When I first came to Paso Robles a dozen years ago, I had no idea that I’d still be visiting people whom I consider to be friends so many years later. The first wine clubs – and for years, the only wine clubs – that I joined were in Paso Robles. Although I’ve since joined and departed many, these have been my core clubs almost since the beginning. Only two – Tobin James and Asuncion Ridge – I haven’t joined because of The Budget™, and because I have friends with vast collections that I can greedily whine from any time I want!
Naturally, when one visits Paso Robles, one must stop and hang. And this trip was no exception. The four of us, Debbie, Shannon, Jamie and I, were determined to hang out at all costs.
Tobin James – The Round Trip
We began and ended our Paso Robles adventures at Tobin James. Toby wasn’t available, so we hung out with everyone else, including Justin, Toby’s son and heir apparent. What a great way to start (and end) our trip!
We were greeted by the staff; and Debbie, who’s very close to the James family, gave hugs to all. She’s a member of the wine club as well as a regular visitor, and we were all embraced as family. As an aside, I’ve met Toby on many occasions, but I’m not as close as Debbie is.
We started off the tasting with their Rosé and Champagne (they’re grandfathered in to use the “Champagne” moniker) and finished with the OMG Syrah. Actually, the name of the Syrah is Blue Moon Reserve, but that’s how it tastes!
The upshot is that I ended up with two bottles of Fatboy, which is one of my favorite Zins ever. It is the prototypical Paso Robles Zin, filled with berry jamminess, flavor, and alcohol. Yum!
One more thing – while I don’t know its history, the big, gorgeous bar in the middle of the tasting room is a piece of art that cannot be missed. It is decorated with bas-relief wine scene vignettes around the bottom perimeter and is made of hand-carved oak. Just beautiful!
Vines on the Marycrest
We parked and followed him into the winery as the first customers (yes, customers! We bought lots of stuff). As always, Victor was warm, friendly, and always willing to talk about the wines. He poured through everything that was available and educated Debbie, Shannon, and Jamie about his wines, some of the decisions that he made when deciding to open a winery, and he and I chatted about the family.
Naturally, I love being there but missed Jenni and the kids. Probably if I had been there alone or with Rod, we would have visited with the family. At this time, however, we just enjoyed the company, enjoyed the wines, and I ended up picking up my allocation-plus, and then off we went!
There was a tasting room assistant – I didn’t get her name! – who served us. Naturally, we tasted through the wines, and they were delicious as always. I picked up four extra bottles of the Liquid Hope, my muse Rosé. This year’s release of Liquid Hope is a little darker than it has been in previous vintages. I will need to study it when I have time.
But I digress.
I stocked up on Liquid Hope (then it was just Rosé, unfined and unfiltered) and it has been in my cellar ever since.
We went into the distillery and listened to the story how Alex Villicana started using the leftovers from winemaking to make distilled liquors. They have a vodka, a neutral grape skin spirit; gin, which is the vodka infused with aromatics; a limoncello; and a barrel aged vodka. The barrel aged vodka cannot be called a whiskey because it’s not made from grain.
All of these are absolutely spectacular and except for a certain softness on the palate, I’m not sure that you can tell them from grain spirits. The barrel-aged vodka is named [e] and tastes almost like a single malt Islay Scotch and Kentucky bourbon blend. Its aroma and flavor make for a unique brown spirit that I’ve never experienced before.
Unfortunately, Alex and Monica weren’t available. We were told that they were around but they never came into either of the tasting rooms.
I’ve been a member of the Villicana Wine Club since my first visit, by the way. I stocked up on Liquid Hope (then it was just Rosé, unfined and unfiltered) and it has been in my cellar ever since.
Hug Cellars/Bodega de Edgar
When we finally DID stop there, it was too late to pick up my allocation because there was no more room in the (full-sized!) SUV.
Debbie and I stopped there, and I was able to arrange to have my wines delivered. We sort of hung out with Edgar who was talking to customers about the various wines and the differences between Hug Cellars and Bodega de Edgar.
He came over to greet us, and we started seriously tasting through the wines. Except for the Hug Chardonnay and Edgar’s cleverly named No Güey (sort of pronounced “way”) Rosé, all the wines that we tasted were reds.
And then there was Edgar². OMG.
Edgar² (Edgar Squared) is a blend of Edgar and his wife’s favorite varietals, Grenache and Syrah, 50/50. It is an absolute explosion in the mouth, and it finishes with a long, juicy, black pepper finish. Absolutely delicious and immensely powerful in fragrance and flavor.
We ended up trying to stop there again when we were leaving Paso, but the hour was too early and they weren’t open yet. I was going to add two bottles of the Edgar² onto my allocation. I ended up contacting them directly, and it’s already done!
It was too late to pick up my allocation because there was no more room in the (full-sized!) SUV.
Augie and Raquel Hug are the original owners of Hug Cellars. They retired about three years ago and moved to Texas, and Edgar, their former assistant winemaker, took over the brand. Edgar has been growing his own brand simultaneously, which I think is amazing. He specializes in a lot of Spanish varietals, some bold, assertive wines, and makes the more gentle Hug Cellars – with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other carefully curated varietals – at the same time. Definitely two different brands for two different taste in wine.
Every time I come to Paso, they are always first – if not in mind then definitely in focus and purpose. These are the people who have become important in my life as well as having great wines. And, yes, I joined the first day I visited!
The downtown tasting rooms are always a great adventure. Within the space of a few blocks, you can visit some of the best wineries in Paso, but without having to drive too far. And, if you happen to have a place to stay that’s close, that is the best scenario, because you get to walk (or stagger, depending upon your intake and tolerance) back!
Asuncion Ridge took over the tasting room that had originally been Ortman Family Vineyards, which still has a place in my memory as having the best Cabernet Sauvignon ever. Unfortunately, like so many others during that time period – beginning in 2008 – they, too, had to close their doors.
I stopped at AR for a reason. I started a vertical of the AR Pinot Noir and I already had a 2010, 2011, and 2012 Pinots. I needed 2013, 2014, and 2015 to complete the vertical. All were in stock, and we had the opportunity to enjoy a tasting before I purchased the wines. I now have seven wines for the vertical and can’t wait to have the tasting. The 2012 Barrel Select is the odd one in the group.
Spending time with Teresa was fun and relaxing. As always, the perky redhead – sounds almost like a cliché doesn’t it – greeted us and we enjoyed the wines. There was a small, as in two guys, jazz band playing in the background and we got to enjoy the music, the Pinot Noir and other wines, and Teresa’s company. What could be better! I’m sure the other ladies purchased wine as well, but I don’t remember. Sorry! And, yes, this is a winery I have been visiting for years. I am not a member of the club – my budget whines enough as it is – but I try to never miss a chance to visit Teresa and the folks at Asuncion Ridge because it’s always pleasant and the wines are always delicious.
Besides, I’ve finally completed the vertical I’ve been working on for years. As you can see from the photo (this was taken at home), it is now complete. Let the tasting commence!
In the next post, I want to introduce you to some of my new friends! Sometimes you just know. Stay tuned!