My Thoughts on Wine Blogging

Wine Blogging – What it Means to Me

- Xochitl Maiman    September 7, 2014

Xochitl Maiman wine blogging

Harvest at Cass Winery a few years ago.

In the 2 months since the Wine Bloggers Conference was held, there have been many posts about the conference experience , the wines, the winemakers, and much has been said about wine blogging and wine bloggers. Some wineries don’t see the “value” in wine bloggers – some wine bloggers don’t think other wine bloggers are “doing it right” or are credible enough. So here’s my take on the whole wine blogging thing – for what it’s worth and to whom ever cares. But, after all, isn’t that what a blog ultimately is – a place to voice an opinion, make a statement, share your thoughts?

I started this blog, however many years it was ago, so that I could share my love and admiration for the wines and winemakers of the Central Coast, primarily, and to bring awareness of the many small wineries and their wonderful wines to other wine enthusiasts. I love to write, and I thought this would be a good way to exercise the muscle. That’s it. I never claimed to be a journalist or sommelier. I’m not writing for a Pulitzer or to be offered a job by Wine Spectator or the Wall Street Journal. I write for fun. I love wine. I love wine people. I love vineyards. I love to share my wine/winery discoveries with others.

In my blog posts, you’re not going to find long, colorful descriptions of a wine or my “expert judgement” on a wine’s quality. Suffice it to say, that if I mention a wine in one of my posts, it means I enjoyed it in whatever time and setting it was, with whoever I was with at the time and with whatever food I was enjoying with it. That’s the way wine is. Most wines, (rarely do I come across a wine that is just plain bad, thank goodness), to some degree, are chameleons, and will change their color (not literally) slightly with the circumstances in which one is consuming it. So all I’m ever saying is, I enjoyed this wine, I suggest you try it too and decide for yourself if you like it. Everyone’s palate is different, but there is a lot of wine out there. All I’m doing is helping the reader narrow down the field a bit – offer a bit of direction to their own wine discovery.

As for the wineries that don’t see the value in wine bloggers, here’s what I say. Yes, I agree, that there are many different types of wine bloggers. As for me, if I’ve called a winery asking for a tour or tasting, they can be certain I’ve done my homework. Something about that winery has caught my eye and inspired me to learn more – see/taste for myself. I’m not necessarily going to pepper my posts with quotes, as one blogger suggests all good bloggers must do. Worse yet, I might not even find the time to actually write a blog post about a tasting or winery visit. (Often, there just isn’t enough time in a work day for me to write for myself). My work is in social media – I understand the value of social engaging and sharing. So while I may not blog as often as some, or as eloquently or professionally as others, I am making a conscious effort to continually support the efforts of the wineries I visit by participating on their social properties, posting images, proper tagging, sharing of events and providing opportunities for those in my wine sphere of influence to try the wines I find. And when I do post, I am careful to link to winery websites and include good imagery. Most importantly, my objective is to convey to the reader the “feeling” I had during my visit – how a winemaker looked when he was describing his first wine, the excitement and twinkle in the eye of a new winery owner, the awesome beauty to behold from a tasting room deck looking out onto a sea a vines, the majesty of a giant oak guarding a vineyard block, how a vineyard made me cry (yes it happens quite often), the first taste of a ripe viognier grape……. it goes on and on. Those are the experiences I want to share – that I want my readers to seek out for themselves. If this is the kind of wine blogging you’re interested in reading, I would be honored if you’d stop by from time to time.

I am so lucky to live in a state where wine country, lots of it, is just a couple hours away. I am blessed to have an ever growing circle of friends who appreciate wine and all that goes with it. I am grateful for the many opportunities I am given to learn more, taste more, and meet more of the very special people joining the wine industry every year. And in reference to the latter, I want to thank every winery, winemaker and organization that has offered my a seminar, a tour, a visit, an hour of their valuable time….a taste of their wine – each has contributed to and fostered my never ending love for…wine. Cheers!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Paso Robles CAB Collective Events – 2014

by Xochitl Maiman      May 20, 2014

Paso Robles CAB Collective hosts sommeliers, media and trade for 3 days of cabernet fun!

