Vol. 9 No.5 - June '01
some photos courtesy of: A. David Chan
Journal and tasting notes from visits to several Paso Robles wineries over a 4 day period.
Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.
It was an unseasonably warm 102 degrees, as I drove up the steep gravely road to reach Linne Calodo, or more properly, Justin Smith's house. Situated within the James Berry Vnyd, Justin's home has a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards, especially those below to the West. Owned by the Smith family, fruit from the James Berry Vnyd is sold to the likes of Alban, Wild Horse, Fetzer, and of course Linne Calodo. Justin is the vineyard manager for the JBV, as well as the Cherry Ranch vineyard, and he and business partner Matt Trevisan are the proprietors and winemakers of Linne Calodo. In addition to fruit from the JBV, Linne Calodo also draws from Cherry Ranch Vnyd, and Justin has planted 7 acres (5 Syrah, 1 each Grenache and Mourvedre) down the road at Swanson Family Vnyd, that should yield its first harvest next year.
The growing conditions in the area are highly influenced by both its altitude (about 1200'-1400') and a geologic formation known as the Templeton Gap, the first low point south of Monterey in the Santa Lucia Mountains. This gap allows a cooling ocean fog to permeate the area well into the morning, yet brings nice warm (or, in this case very warm) days, and pleasant cool evenings.
Since their first harvest in the early '80s, Justin Smith's family has always made a little barrel of this and that in their own micro-winery. This allowed Justin to hone his winemaking as well as vineyard skills. Meanwhile, Justin's college friend, Matt Trevisan, had been working at nearby Wild Horse winery. The two decided to throw in together, and after a few more years of experimenting, they figured it was about time to drop the amateur status, and try their hand at operating a viable winery. Through the 2000 vintage, the wines have been made at Wild Horse, which has a very large facility. This year, Justin and Matt have setup shop at Mat Garretson's new place on Hwy 46 East. Current production is about 1200-1500 cases, with final production expected to cap out at about 2500 cases.
So, who is Linne Calodo? Well, it's not really a who - it's a what. "Linne" and "Calodo" are actually two of the geologic terms that apply to the types of calcareous shale and sandstone soils common to the Adelaida Hills. Does that whet your appetite? Well, you can read more about it right here. Oh, and while we're at it, that fascinating Linne Calodo logo apparently doesn't represent anything sinister, sensual, or even significant. It's merely an interpretive piece of artwork by Erin Trefry, commissioned by a couple of fans - Justin and Matt. Now there's a letdown. It had Sci-Fi written all over it.
Upon arriving, I wandered out back to where the other visitors were gathered under a couple of large umbrellas, looking for a little relief from the sun while sipping a little for-home-use-only blend of Viognier/Roussanne. After introductions and some chatting, the dozen or so of us then piled into three 4-wheel drive vehicles, with Justin, Matt, and Cris Cherry driving us out to visit the vineyards and actually taste the final product of fruit from these vines. (Cris had recently broken his ankle, and was sporting a pair of crutches through all of this.)
First stop, down the road a bit to Cherry Ranch Vnyd, home to the Zinfandel used in their blends. Owned by Elmer and Mary Cherry, the Cherry Ranch Vnyd has about 2.5 acres of head-trained vines, planted in 1978. Justin is the vineyard manager of this property as well. Justin and Matt poured us the current releases of Willow Red and Cherry Red.
After piling back into the SUVs, we headed over to the James Berry Vnyd and its Rhone varietals, and. Originally planting the JBV to Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc in 1981, the Smith family became "converted" to Rhone varietals after seeing the results of planting test blocks of Mourvedre, Viognier, and a 4 acre block of Syrah in 1988. Since then, the they have added twenty more acres to the James Berry Vnyd, and included Grenache Noir and Roussanne to the Rhone varietal plantings. The 75 acre vineyard now has 55 acres planted, including a 3.5 acre block known as Bone Rock Terraces. Constructed in 1990 on a very steep rocky hillside, the fractured shale rocks of the Bone Rock section is primarily planted to the Estrella clone of Syrah. This fractured-rock soil has fabulous drainage, thanks to a prehistoric sea that once covered the area. In fact, the section was named in homage to a large whale skeleton that was unearthed while constructing the terraced slopes in the vineyard. This quick-draining soil forces the vines to work extra hard for nutrients, which in turn creates a more concentrated fruit. Appropriately, we tried the '99 James Berry blend.
