Along with the fun winery events over the extended weekend, there was a “Zinposium” educational seminar that was more fun than I had expected. “Educational” and “Zinfandel” aren’t necessarily terms that play well together.
The Zinposium took place on Friday evening at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom (gorgeous building, by the way), and was a panel of six winemakers moderated by food, wine and travel journalist Michael Cervin. Michael was personable and entertaining, and was able to keep the event on track and reined in. The winemakers were all informative with big personalities and had great stuff to share. Following is the list of winemakers and a brief synopsis of their narratives.
Brock Waterman of Brochelle Vineyards shared his 2012 Estate Zinfandel (95.5% Zinfandel, 1.5% Syrah) and spoke about his history in Paso Robles and Zinfandel. He spoke about dry farming (a term which we heard a lot over the course of the weekend), and why he and his wife Michelle (Brochelle. Get it?) decided to focus on Zin. Many of the vineyards are in the Adelaida District and he is using concrete fermentation tanks to develop his wine.
Janelle Dusi of J Dusi Wines and the heir of the iconic Dusi Vineyards brought her 2013 Zinfandel, Dante Dusi Vineyard wine (100%). We were surprised to hear that she had won her first wine competition at the age of 13 (“That Dusi kid!”). The Dusi vineyards were planted in 1920 and somehow managed to survive Prohibition. The vineyards are located on both sides of the 101 in the Templeton Gap District.
Terry Culton, the winemaker at Peachy Canyon Winery brought his 2013 Bailey Vineyard Zinfandel (100%). He spoke about dry-farming the grapes, and noted that they do no irrigation whatsoever. He believes strongly in single vineyard designations because of the individual characteristics that each vineyards gives to the wines. The estate wineries are located in the Adelaida District.
Jim Shumate, winemaker at Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery brought his 2012 Zinfandel Reserve (100%). He comes from eight generations of Central Coast farmers, with only the last couple being focused on wines. He uses American, French, and neutral barrels to develop his wines, and, unsurprisingly, Pomar’s vineyards are located in the Pomar District.
Tobin James of Tobin James Cellars brought his 2011 Blue Moon Reserve Zinfandel (100%) whose SRP had been mistakenly labeled at $150, for which he immediately apologized. “It doesn’t cost that much!” (He was correct, of course. The website has it listed for $55 which is decidedly less expensive). If you don’t know Toby’s personality, then you’re missing out. He gave us an entertaining narrative of his winemaking experiences and how he more or less stumbled into becoming a Zinfandel winemaker. His first gig was as assistant winemaker at Eberle, and when Gary turned down a shipment of Zinfandel grapes – his focus was on Rhône varietals and Cabernet – Toby was able to score them. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Karl Wicka, winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars (aka nectar of the gods) brought his 2012 Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel (100%). He shared the history of Turley, which was founded by brother and sister duo, Larry and Helen Turley. They source grapes from various areas, and their winery’s Paso Robles location is in the Templeton Gap District. Turley’s wines and vineyards are all over California wine country, by the way, including Lodi, Napa, and Amador.
Paso Robles Zinfandel Evolution
All of the winemakers talked about the challenges that the current extended drought has brought, and how they are handling the new stresses. Janelle Dusi in particular spoke about how the grapes’ roots are extending further into the soils than ever before as they seek water and nutrients. While the results have been spectacular, the duration of the drought remains a serious concern.
The wines were what you’d expect from Paso Robles, but I’ve noticed changes over the years. While once the wines were big, jammy, fruit-forward, and alcoholic, they now have added layers of complexity and maturity which was almost unheard of a decade ago. The wines that we tasted during the Zinposium showcased the Paso Robles sense of place; the wines from Adelaida, for instance, were decidedly different from those from Templeton Gap and Willow Creek, but all had lots of fruit and the coveted complexity that winemakers want in their wines.
It is unfortunate that the second day’s Zinposium which was to focus on Zinfandel blends was canceled. I looked forward to learning even more about the Zinfandels of Paso Robles.
I found myself more engrossed in learning about the wines than taking photos, so I hope that you enjoy this short slideshow!