The Paso Robles CAB Collective has earned my vote for outstanding event hosting! And what a marathon of events it was.

Paso Robles CAB Collective - CABS of DistinctionThe Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective, currently with 28 members, is positioning the Paso Robles AVA as a major player in the production of high quality, age worthy California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals. With only one major event under their belt, the CABS of Distinction – 2013, this year they upped their game with events spanning over 5 days for sommeliers, media, trade and consumers, April 22-26.

CABS of Distinction - tasting glassesTo get things started, the PRCC, in collaboration with The SOMM Journal, hosted 20 sommeliers for CAB camp -  instructional experiences with winemakers and vineyard managers, including tastings and vineyard tours. The next day they were joined by a large contingency of trade and media members who together attended the “en primeur” tasting in the afternoon at the iconic Paso Robles Inn Ballroom.

CABS of Distinction-Paso Robles Inn Ballroom 2014This was an excellent opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage, still in barrel for the most part, and get acquainted with the winery owners and winemakers. There clearly was an air of excitement in the room with this being the first event of many to be held in the upcoming days and many of the attendees greeting friends from all areas of the wine industry. Most of these wines, as expected, were not quite ready for bottling, but it became clear that many of them were destined to become wonderful wines to be enjoyed for years to come.

Some standouts to me from this tasting:

Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon – Margarita Vineyard

Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon – York Mountain

Justin Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (which will likely be part of the Isosceles Reserve blend)

Vina Robles Suendero, a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Petite Verdot/9% Malbec

Directly after this tasting the wineries shared their current vintages which gave us the opportunity to taste more mature wines from vintages ranging from 2007-2012.

Some standouts for me from this tasting: 

Halter Ranch Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

J. Lohr 2010 Cuvée St. E – a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec

Le Vigne Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Parrish Family Vineyard 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

With all that tasting, we were glad to head off to our assigned winemaker dinners – some at local Downtown Paso Robles restaurants, others out at the wineries. I knew I would be dining with the folks from Bon Niche Cellars at Buona Tavola, but what I didn’t know was that our party would be an intimate one of just 4 people. Yes, just one other writer and myself would be dining with the incredibly gracious Wally and Joyce Murray! After a short walk from Emily’s House, the Bed and Breakfast where I was staying, I arrived at the restaurant and joined the Murrays at a table in the back of the packed dining room. My hosts shared with us some of their history in the wine industry while we dined on wonderful Italian food and tasted through the wines they brought to share. We had so much fun eating, drinking and chatting, the next thing I knew the restaurant was empty and we were the last ones to leave. Clearly the conversation and the tasting needed to continue and they invited me to come visit them at their winery when they returned from a summer trip to Europe. (I accepted and will feature them in a separate dedicated post – stay tuned)

Joyce and Wally Murray - Bon Niche Cellars

Joyce and Wally Murray – Bon Niche Cellars

Chicken at Buona Tavola

Asiago and prosciutto stuffed chicken – so good!

Bon Niche Cellars

The next morning we were back at the Paso Robles Inn for the panel discussion moderated by Wine Enthusiast contributing editor, Matt Kettmann, and featuring Michael Mooney, owner/winemaker, Chateau Margene, Daniel Daou, proprietor/winemaker DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Kevin Sass, winemaker, Halter Ranch Vineyard and David Parrish, owner/winemaker, Parrish Family Vineyard.

CABS of Distinction Panel Discussion 2014

David Parrish, Matt Kettmann, Michael Mooney, Daniel Daou

CABS of Distinction wines

The featured wines at the panel discussion

These panel discussions always appeal to the wine geek in me – I love to hear these talented artisans speak of clonal selection, soils, yeasts, barrels, trellising, vineyard cropping and canopy, appellations, micro-climates, and of course, their wines. Mooney spoke of his barrel program, Daou spoke of clonal selection, Parrish spoke of trellising and Sass spoke of the benefits of a gravity flow winery. But the take away was unanimous and clear. The many sub-areas of the Paso Robles AVA are prime for growing Bordeaux varietals. As more and more winemakers move towards careful clonal selection and selective vineyard management, more high quality, age-worth wines will be produced. It’s already being done by many wineries and the potential has just been tapped.

