Some readers asked if I would please compile the collection and share it here on my blog in order to make the information more readily accessible. With that in mind, following are the Instagram photos from my 8 days in Paso Robles, minus a few short videos shared there. The captions as posted to Instagram are typed here directly below the associated image to make them easier to read.
I update my wine travels and local tastings regularly to Instagram, as shown below. If you’re interested in keeping up with it there, you can follow me on Instagram where I post as @hawk_wakawaka.
"I made my first Barbera in 1978. I planted it myself. I got the cuttings from UC Davis. I really don't know what clone it was but it is what is mostly planted around here. It was planted, indexed and heat treated at Davis so it is clean. That was at the Estrella [River] property [the vineyard + winery Gary Eberle started in the late 1970s before then planting Eberle in the 1980s.]. […] Mr Mondavi, certainly in this business, was my biggest mentor. He taught me how to sell wine. I couldn't tell you why but we just hit it off. I learned so much from that man. You can make the best damn wine but you better be able to sell it if you want to have an impact in this industry." – Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery is considered the Godfather of Paso Robles wine having been one of the early founders of fine wine in the region and an instigator of the original 1983 AVA. Though his flagship wine is Cabernet Sauvignon he has won multiple awards for his Barbera. This summer he was recognized with a Wine Lifetime Achievement Award by the California State Fair, an honor he shares with his mentor, Robert Mondavi, the award's first recipient.
"This is two years of growth w no pruning. In a normal year these plants are touching each other. If and when it rains again, because it will rain again, will they bounce back? I now classify us as the grand experiment. Can you dry farm in the eastern hills of Paso Robles? I just think it's all part of a learning curve." – Phillip Hart discussing the drought while walking me through his Ambythe biodynamic, dry farmed, head trained Vineyard. As we walk the hills wildflowers are still growing of their own accord + clusters hang on the vines. The vines are just very small + in a few cases struggling, mostly by variety.
Father + son team Dana + Matt Merrill farm vineyards all over Paso + make wine under the Pomar Junction label from their vineyard of the same name. "My dad is part of the Central Coast Vineyards team. We were one of the first 12 wineries in the SIP sustainability pilot program built by the Central Coast Vineyard Team. It's recognized by the TTB + means you've been checked by a third-party auditor." Matt explains. I ask Dana about his work on Paso water concerns in relation to the drought. Dana has spearheaded efforts to create a collaborative board of agricultural + residential members to work on long term solutions for water conservation. He responds. "We don't have really big water problems right now. We do have a general trend of wells dropping. We don't know if the drought is going to continue. We have enough constructive notice + time to do something."
The First Wine Labeled with the Paso Robles AVA
Drinking Eberle 1980 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon w Gary + Marcy Eberle: the first wine to ever carry the Paso Robles AVA; selected by UC Davis as 1 of the top 6 Cabernets in California for the university's 75th anniversary; selected as 1 of 2 wines brought by President Reagan to China to present to the Chinese Emissary. Still a sense of fresh fruit + healthy acidity on a rose cream palate. A very pretty example of how Paso reds can age.
Discussing the different growing regions of the Central Coast cannot be done more thoroughly than w Ken Volk. I ask him when he moved to the region + how he got started in wine. He answers. "I moved to San Luis Obispo in 1977 to attend Cal Poly. I made wine from Rancho Sisquoc grapes in 1977 as a home winemaker. Then I had the opportunity to do an internship w Edna Valley Vineyards in 1978 + 1979. After, I started Wild Horse. I purchased the property, planted vineyards, then bonded the winery + had first crush in 1983. We were mostly working w red grapes from Santa Maria Valley + Paso Robles. At Wild Horse we did a lot of blending warm + cool climate grapes. That worked well for us. People liked it." – Ken Volk served as the first president of the Paso Robles Grape Growers Association, which started in 1981. He was also one of the signatories on the original Paso Robles AVA that was recognized by the TTB in 1983. In his winemaking career he has made wine from around 74 varieties from throughout the Central Coast. As he explained, he recognizes the idea of noble varieties but it is in people being willing to work with grapes + travel w them that we found those. Today the Kenneth Volk winery is located in Santa Maria Valley where Pinot + Chardonnay are his flagship wines but he also works w Italian + French varieties from throughout the central coast.
The Falcone Family
The Falcone Family, John + Helen, have been farming Syrah + Cabernet in the Southeastern stretch of Paso Robles since 2000. Their site is covered in calcareous rock + receives a persistent cooling breeze from the Templeton Gap. Yields on their site show good balance this year w enough crop + little to drop. That is in contrast to sites in the Northern parts of Paso, which were hit w just enough rain during Cabernet bloom that yields are half what's average.