From here, it was off to their wine lab, library, and experimental station -- in other words, their R & D joint. Enjoying experimentation as they do, Justin and Matt have also played around a lot with different varietal blends and fermenting methods. They use light destemming with minimal crushing, preferring to use a high percentage of whole berry fermentation in open top containers, followed by 8-18 months of aging in small oak barrels. While we all browsed around, Justin and Matt poured us a few more wines, including a '97 Mourvedre. The aroma of this wine was still very meaty and attractive, though the flavor profile had lost a little of its assertiveness. Single bottlings such as this were done more for the sake of experimentation, than for production. And though the Bone Rock, at 90% Syrah, is indeed "varietally legal," they intend to stick with blends and proprietary names. While here, Justin and Matt also poured the pre-release 2000s of Cherry Red, JBV, and Bone Rock.
Finally, we headed back up to the house for an up-close look at the Bone Rock section of the JBV. The temperature was finally starting to cool off as we traversed the steeply terraced vineyard. Noting the interesting reverse angle on some of the terraces, Justin described that the expertise of the Soil Conservation Corps had been enlisted to help minimize erosion (55% slope and average rainfall of 26" makes this a big concern). thus, every other terrace backslopes, channeling the water runoff to a collection culvert and then drained safely to the bottom of the hill. Looking at a cross-section of the hillside, it was also easy to see the rock shale and calcareous soil that gives Linne Calodo its name. As we meandered along one of the terraces, Matt and Justin first poured the '99 Bone Rock, followed by the '99 late harvest Sweet Leona. Needless to say, we all had an excellent time.
Tasted at Linne Calodo:
While staying in Paso Robles to attend a few events at the 9th annual Hospice du Rhone, we took to the roads to do a little winery hopping. With HdR tastings scheduled for Friday and Saturday afternoons (see HdR Tasting Notes), we had the mornings free, so Dave Chan, Larry Cuaresma, and I decided to ply some of wine roads on the Westside of Hwy 101 today, and cover a few of the Eastside places tomorrow.
Arrived Peachy Canyon tasting room about 11:00, now located in a small house on Bethel Rd, just off Hwy 46 West. Not much going on, and it looked like we had the place to ourselves. This same house has also served as the tasting room for Castoro Cellars, and briefly for a small winery named Live Oak. Peachy Cyn was established in 1988 by Doug and Nancy Beckett. Originally, tasting was done at the Beckett residence on Peachy Cyn Rd, in a small tasting room out back by the winery. Peachy Cyn's claim to fame is Zinfandel, and they routinely do several different bottlings, including an Estate, from vineyards throughout Paso. I didn't ask a lot of questions about the local wine politics, but judging from the lack of listings in most of the area's brochures, Doug Beckett may involved in some sort of disagreement with the PR vineyard association.
Two staffers taking care of the tasting room. Nicole chatted with us a bit as she poured us through the 7 wines du jour. Tasting fee $3, applicable to purchases. Didn't find anything particularly memorable in wines this time, and while we didn't specifically try them, they do have a few "reserves" -- that are getting up there in price ...(here it comes) -- for ZIN. Out at 11:30.
Tasted at Peachy Canyon:
Arrived at JanKris 11:35. The tasting room is only about 100 yds up the hill from Peachy Cyn. Hadn't been here in several years, so I was interested to see what changes had taken place. Opened in 1991 by the Gendron family, who own and farm 171 acres of mostly Merlot and Zin. The winery and vineyard is named for their two daughters, January and Kristin. A few years ago the Gendrons decided to take a break from the winery end of the business, though they continued to run the vineyards. In the interim, they leased the tasting room to Dover Cyn, until the latter could build their own winery and tasting room. With the recent Dover Cyn move to their own winery/tasting room, the Gendrons have come back to resume wine production and sales. Pouring 8 wines, Gayle Anderson did a great job of chatting up each of the wines, and kept us entertained with lots of personality as well as some interesting local stories. The prices seem very affordable, and the wines have seem to have improved substantially. Out at 12:15.
Tasted at JanKris:
Arrived at Pesenti 12:25. It's pretty much old news now, but this previous family-owned vineyard and winery was purchased by Turley in May 2000. With origins in the area since 1934, Pesenti was reputed to have excellent vineyard holdings, but never really capitalized on the resultant wine. Turley has now started to change all that - albeit gradually.
Retail manager, Malani Anderson, poured through the 5 selections, and we browsed around recently renovated and nicely appointed room. Malani is the former SoCal sales rep for Turley, so it was like having our personal sommelier pouring our tastes. Gone now are the shot glasses, having been replaced with some nice stemware (well, they're not really gone - they'll use them for tasting, if you insist). The Pesenti tasting room is now carrying some of the Turley line for sale - winery only, no phone or mail orders. Had a great time chatting about Turley and wine in general. And, Malani's Hawaiian, so she and Larry (no, not Larry Turley - Larry Cuaresma) hit it off right away. (In fact, they must have done that 'hang loose' hand-thing for about two hours. (Just kiddin', Bro.) Seeing that we couldn't talk Malani into pouring a few Turleys, we thanked her for the great time, and mentioned that we were going to stop by Pipestone Vineyards. We wondered if she'd heard any buzz about them. She said that based on the popularity of their wines at previous week's Paso Robles Wine Festival, they appeared to be an up-and-comer. Out at 1:00.