Lunch time meant a short walk across the street to Artisan Restaurant where David Parrish and his daughter, Cecily, would be hosting. Once again, gracious and generous hospitality was accentuated by easy conversation and wonderful food and wine. I was so happy to see that the Parrish’s had thought to bring some chardonnay and my palate was more than ready for some white wine. It may have been all about the cabs at this event, but the Chardonnay was lovely. The Parrish Family Vineyards 2009 Silken, a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Petite Sirah/4% Petit Verdot was stellar! (I will also be dedicating a post to this winery after my upcoming visit with them at their new vineyard site this summer)

David Parrish and daughter Cecily Ray

David Parrish and daughter Cecily Ray

CABS of Distinction - Lunch at Artisan - Paso Robles

Parrish Family Vineyards - ChardonnayParrish Family Vineyards - 2009 SilkenThe last scheduled event was another tasting – this time the wineries would be pouring their “rare and reserve” wines, showcasing the ageability of these wines. Admittedly, I was suffering a bit from palate fatigue at this point, and managed only a few tastings. Petit Verdot seemed to shine here with wonderful offerings from Bon Niche (100% Petit Verdot – 2009) and Calcareous (2006 Petit Verdot 100% – Denner Vineyard)

After a respite on the porch with “The Goddess of Wine“, Denise Lowe, it was time to jump on the bus with many of the other event attendees and head out to Justin Winery & Vineyards for a BBQ social and…..more wine!

Goddess of Wine

Justin is located at the western end of the Paso Robles AVA and the drive out there was beautiful and relaxing. I hadn’t visited Justin since its renovation and I was to be pleasantly surprised. As we exited the bus and moved towards the tasting room door, we were greeted with a refreshing glass of rosé – always a good beginning! The tasting room was huge with a large 3-sided bar where all the PRCC wineries had placed their bottles to share, all lined up  like soldiers. I felt like a kid in a candy store! We meandered out the back door of the tasting room onto a very large patio with the sun dappled vineyard serving as the backdrop. Just gorgeous!

Justin Vineyard and Winery Tasting Room PatioOut on the grassy area were tables laden with the delectables we’d shortly be consuming, including two roasted pigs! Milling about were friends, old and new, winemakers, owners and other industry people all gathered to celebrate the fruit of the vine in this glorious setting.

CABS of Distinction - 2014 - Justin Vineyards BBQ

It had been a couple of busy days and this was a time to relax before the big consumer event to be held that weekend. After a couple of hours filling ourselves with food and drink, we headed back to town. I felt like a kid coming home from camp  with everyone dozing off as the darkness of the back country enveloped the bus.

On Friday, many of the PRCC wineries hosted in-house events providing consumers with behind the scenes access and engaging them in vineyard and cellar tours, special library tastings, food  and wine pairings, BBQ’s, music and more. Saturday, was the main consumer event, the CABS of Distinction Gala. I didn’t attend this event but a complete re-cap and pictorial are available on their website.

The Paso Robles CAB Collective had indeed been the consummate host – we learned, we tasted, we paired, we talked, we ate…..we will be back. Personally, I look forward to experiencing first hand over the upcoming years, the growth and direction that Paso’s Bordeaux varietal producers will achieve. Cheers to further discovery, the Paso Robles CAB Collective and to Paso Robles!

 

Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon – Staking a Claim

by Xochitl Maiman   May 4, 2014

Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon producers are spreading the news

Paso Robles CAB Collective cabernet sauvignon

Paso Robles, well known for its Zinfandel and Rhone varietals, is  positioning the region as a major player in the production of high quality, age worthy California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals. In fact they feel so strongly that they are contenders for the throne that 28 producers have come together to get the word out. To this end, they have formed the Paso Robles CAB Collective, which hosted its second annual CABS of Distinction events for trade, media and consumers April 23-26.