Luna Matta Vineyard
"We're certified organic because we really believe in it. We believe the property should be better when we leave it than when we got it. All the hilltops here [on Luna Matta Vineyard] are a little different. There are so many soil changes. That's part of what's exciting about [farming in] Paso. You can kind of do anything." – Stephanie Terrizzi manages Luna Matta Vineyard in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, which has 36 planted vineyard acres, 40 acres of walnuts, 2 acres of olives, 1 acre of sage + a pear tree. John Ahner + Jody McKeller planted the site in 2001 to Rhone + Italian varieties (+ just a smidgen of Tempranillo) with a focus on biodiversity. Their bees this summer are busy making honey from indigenous plants such as Toyon.
"In Italy, there is enough heat the focus is really not on extraction. In France there are techniques for more extraction [because of the differing climate + varieties] but in Italy I have never seen anyone cold soak. The climate [in parts of Italy] is more like California. [It has the heat and sun. Our goal is] to express the site, the variety + the vintage. The best way to do that is to pick when the fruit is in balance + really on the early side. I look a lot at acidity numbers in fruit. This isn't just a low alcohol/high alcohol debate. We really want the grapes to hit that perfect edge of ripeness, the window, and it's a really small window. Stephie [Terrizzi] has done a lot of studies on physical ripeness. When to pick is the biggest decision that we make cause we use all natural yeast + no enzymes." – Brian Terrizzi owner-winemaker of Giornata w his wife Stephanie focuses entirely on Italian varieties grown in Paso Robles. Their first commercial vintage was 2006.
Guillaume + Solene Fabre made hand crafted, small production Rhone blends from vineyards throughout the westside of Paso Robles. As a third generation vintner in Southern France, Guillaume grew up in wine but when his family decided to sell their property he came to Paso, asking Solene to move with him, to make the wines he loved in California where they now raise their family + their winery.
Aaron & Aequorea
"People talk about petite sirah being so blocky + square, only one dimensional, no character. That's why I blend multiple vineyards to give it more dimension + character. I started the Aaron label to make multi-vineyard blends. I think some of the best wines of Paso Robles have come from blending from multiple sites. We can do good single vineyard wines too. Aequorea is all single vineyard wines. Aequorea is Latin for "of the sea." I have always lived on the shore." – Aaron Jackson started his Aaron label in 2002 making only Paso petite sirah. In 2012 he also started Aequorea making coastal wines from San Luis Obispo.
"They seen what was coming. They got hooked up w John[Munch to start the Adelaida label]. I was just out here clearing land + doing what I needed to do. John came to me + said, what's the worst piece of ground you got? And I thought of that piece [that is now Adelaida's Lower Viking Vineyard] cause I hated that piece down there. [laughing] It was all poison oak. We didn't rip it. We didn't even have a tractor. And then we were worried about how many rocks we'd pull up. You know, it [vineyards in the Adelaida District of Paso] was all new. This one guy took great care to plant a vine right on top of a big rock. [laughing] He placed soil carefully up all around it. That vine is still there. That was 1991." – Mike Whitener has served as the Adelaida Ranch Manager for 40 years. His father was Ranch Manager before him. Mike was born, raised + has lived his life in the Adelaida District. As he explains, he's left several times but always wanted to come back.
"I got this concept that I was going to grow wine + make wine back in 1970. It was a long hill ahead but fortunately when I retired I had this little bundle I could use to get started to do it. But in that time period I had these phases where what I was drinking changed. In the 1970s I was a Cab guy. Then I got into Grenache + for about ten years I was a Zin guy + then I moved to the Central Coast + discovered Rhones. At the time I started planting this vineyard that's just what I was drinking. It also seemed like the Rhones were the best fit soil + climate wise + some of the best wines I drank from Paso were Rhones." – Bob Tillman shares how he fell in love w growing + making Rhone wines in the Adelaida District of Paso. Here we sit near 1700 ft beneath an oak tree at the top of the Grenache + Syrah block tasting older vintages of his Alta Collina red wines.
Neil Collins traveled to Paso Robles at the age of 20 for a 6-week visit. Then never left. He worked his first harvest with Ken Volk at Wild Horse in 1992. Then served as assistant winemaker next to John Munch at Adelaida, did a harvest at Beaucastel in France, then returned to Paso to make wine for Tablas Creek, which he still does today. In 1996 he started buying Cabernet from the utterly unique Carver Vineyard on York Mountain + his own label, Lone Madrone, was born. He makes Rhone wines, Nebbiolo + the Cabernet from dry farmed, head trained + organic vineyards on the westside of Paso + on York Mountain. In his spare time he makes Bristols Cider.
