The last time I attended the Paso Robles Wine Festival, I didn’t have the opportunity to take part in any of the seminars, winemakers’ events, or any parties. Of course, The Wineaux Guy™ and I were visiting with friends and making plans for the actual Festival the next day.
Unfortunately, business obligations meant that he was unable to attend this year, so I had to go it alone. I already mentioned how absolutely exhausted I was after 12 hours on the road, so I didn’t mind missing the partying on Friday!
Saturday morning at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom was a Winemaker Seminar, and I was very eager to attend it. It turned out to be an absolutely fabulous seminar, educational and entertaining.
There were five winemakers sharing their experiences in the winemaking field – and confirming to me why I never want to be a winemaker, just a wine drinker – and some things that they have learned along the way.
Bill Grant was the moderator, and somehow kept the seminar going very smoothly so that we were able to leave in time to attend the Festival.
The first winemaker was Steve Martell of Sextant Wines.
Steve has been there since 2001 and more or less accidentally got the job. He is very enthusiastic about the recent change to 11 sub-AVAs in the greater Paso Robles AVA. His grapes grow in the Templeton District and get the influence of the “Templeton Gap,” where there’s a regular late evening breeze, ocean influence, and higher rainfall than the inland districts.
He brought a 2014 Grenache Blanc, which was 100% Grenache Blanc and 14% alcohol. He sources this particular fruit from the east side for this wine because it likes the soils there. It is all stainless steel fermentation and aging, with no “intentional” malolactic.
The wine was clear and bright, yummy, and its life in stainless was reflected in the food-friendly acidity.
The next winemaker was Rich Hartenberger of Midnight Cellars. Midnight Cellars is the 29th winery in Paso. The family found Paso Robles much more welcoming, open, and friendly than Napa which, even then, raised its collective snoot at a family trying to find a way to grow and make wine.
Their wines are in the Willow Creek District, which is located next to Templeton Gap and share many of the same characteristics. His motto is “grow good grapes, then get out of the way.” He doesn’t like to mess with wines, and that was reflected in the 2012 Estate Chardonnay that he brought. It is 100% Chardonnay with 14.3% ABV. This was amazingly water clear and bright, especially considering that it was kept sur lies, in neutral oak and allowed 25% malolactic. And delicious, by the way, with amazing acidity.
The third winemaker was Jason Joyce of Calcareous Vineyard, who sported youth and an amazing head of shaggy brown hair.
He specializes in Rhône varietals and loves to blend wines. He noted that blends are becoming one of the hallmarks of Paso Robles wines. He feels that in order to become a good winemaker, you have to cut your teeth on white wines. If you can make a good white wine – which are notoriously more temperamental than reds – then you have a good chance of being a decent winemaker.
All of his wines slated for blending are fermented separately before blending. Their vineyards are in either the Shandon (San Juan Creek District) or Cholame areas, right on the St. Andreas fault.
“The drought hasn’t affected us much,” he quipped, “because we never had any water to begin with.” He also pointed out that growing grapevines is not like growing regular crops. Yes, growing grapes is similar to actual farming, but he noted that while regular crops require water in order to live and thrive, grapevines only require water to not die.
He brought one of the flagship wines of Calcareous, the 2012 Tres Violet, 45% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache, and 18% Syrah, with an ABV of 15.5%. Lush and yummy.
Chris Rougeot, from Opolo Vineyards, brought the 2012 Reserve Zinfandel made of 100% Zinfandel grapes from four different vineyards. At 15.7% ABV, this was old-school Paso, except with surprising acidity! Gimme a rib!
Chris shared that Zinfandel is really a finicky grape, and could almost equal Pinot Noir in temper tantrums. They have to watch for “water grapes,” those grapes that look good, but are not quite ripe and so full of water and sugar that they’re tasteless.
Glunz Family Winery & Cellars
Matt Glunz, of Glunz Family Winery & Cellars, is (probably) the newest winery in Paso Robles. Matt comes from several generations of wine and spirits purveyors; in fact, his great great grandfather served the first bottle of Schlitz at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
The grapes were ready to go when they were buying the winery, which was a short sale. They had to buy the grapes from the bank! The 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon,14% Cabernet Franc and stands at 14.9% ABV, was made Pinot Noir style – very gently with no pump over. He shared the (now hilarious) escapades of trying to get wine made for this first vintage, and we were rewarded with a young Cabernet with a light yet distinct Bordeaux-style character.
Surprising Information from UC Davis
Bill finished up the seminar by informing us that the separation of the AVAs in Paso Robles was probably the most scientific and expensive investigation of AVAs ever made, and it was done by UC Davis. UC Davis noted that the most significant differences in the Paso Robles regions weren’t east to west as had been supposed for decades, but north to south. Bill more or less indicated that the AVAs of Paso Robles are actually scientific, not “marketing” as they may be in “other regions,” wink wink.
Yes, I was as surprised as anyone, but I’d taken everyone’s word for it. UC Davis had the science, and if you read the AVA justification report, you’ll see that “the science” really did show why the 11 AVAs was a better decision than the East side/West side AVA proposal of several years before. This time, the science of the soil and of the climate won out. Marketing be damned.
The seminar ended after a question and answer period, and we headed towards the Festival.
Enjoy the photos!