One of the founding members of the Collective, Daniel Daou of DAOU Vineyards, said, as most believe, that “a great wine starts in the vineyard”. And here’s where the Collective begins their stand.  With calcareous clay soils similar to those of France’s Bordeaux region, Daou touts Paso Robles to be “more like Bordeaux than Napa”.  Cabernet likes this kind of soil which provides for good natural acidity and minerality in the fruit. The problem has been that until now, Paso producers have been “shy” about pushing the envelope on their cabernet programs. With the strength of numbers, the support of the Collective and the effort to educate consumers and change the general market perception, it is their hope more Paso Robles cabernet and Bordeaux varietal producers will push to increase the quality of their vineyards, (currently 55% of vineyards in Paso Robles are planted to cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals), and realize the true potential of the region.

During the two days that I attended the various events for the media, I was given plenty of opportunity to listen to and speak with many of the winemakers in the Collective. Their ages vary, and their stories of how they came to be winemakers are all different, but what these men and women share is a passion for what they do and they’re eager to share that passion with the wine drinking community. They are excitedly looking to the next 10 years as a pivotal time when consumer awareness grows, allowing Paso Robles to take its place among the great cabernet producing regions of the world.

So it at this point that I make my recommendation – get to Paso Robles and start tasting for yourself. Visit the wineries, talk to the winemakers and buy some wine. Buy multiple bottles of your favorites so that you can drink a bottle now and lay down a couple for tasting again in a year or two or three.  Take note of the characteristics of these wines – which you like, which you don’t. What changes occur in the wine/how does it evolve over the years? Did this wine have longevity in the bottle? Which vintages did you like better and why? Host a blind tasting for your friends and include cabernet from different regions. Which styles do you prefer? How does your palette change over a period of time? How do the wines change when paired with food? If you find some Paso favorites, encourage your local wine store to consider carrying them. Luckily, the best way to learn about wine is to drink it….with friends, family and of course good food.

But where to start, you ask? By all means visit the CAB Collective’s website for a list of their members. Don’t forget that there are many other cabernet producers in Paso Robles that are not yet members of the collective, so explore them as well. But in the meantime here is a very short list of some of my favorites from the CABS of Distinction tastings.

 

Parrish Family Vineyards – 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Bon Niche Cellars – 2010 L’Entrée- Malbec and 2010 Fenetres Petit Verdot

Halter Ranch Vineyard –2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Calcareous Vineyard – 2006 Petit Verdot – Denner Vineyard

Cass Vineyard and Winery - 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Paso Robles – Come for the Wine, “Stay” for the History

Paso Robles offers history along with its fine wine, cuisine, places to stay and scenic landscape.

In the many years I’ve been visiting Paso Robles, I have stayed in hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, guest houses and spare bedrooms. Paso Robles offers as much variety in accommodations as the wineries do in wines. All the more fun! Whether you’re looking for functional, rustic, country, a bit of Tuscany, secluded or in the thick of things, Paso Robles has the perfect place for you to “stay” while enjoying your wine country getaway.

For me, I always love a place to visit with some history and Paso’s history is embraced and evident everywhere you turn. During the late 1880’s, prominent local land owners Daniel D. Blackburn and Drury James (the uncle of the outlaw Jesse James), helped establish the beginnings of a town with first-class amenities. They saw to the city’s incorporation in 1889, designed the town’s City Park and, in 1891, built an extensive bathhouse over the sulfur spring as well as the three-story Hotel El Paso de Robles, which is today the Paso Robles Inn. 2014 marks the 125th anniversary of Paso Robles and will be the theme for the annual Pioneer Day Parade to be held October 11, 2014.