The Oldest Coastal Live Oak on the West Coast
Full on bragging: just drank the first bottling of Terret Noir in the United States + one of the very few in the world (quite plausibly the only or one of less than a handful in recent history since there is very little growing anywhere). It was a wine of contradictions: somehow both fun + serious, refreshing w some fleshiness, untamed w a sense of focus. Dried alpine strawberry, bramble w herbal accents, nice acidity + the weight of Poulsard. Delicious + not for sale. Bwahwahwahwah-ha! Mine.
James Berry Vineyard
Justin + Luna Smith touring me through the James Berry Vineyard. Originally planted almost entirely to Chardonnay by Justin's dad (who the site is named for), Justin grew up farming the site as well as others w his family, then, after studying at Cal Poly, Justin + his wife, Heather, returned to Paso so Justin could join his father growing wine in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles. Over time Justin has grafted over + replanted the Chardonnay to a mix of predominantly red + some white Rhone varieties. The last of the Chardonnay was replanted this year. Today most of the site's fruit goes into Justin + Heather's Saxum label.
Outer-space-clean-line-retro-futuristic deep inside Saxum 2.0. The new Saxum winery (in the process of being built) includes a beautiful cut of Willow Creek's Monterey Series Shale + its inter-layered calcareous rock w salacious pockets + occasional bands of clay. The cement fermenters visible here were made using the shale harvested from the James Berry Vineyard while digging the caves in which the fermenters now sit. Dude. Duuude.
Tasting through Saxum's Rhone Reds w owner-winemaker of the boutique winery, Justin Smith. Justin has helped establish + farms Rhone sites throughout the Willow Creek + Adelaida Districts on the westside of Paso Robles. All but one of his wines are vineyard designates from sites he has helped establish, including the Bone Rock (from the first site he planted himself on terraces of the James Berry Vineyard) + the James Berry Vineyard (from fruit on the rest of the site). The Broken Stones is a blend of sites.
The Feet of Vineyard Travel
Fossilized Whale Bones
Eric Ogorsolka grew up in Paso, then after studying at Cal Poly expected to leave the then largely undeveloped + remote region to make wine elsewhere. After a few years working for wineries in other parts of California he realized in the 1990s it was time to return + make wine in Paso Robles. Today, Eric's oversees sustainable farming of Cabernet, Zinfandel + Syrah + makes the wine at Zenaida Cellars in the Templeton Gap District of Paso Robles.
Janis Denner's new winery, Pelletiere in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, named for her father, makes all-Estate wines from Italian varieties planted in the 1990s. (Though the winery is new it is based on a vineyard already established.) Janis works w winemaker Amy Butler to make 7 varietal wines inspired by Italy – Viognier, Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo + Lagrein plus a fresh rosé.
Amy Butler had to decide years ago between moving to Willamette Valley or Paso Robles. In the end, she decided to stay in California. While making wine for regional wineries she started her own label, Ranchero Cellars. Through Ranchero Cellars she makes flavorful, textural whites + refreshing, flavorful reds; her new Grenache-Mourvèdre blend + Carignan particular stand outs.
The Templeton Gap
A Little Goat
York Mountain Winery
Just west of the Paso Robles AVA sits the York Mountain AVA, both recognized in spring 1983. The high elevation York Mountain appellation today includes only one winery, Epoch Estates, + a handful of vineyards. However, the York Brothers, who the AVA is named for, established a winery near the top of York Mountain in 1898. The wood beams they harvested from the old Cayucos Pier. The bricks they made by hand on the mountain. Their York Mountain Winery stood + operated until the 2003 San Simeon earthquake that shook Paso Robles. Today, Epoch Estates own the original York Mountain Winery property + is in the process of restoring the original winery building using the old wood beams + bricks + stone fireplace through restoration + reuse efforts as shown here. The building once finished will be used as the Epoch tasting room w museum + educational components on the history of the region included throughout.
Looking across the Pederewski Vineyard in the Willow Creek District into the Templeton Gap from 1400 ft elevation. It grows mostly Rhone varieties as well as some Zinfandel cultivated from feral plants Ignacy Pederewski planted in the early 1900s that were rediscovered in the early 2000s. Ignacy Pederewski was a musician + composer who became the Prime Minister of Poland, signed the Treaty of Versailles + eventually settled in Paso Robles on the westside in what is now the Willow Creek District. 2015 will be the first vintage for fruit on the Pederewski clone Zinfandel. Epoch Estate owns the property + planted it to vines in 2005. The Pederewski clone cuttings were planted in 2011.
Ignacy Pederewski left behind a barn full of his picking bins from the early 1900s for harvesting Willow Creek Zinfandel. Remarkably the bins still exist in the original barn now down the hill from the Vineyard established by Epoch Estate. Here they are: 100 yr old Zinfandel picking bins still in Pederewski's barn. (Shhhhh… We snuck in.) Dude. Duuude.