Tasted at Pesenti:
Somewhere along the trail here, we started to get a bit giddy -- no doubt influenced (at least somewhat) by the wine. As we were driving along, Dave sighed, and philosophically opined that "...it's all about the terroir." I agreed, repeating his phrase with a small substitution. "Yeah, it's all about the terrier." And for some reason, we all thought this was funnier than hell. Well, needless to say we dragged this comment out many more times over the weekend. It never seemed to wear out - in fact we're still using it! Along the same lines, after having some guy cut us off in his car, we also discovered that "...let's kick his ass" was a suitable phrase to cover a lot of situations, and never failed to crack us up.
Arrived at Pipestone about 1:10. In the mid-'90s, former environmental engineer Jeff Pipes and his wife Florence Wong moved from Minnesota, purchased about 8 acres off Niderer Rd on Paso's Westside and decided to grow grapes. Funny thing was, in the midst of Zin-growing country what did they decide to plant? Rhone varietals! However, it looks to have been an excellent choice on their part. Wanting to make both Northern and Southern Rhone-styled wines, they planted 3 acres of Syrah, 2-1/2 of Grenache, 1/2 Mourvedre and 1-1/2 Viognier. Production for the 1st vintage was 575 cases, with the 2000 vintage coming in at about 1600 cases.
Upon arriving, we drove around back behind the small residence, parked, and went into the adjoining tasting room. Hmmm, nobody in sight. There were bottles of wine and empty glasses on the tasting bar, but no staff or proprietor in sight. Gee, we wondered to ourselves, could we have actually discovered an authentic self-service tasting room? Hey, what if we just poured ourselves an ounce or two ...or maybe three. Despite the obvious temptation, a stunt like that could easily get us sideways with the owner, not a place we ever want to be. After about 5 to 10 minutes, we began to wonder if Pipestone was closed, and they just forgot to lock up the place. Finally, assuming that no one had seen us arrive, Dave went back out to the car and actually honked the horn - more than a little mortifying (i.e. honk, honk... "hey, get out here and pour us some wine"). But soon thereafter, a friendly lady carrying a small child came in, introduced herself as Florence, and explained apologetically that she'd gone in to get the baby up from a nap. We probably looked like rowdy bunch (after all, we did honk the horn ) and she had the baby to deal with, so excusing herself, she went to get her husband. Always happy to welcome visitors to his fledging winery, Jeff cited Pipestone's popularity at the aforementioned Paso Robles Wine Festival, and apologized in advance that he didn't have enough of his Reserve Syrah to pour at the tasting room. Jeff chatted with us about the vineyards, and about their use of Feng Shui around the property (literally "wind and water" - Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese study of the surrounding environment and its effects on health and wealth). Jeff says they've used the philosophy extensively at Pipestone to determine vineyard locations and placement of vines. Of course, he also said that sometimes it (Feng Shui) flew in the face of conventional winegrowing wisdom, such as when the vines are desperate for water but Feng Shui wisdom declares "not yet." So, Jeff tries to strike a balance between philosophy and reality. Seems very wise to me. Some very nice wines - this winery is definitely an up-and-comer.
Tasted at Pipestone:
Arrived at Dunning 1:50. Founded by Bob Dunning and family in 1991, Dunning Vineyard is located at the end of Niderer Rd, about a mile or so from neighboring Pipestone. Tucked into a small canyon and pretty much off the beaten track, Bob has been quietly making some of the area's nicer Bordeaux-based varietals. But, although Dunning has been concentrating on the usual mainstays of Cab, Merlot, and Zin, plans are being made to plant some Rhone varietals as well. Production is about 1,000 cases currently, with plans to increase to 3,000 cases. Out at 2:20.
Tasted at Dunning:
Saturday, June 2, 2001
Arrived at Garretson about 10:30am. Arriving in Paso Robles in 1994, Mat Garretson became one of the area's biggest promoters, due in not small part to his establishing the Viognier Guild (a group of loosely-knit Rhone producers), which soon became one of the biggest wine festivals in California - Hospice du Rhone. Even while honing his retail skills during roles as Sales and Marketing Director for Eberle, and Brand Manager for Wild Horse winery, Mat has constantly trumpeted the cause of Rhone varietals and started making a few wines for his own label in 1997. So, it all seemed inevitable that Mat and family would open up their own winery some day. Well, the day finally arrived this past April, with the Garretsons establishing the new venture in a small industrial park just off Hwy 46 East. At first glance, the place looks anything but winery-related. In fact, I thought the place was a dead-ringer for a tire store. Yeah, "Big G" tires.