The Paso Robles Inn is one of the area’s iconic landmarks valued not only for its comfortable accommodations, rambling gardens, hot springs and downtown location, but for its storied history. It is also home to the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom, the only structure to survive the devastating fire of 1940 that destroyed the original inn. The Paso Robles Inn was re-built in 1942 and in 2000 the Grand Ballroom was restored to its original grandeur, boasting original hardwood floors and high beam ceilings with original light fixtures.

Paso Robles Inn-historicalPaso Robles Inn Grand BallroomJust a short 2 block walk from the Paso Robles Inn stands another charming piece of Paso’s history, Emily’s House Bed & Breakfast. The history of this farmhouse dates back to the late 1800’s when Otto Toevs Sr. emigrated from Russia just before World War I. He opened a general store and started a family.  In 2012, 82 members of the extended Toevs family from around the world gathered for a long-overdue family reunion at the original homestead, which by then had been purchased by Vicki and Kenny Combs and refurbished into the Bed & Breakfast it is today.

Toevs Emily's House Bed and Breakfast

mily's House Bed & Breakfast - Paso Robles, California

Vicki Combs - owner, Emily's House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

Vicki Combs – owner, Emily’s House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

I was invited by Vicki to come for a stay and did so during the recent Paso Robles CAB Collective media events for the CABS of Distinction. Our events were held in the Paso Robles Inn Grand Ballroom so the location was perfect!

Vicki greeted me with the warmth of an old friend, and as I was traveling alone, that was greatly appreciated. As she gave me a tour of her home, I was at once taken with the warm feel and comfort of this old home that has been meticulously given new life with modern updates creating the perfect combination of old and new.  Original wood flooring meets pristine tile floors in the new en suite bathrooms of two of the three guest bedrooms.  The room I stayed in overlooks the expansive farmhouse kitchen with all the modern amenities to serve guests as they gather around the long kitchen table that was built from one of the homes original walls.

Farmhouse kitchen at Emily's Hous Bed and Breakfast Paso Robles

Emily's Room at Emily's House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

Emily’s Room

After a wonderful dinner in town at the popular Buona Tavola, I walked the two blocks back to Emily’s House, and was delighted to find a glass of port in antique crystal and some cookies waiting for me on the bedside table. The bed had been turned down, and the bedside lamp cast a warm glow on the room. A cozy feather bed would provide a good night’s sleep and the smell of brewing coffee would be my awakening.

Port and cookies at Emily's House Bed and Breakfast

After a long hot shower, I dressed quickly, looking forward to the events of the day. But first, some breakfast and a few cups of that great smelling coffee. Vicki clearly has a passion for taking care of her guests and it’s evident in the care she puts into every detail, especially breakfast. The table was set with  silver, crystal and linen, but felt very casual in her big kitchen. We chatted extensively about food and wine and our favorite places to visit it the area while she prepared breakfast.  She loves to get out and about with her guests taking them to all her favorite wineries in the area and was excited to learn of my favorites to add to the list.  Breakfast of Bananas Foster French Toast and Canadian Bacon was a delicious way to start a day that would involve a whole lot of Cabernet. (more on that in a separate post)

Emily's House breakfast Paso RoblesLater that day, Vicki told me about the wonderful weddings they have held in the large back yard which she gardens herself and claims is a “work in progress”. Indeed, they have just re-furbished the pond, added a vegetable garden, a chicken coop with chickens, and are making plans for building a BBQ area. Whimsical items placed throughout the garden and among the exuberant roses, make a stroll through the grounds even more enticing.   A covered patio with plush cushion filled furniture provides the perfect setting for enjoying breakfast or an afternoon glass of wine.

Roses at Emily's House Bed & BreakfastEmily's House Bed and Breakfast Garden Paso RoblesEmily's House Bed and Breakfast Patio Paso RoblesGreat conversation once again accompanied my delicious breakfast the next morning as we chatted about Paso, wine, restaurants, tomatoes, and myriad other subjects. This time the table was set more “country” style and featured a frittata made with fresh kale and mushrooms and sausage – so good! And because Vicki believes, as do I, that all meals deserve a sweet ending, there was her version of apple pie, with bite size pieces of flaky crust mixed in with the apples instead of just on the bottom!

