WINERIES

Dorianne and I did a post-Christmas trip to Paso Robles this week. We were accompanied by her sister Debby and Debby’s husband, Mike, who live in Oklahoma, but love wine very much. The trip was really a good experience, so I will cover it in two posts.

Paso Robles has become the premier region of California’s Central Coast, which is saying something, as there are a lot of great wines coming from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. With over 200 producers, Paso Robles is the largest region (it includes 11 AVA’s), but it is also the place where the most experimentation and innovation is happening, which is by design. The focus is mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but there are dozens of varietals being grown and the Rhône-style wines produced there are world-class.

I have written before of our trips there to attend the Garagiste Festivals (LINKS). This time, we selected just a few wineries to visit, three on the east side and two on the west side; HWY 101 is the divider. This post will speak to the east side and Part 2 the west side.

Our arrival on Sunday night began with dinner at Mistura (LINK), a Peruvian themed restaurant located at a golf course on the east side of town. This highly rated restaurant was an excellent choice for food and beverage, but our timing was off. The Sunday after Christmas is a very unpredictable night, and they were a bit over-crowded. We did not get seated for our 7:00 pm reservation until about 7:45 pm and our dinner did not arrive until almost 8:30 pm. That said, the staff was very gracious and helpful the wine list is very good, and the venue is very nice. Avoid the holidays and you should have a great experience.

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On Monday, joined by our daughter, Grace, who was in the area with her father for the holidays, we began our tours at Eberle Winery (LINK) on Route 46. A relatively large producer for Paso RoblesEberle provides a very good customer experience when you visit: complimentary tastings and winery tours (Dave Olcott and his team do a very professional job), a nicely appointed main tasting room, and knowledgeable staff. We felt well cared for and enjoyed our tour and experience very much. The venue is also available for special occasions and there is a VIP Tasting experience in the Wine Caves offered for a fee that looked very nice. Some photos from Eberle.

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The wines at Eberle range from whites like ChardonnayViognier, and a Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc blend; a Syrah Rosé; and reds that include BarberaSyrahZinfandelCabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. Most of the wines on their website are available for tasting. You get to choose up to five wines to taste. Overall, I would rate Eberle as a very competent wine producer and many of their wines are good values. We particularly enjoyed (and purchased) the 2014 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, the 2013 Zinfandel, and the 2013 Barbera.

The next stop was Tobin James Cellars (LINK), farther east just off of Route 46 East. Tobin James has a unique branding look and their tasting room facility is set like a saloon in the wild west. Very campy. The place was packed when we arrived (about noon on a Monday), with three large bars pouring complimentary tastings. One thing that appeals to me – they have Tommy Bahama brand (LINK) shirts with their logo and name on them. Probably 2/3 of my wardrobe is Tommy B.

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Bethany

Tobin James takes a little getting used to for the serious wine drinker – getting past the colorful hype if you will. In the tasting room, you have your choice of a variety of wines on the tasting menu, but only one Zinfandel. Since I know Tobin James as a producer of high-quality Zinfandels, I asked Bethany, our very personable and competent tasting room staff person, if there was another menu. She smiled and produced a second menu with 6 Zinfandels, a Primitivo, and seven other Reserve wines. Also complimentary for tasting. Now we were getting somewhere.

Dorianne and I did side-by-side tastings of the 6 Zins, which were all excellent. We purchased three after getting Grace to expand her pallet a bit. When you get to the higher-end wines, Tobin James excels. Their other wines are good for everyday use as well.

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The Gang at Tobin James

ORoussanne-2014-webur final stop of the day was a Cass Winery (LINK) in Creston, just southeast of Paso Robles. We know Cass Winery as a primary source of fruit for our Agoura Hills-based wine cooperative that I have posted about in the past (LINK)Cass, run by Steve Cass, is very well-known as both a reliable and innovative producer of a number of varietals. With 17 wines featured on their website, they are also very versatile. I am a big fan of Cass’s Rhône-style whites, particularly the Rousanne and Marsanne varietals.

Since our tasting included lunch in the winery cafe, it was an opportunity to experience their wines with some food. I opted for their award-winning burger, which was not the best choice for the whites, but . . . I was hungry.

Suffice to say that the Rousanne and Marsanne that we tasted were excellent – rich and fruity with a nice sense of minerality. The reds, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon, were also very nice.

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The Burger at Cass Winery

So our first day of tasting came to a close at about 2:30 pm. Then we said farewell to Grace and headed for the market to get chicken and some other provisions for dinner at our AirBnB house that evening. The Eberle Viognier and Zinfandel purchased that morning would prove up to the task of the appetizer and main courses.

Wine travel is indeed rewarding, the wines, the places, and the people.

Next post – Paso Robles’ west side, featuring Tablas Creek and Calcareous Wineries, and a great Mexican restaurant.

 

THE GRAND TASTING AT THE GARAGISTÉ FESTIVAL IN PASO ROBLES

The grand finale of the Garagistè Festival is the Grand Tasting, featuring around 70 wine makers who produce 1500 cases or less of their wine in a year. The festival, with newer branches in Solvang and Los Angeles each year, is a great opportunity for these small producers to become known.

This year’s Grand Tasting was held at the Paso Robles Fairgounds in the Frontier Town area. The wine makers were arranged in a figure-eight configuration with a few vendors at the center. There were some wine makers who have been to all five Garagistè Festivals in Paso and some new this year.

The overall quality of the wines presented has greatly improved over the years, as wine making techniques have improved across the board. At the first Garagistè Festival that I attended in 2010, about 20% of the wines were good or better. Today, that figure is closer to 60%.

Garagiste Photo
The Garagistè Festival logo artwork.

The Grand Tasting runs from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, with VIP ticket holders who also attended the morning seminars (LINK TO POST) getting first crack for an extra hour from 1:00 to 2:00. The scene gets louder as the day goes along – there are a lot of rookie wine drinkers here who don’t know how to taste, or don’t care, so a few drunks are about by 3:00 or so.

I will point out some of the better wine makers (IMHO) in the photos – also see the post on the Friday Night Wine Makers’ Mixer (LINK TO POST) for the best from that evening, almost all of whom were also at the Grand Tasting.

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Broken M Wine’s Karl Wicka. He and his wife, Heidi are owner-operators of this very nice operation.

Missing Leg’s Website: (LINK)

Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle Wines - one of the Festival's coordinators.
Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle Wines – one of the Festival’s coordinators.

Golden Triangle Website: (LINK)

Michael Rose of Michael Rose Cellars.
Michael Jones (and Rose?) of Michael Rose Cellars.

Michael Rose Website: (LINK) 

Paul Quinn & James Schreiner of TW Ferm Comany Wines. Cabernets only!
Paul Quinn & James Schreiner of TW Ferm Comany Wines. Cabernets only!

TW Ferm Co Website: (LINK)

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Amber Bierworth pouring Two Moons Rhone-style wines.

Two Moons Website: (LINK)

And our friend John from Alma Sol Winery was there again, pouring his amazing Bordeaux Blends and  Cabernet Sauvignons.

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Alma Sol Winery website: (LINK)

The Garagistè Festival is a great event, one that I highly recommend. If you want to discover the up and coming and the intentionally small wine makers of California’s Central Coast and beyond, this is your ticket.