In Paso Robles Turley owns the historic Pesenti Vineyard, head trained + dry farmed since 1922 when the Pesenti family planted it. The Pesenti's survived Prohibition selling grapes for home wine, which was legally allowed under a certain volume per family. By selling grapes during Prohibition, the Pesenti family had enough to build their winery as soon as Prohibition ended. The Pesenti Winery was 1 of only 3 in Paso Robles until the 1960s. Today the site still includes original 1922 planted Zinfandel, Carignan + a few massive Mission vines. Turley's Paso Robles winemaker, Karl Wicka, here stands next to a 1922 planted Mission vine.
This shit damn steep. Karl Wicka took me to the top of Turley's Ueberroth Vineyard in Willow Creek where they dry farm head trained Zinfandel planted in 1885. Though the site is warmer than the Pesenti Vineyard it produces Zinfandel w bracing acidity + delicious freshness. At 1200 ft the site is generally above frost concerns but the aspects + exposures of the site are so varied it is harvested in at least 5 picks. The hill climb angled over 40 degrees. When we got to the top it was time to pant + sweat over the killer view.
Amadeo Martinelli Vineyard
The Turley's newest property in Paso Robles, the Amadeo Martinelli Vineyard (no direct relation to the cider or the Sonoma gang), hosts dry farmed, head trained Zinfandel planted in the early 1920s in what is now known as the Templeton Gap District of Paso Robles. The vines are inter planted w a mix of cherry, pistachio + even a pear tree. The site includes a historic winery + the unique features of what was once clearly a self-sustaining farm: chicken coops, a root cellar + more. Though the site receives daily cooling breezes from the ocean it sits above the frost zone common to Paso Robles. 2014 is the first vintage from the site for Turley. From barrel it offers the great promise of a Turley Zin with a creamy fresh mid palate, dusty persistent tannin + enlivening acidity. Showing notes of fresh + dried cherry w chocolate + pepper accents on a snappy spine it's a delicious addition.
Ancient Peaks Vineyard
Checking out the GIANT + EVERYWHERE fossilized oyster shells of Ancient Peaks's Santa Margarita Ranch District Vineyard. At the southern most tip of Paso Robles the site carries a distinctive character – 5 distinct soil types across 1 vineyard including rocky alluvial, volcanic, calcareous, granitic + ancient sea bed (shown here) with warm temperatures midday + a strong cooling wind from the ocean every afternoon.
Tasting through a mix of current + older vintage wines from Ancient Peaks. With the diversity of aspects, soils + microclimates, the vineyard offers a range of varieties as well. As a result Ancient Peaks is able to offer good quality wines at a steal of a price + high end wines well made + still of good value.
Getting ready to zip line a series of 5 lines on Santa Margarita Ranch w Doug Filipponi. Super surprising + fun add into the afternoon. The first 4 lines race across a series of small peaks, then for the 5th + longest + fastest you hike to the top of a hill to then leap off a platform + zip over the vineyard.
Villa Creek Maha Vineyard
Digging on the Villa Creek tasting room. Owners Cris + JoAnn Cherry produce primarily Rhone wines from the westside of Paso Robles as well as Fiano, Aglianico + a York Mountain Cabernet. In 2012 they began planting their own vineyard of Rhone varieties in the bracing acidity, calcareous rocks of western Paso Robles. Today they make wines from iconic sites in the Willow Creek + Adelaida Districts of Paso Robles.
Soren Christensen has been making wine in paso Robles for over 15 years focusing on Rhone + Bordeaux varieties. Today he serves as winemaker for Hearst Ranch Winery getting to work w fruit from East Paso. He also makes his own small production label, Anonimo, an Italian red blend focused on freshness, texture + length.
Hearst Ranch Winery
Tasting the reds of Hearst Ranch wines. The project is a collaboration between Steven Hearst (great grandson of William Randolph Hearst) w Jim + Deborah Saunders. The wines are made from vines planted in the mid-1990s on the Saunders Ranch on the eastside of Paso Robles. Together, Hearst + Saunders started their wine label in 2010. Jeremy Leffert served as winemaker through the 2014 vintage. Today, Soren Christensen serves as winemaker.
Checking out Bella Luna in the Templeton Gap District of Paso Robles. The family owned, small production winery was started by best friends Kevin Healy + Sherman Smoot who grew up in Paso Robles. After serving in Vietnam, Kevin found his way into wine growing + making wine in Paso, including the historic Pesenti Vineyard + Winery. Sherman continued with work in aviation, having trained as a Navy pilot. After traveling the globe in flying, Sherman decided to shift into being more local while building on his love for wine by starting Bella Luna w his best friend Kevin focusing on Italian varieties + dry farming.
A Full Week
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