Breakfast at Emily's House Bed and Breakfast Paso Robles

Frittata with rosemary roasted potatoes

Once again, I had experienced the munificent hospitality that is so Paso Robles, leaving feeling as though I had made a new friend for life. With each visit I learn a little bit more about the history of this place and how it influences the Paso Robles of today –the blending of old and new that is the charm of Paso Robles…..I’ll be back…

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

The Garagiste Festival – 2nd Annual Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival

by Xochitl Maiman             April 9, 2014

The Garagiste Festival – Southern Exposure Grand Tasting expanded to two days in 2014 – so much wine – so little time!

The original Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles has now become almost legendary in its fourth year – a festival dedicated to showcasing high-quality, cutting-edge, small-production commercial wineries that produce fewer than 1,500 cases a year. Last year the festival launched its “Southern Exposure” Festival focusing on the artisan winemakers of the Santa Ynez Valley. This year their there were so many wineries that the event added a second day with each day featuring different wineries. As I said, “so much wine – so little time!”

In fact, I was only able to attend the first day of the festival, but I did jump start the weekend (March 28-30), by attending the Garagiste “Kick-Off” Party, a pizza and wine pairing at Cecco Ristorante in Solvang. Eleven “garagiste” wineries, including 2 that would not be participating in the main event, poured while Cecco tray passed piping hot pizzas and other yummy appetizers. The patio was packed with wine enthusiasts all anxious to learn more about these small wineries, most with no tasting rooms, making this a rare opportunity to taste these gems.  While it’s always so good to meet and speak with the owners/winemakers, I especially enjoyed meeting Deanna King of De Su Propria Cosecha and Zach and Ian from Archium Cellars.

Garagiste Pizza Party

Highlights:

Archium Cellars – 2011 “Dissident” Rhone Blend (82% Syrah/18% Grenache)

Zach and Ian of Archium Cellars

Zach and Ian of Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars Dissident

De Su Propria Cosecha – 2011 Roussanne, Stolpman Vineyard and 2009 La Cosecha Central Coast Red

Vinemark Cellars – 2009 Reserve Primitivo

Press Gang Cellars – 2010 Syrah, Harrison Clarke Vineyard

Calilove Wines – 2013 “Gold Rush” Chardonnay, Presqu’ile Vineyard – Barrel Sample

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast at our hotel, we headed over to the Veterans’ Memorial Hall for a couple hours of tasting. Of the 30 wineries pouring and the countless wines of all varieties, these were some of the standouts for me from wineries I was not already familiar with:

Archium Cellars – 2013 Rosé of Grenache

Carucci Wines – 2012 Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard

Cholame Vineyard – 2012 Grenache Blanc “Summer Shade”

Crawford Family Wines – 2012 Pinot Noir – Zotovitch Vineyard

Wendy and Mark Horvath - Crawford Family Wines

Wendy and Mark Horvath – Crawford Family Wines

Dubost Ranch – 2009 Reserva (70% Syrah/30% Tempranillo)

Liquid Farm – 2013 Mourvedre Rosé, Vogelzang Vineyard and 2012 Chardonnay – “White Hill” – Sta. Rita Hills

Moretti Wine Co. – 2013 Vermentino

Ryan Cochrane Wines – 2012 Pinot Noir – Solomon Hills Vineyard

Ryan Cochrane Wines Pinot Noir

Ryan Cochrane Wines Pinot Noir – 2012 – Solomon Hills Vineyard

Shai Cellars and Tercero Wines were also there, and while I’m quite familiar with their wines, it’s always good to taste the latest offerings from Shawn Halahmy and Larry Schaffer, respectively. Two favs are the 2009 Shai Cellars Adome (65% Syrah/35% Cabernet Sauvignon) and Tercero’s 2009 Cuvee Christie.