The interesting, if often difficult to pronounce names for Mat's wines come from his Celtic background. With access to so many of the fine vineyards around Paso, Garretson will be producing some very fine wines.
Tasted at Garretson:
Arrived at Rio Seco about 11:30. Owned by longtime residents Tom and Carol Hinkle, the winery is purchasing fruit, while waiting for their 31 acre Estate vineyards of Zin, Cabernet, Syrah, Roussanne, and other Rhone varietals to start producing. Production is about 1200-1300 cases per year, with the winery ramping up to about 3000 cases for 2001. Chatted with Carol Hinkle about all the trials and tribulations of running a family winery. And as it turns out, she and Dave Chan knew a lot of the same local people (he's an SLO native), so they had a nice little reunion of sorts, thus allowing Dave to regale us once more with his firefighting exploits with the Forestry Service. (This became another running joke, with Dave always reminding us that the "...the flames were this high.") It got even funnier after Carol asked Dave if he knew some local doctor, and Dave replied something like, "...oh yeah, he was the doctor that delivered me." It was all I could do to muzzle myself to keep from blurting out to Larry "...let's go kick his ass."
Very nicely appointed place, and Carol is a great host. I'm looking forward to trying their Estate wines next time through Paso.
Tasted at Rio Seco:
Arrived at Penman Springs about 12:15. Established in 1996 at the former Baron Vineyard location (this was also Grey Wolf's first location), Penman Springs is owned by Carl and Beth McCasland. After investing much time and energy on the property and vines, the McCasland's hired Larry Roberts (a.k.a. Dr. Fermento) as winemaker for their first crush in 1998. Friendly place, and the wines show promise.
Tasted at Penman Springs:
Arrived at BonZarlo about 12:50. Releasing their 1st vintage in 1998, partners Sam Di Carlo and Joe Bonzi have been friends since childhood. Sited on a 75-acre horse ranch at the junction of Hwy 46 and Estrella Rd, the BonZarlo tasting room and setting is particularly attractive - more barn on the outside, but spacious and Spanish/Tuscan villa-looking on the inside. Currently purchasing fruit, the pair is also planting 15 acres of Tempranillo and Cab Franc and will undoubtedly be increasing production. John Munch (Le Cuvier) is consulting winemaker. Cool picture of Sam, here on the left, looking like he might be saying, "I'll pour you a wine you can't refuse." Very nice guy - Sam even gave me some very excellent labels that I'll be posting soon. Another comer!
Tasted at BonZarlo:
Arrived at Chumeia about 1:25. Established in 2000 by Lee Nesbitt and a consortium of 4 other previous Meridian employees. Brand new setting on Hwy 46 East, in fact they are still working on the front landscaping. One of the partners, regional sales manager John Stipicevich, chatted with us and gave us a brief tour of the facility. Outsourcing their fruit right now, Chumeia has 4 acres of Cabernet planted, will plant another 12 acres of Zin, Syrah, and Petite Sirah next Spring. These are very nice wines now - but could be even better when the Estate fruit comes on line. A winery to watch.
Tasted at Chumeia:
Arrived at Eberle about 10:30. Arguably the most well-know winery in Paso Robles, and with the huge wine lineup, attractive tasting room, and storage cave tours it's easy to see why. Already known for his Cabs, Gary Eberle caught the Rhone-varietal bug and was one of the area's early advocates for Syrah and Rhone blends. This place can really get jumping on weekends, but we arrived early enough to not have to jostle around the bar. Rick poured us 12 wines - just about the whole list.
Tasted at Eberle:
Wrap up: covered a whole lot of territory, especially considering most of these visits took place during Hospice du Rhone weekend. Other than HdR itself, the highlight of the trip had to be the many opportunities we had to visit with winery proprietors and/or winemakers. It still amazes me that despite the growth of wine in California (or, maybe because of the growth), there still seem to be lots of family and individual enterprises springing up. And no place shows this more than the Central Coast in general, and Paso Robles in particular.
Hot prospects: Linne Calodo, Pipestone, Chumeia, and BonZarlo. Most improved: JanKris, and yes, Pesenti. With all of the Turley/Ehren Jordan fans salivating about this new venture, it will be very interesting to see what kind of wines will be released from this label.