Denise Lowe, the Goddess of Wine, Shawn Halahmy and Sandy Grazziani of Shai Cellars.

Denise Lowe, the Goddess of Wine, Shawn Halahmy and Sandy Grazziani of Shai Cellars.

A large selection of grape varietals were represented including genache, syrah, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo, roussanne, gewurztraminer, chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel, tempranillo, sauvignon blanc, negrette, chenin blanc, riesling, mourvedre, semillon, vermentino, merlot, petite verdot, petite sirah and malbec.

I love the wines from this region – the pinot’s are earthy, but with fabulous fruit, the chardonnay’s have complexity and balance, the rhones and bordeaux varietals are complex without being too heavy, and with good fruit and elegant mouthfeels. All in all, this was a wonderful tasting and not only do I look forward to next year’s event, but I’m anxious to track down some of my favorites from this event and add them to my cellar!

More winery information.

While the details for the 2014 Paso Robles Garagiste Festival have not been announced yet, stay up to date with all the latest news on their website.

CABS of Distinction – 2014

by Xochitl Maiman   April 4, 2014

CABS of Distinction Expands to 5-day Event

CABS of Distinction Paso Robles 2014

After the success of the inaugural CABs of Distinction event, (launched last year to celebrate and promote Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varietals produced in Paso Robles, California), and the increased exposure and credibility from Paso Robles being named “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the Paso Robles Cab Collective has geared up for even more exciting events in 2014. The CABs of Distinction events will take place in locations across the Paso Robles AVA with enhanced sommelier, media, trade and consumer experiences. For more information on the sommelier, media and trade events visit http://www.pasoroblescab.com.

One of the highlights for me from last year’s event was the En Primeur barrel tasting of the 2012 vintage and I look forward to tasting the 2013 this year, as well as the Library/Rare and Reserve offerings. There will also be a vintner panel discussion moderated by Matt Kettmann, contributing editor of Wine Enthusiast and senior editor of Santa Barbara Independent, winery hosted lunches and dinners, vineyard tours and more all geared to shed light on the true potential of Cabernet and red Bordeaux varietals from Paso Robles.

Paso Robles CAB Collective en primeur tasting of 2013

En Primeur tasting at 2013 event

Consumer-focused events will take place April 25-26. These two days will showcase spectacular quality wines from producers of world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varietals. The weekend begins on Friday with wineries hosting various events throughout the day and winemaker dinners at wineries and in Paso Robles’ most sought-after restaurants at night. Last year I had the pleasure of attending the winemaker dinner at McPhee’s Grill in Templeton which featured the wines of Chateau Margene, B&E Vineyards, Robert Hall, Eberle and Justin. Read all the delicious details of that dinner and check out this year’s winemaker dinner options. Seating is always limited so reserve early!

McPhee's Grill dinner course - CABS of Distinction 2013

McPhee’s Grill dinner course from 2013 winemaker dinner

The CABs of Distinction Gala on Saturday will be held at River Oaks Hot Springs in Paso Robles and will include tastings of 32 wineries (28 member wineries and four invited garagiste producers), each thoughtfully paired with artisanal cheese or charcuterie. Decadent catered lunches will be provided by notable Paso Robles restaurants and caterers (Robert’s Restaurant, Crush Catering and Avant-Garde Experience), along with chocolate tastings, live music, a barrel-making demonstration, and more.

Gary Eberle discussing Cabernet Sauvignon with guests at the 2013 CABS of Distinction Grand Tasting

Gary Eberle discussing Cabernet Sauvignon with guests at the 2013 CABS of Distinction Grand Tasting

Luxury VIP ticket holders will start the day with an intimate private vintner-hosted reception and lunch at Thomas Hill Organics in downtown Paso Robles at 11 a.m. The indulgent multi-course menu will be paired with select Cabernet and red Bordeaux wines. After lunch, complimentary shuttle service will be provided to the event site where VIP’s will be the first to arrive and taste through reserve wines at 1 p.m. VIP guests will have private access to a VIP Lounge throughout the day, and continued access to the Gala from 2-5 p.m.

Premium-Reserve VIP tickets are also available for early entry to the Reserve Tasting at 1 p.m., access to the VIP Lounge throughout the day, as well as full access to the Gala.

Read more about last year’s event.

Tickets for the CABs of Distinction Gala event can be purchased at www.pasoroblescab.com. The website includes member winery details and contact information, trade tools and the PRCC blog with extended member features, harvest reports and other news.

Members of the Paso Robles CAB Collective include ADELAIDA Cellars, Ancient Peaks Winery, B&E Vineyard, Bon Niche Cellars, Calcareous Vineyard, Cass Vineyard & Winery, Chateau Margene, Clautiere Vineyard, DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Eberle Winery, Halter Ranch Vineyard, Hammersky Vineyards, Hunt Cellars, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Jada Vineyard & Winery, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, Le Cuvier Winery, Le Vigne Winery, Opolo Vineyards, Parrish Family Vineyards, Peachy Canyon Winery, Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, Record Family Wines, Red Soles Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Sextant Wines, Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery, and Vina Robles.

ABOUT THE PASO ROBLES CAB COLLECTIVE

Paso Robles CAB Collective logo

Formed in 2012, the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective (PRCC) is an independent collaborative effort of leading Paso Robles growers and producers of Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals specific to the Paso Robles AVA in California. The PRCC strives to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles region in producing superior quality, classic and age-worthy Cabernet and red Bordeaux varietals that compete with like varietals on a global stage to consumers and media worldwide. For more information, please visit www.pasoroblescab.com.

 

 

 

Cass Winery in Paso Robles Wine Country

Cass Winery and Tasting Room - Paso Robles

Cass Winery and Tasting Room – Paso Robles

by Xochitl Maiman   November 12, 2013

A visit to Paso Robles wine country isn’t complete without stopping by Cass Winery.

My love affair with Cass Winery started many years ago with my very first visit. Steve Cass, one of the owners, was himself pouring in the tasting room that day so we got to know him and his story a bit. After a long career at Charles Schwab, he and his wife, Alice, made the “lifestyle” change to Paso Robles and the wine business. He was the first of many transplants I would subsequently meet in Paso.

It was during our visit there that something happened that would end up being one of my “go to” reasons why I love Cass Winery and Paso Robles in general. That day a young woman walked into the tasting room that clearly Steve recognized then greeted. She asked for a cup of water….. for her horse! Yes, it was a hot day, she was out riding, the horse got thirsty, so she stopped in. Steve gave her the water like that was an everyday occurrence. And perhaps it was, but where I live I can’t even get a cup of sugar from a neighbor! Being the horse lover that I am, I thought this was just too awesome. And so it began….

A couple of years later, Steve helped fulfill one of my dreams by allowing me to help with the harvest. Now there’s no “set in stone” schedule for harvest – when the grapes are ready, they’re ready. So with only 24 hours notice, I drove up from LA and joined Steve, Cass Winery co-owner, Ted Plemons and his lovely wife, Lisa, winemaker Lood Kotze and the vineyard team to help bring in the viognier. Oh how I love this vineyard – with every visit, there is usually at least one point where I find myself standing looking our over the rows with tears in my eyes. It’s just so beautiful and open and alive – vines, oaks, birds, soil and air. And the people are alive with passion for what they are doing – at one point the vineyard manager grabbed a cluster of the sweet sticky grapes and gleefully took a giant bite exalting their perfection. Being out in that open land picking through the grapes for MOG, (material other than grapes), chatting and taking pictures was so relaxing – I always say when I’m in a vineyard, that’s when I can really breathe.

Just couldn't resist a taste...

Just couldn’t resist a taste…

Yeah, that's my happy face...

Yeah, that’s my happy face…

The Cass vineyard

The Cass vineyard

Last month during the annual Harvest Wine Weekend celebration, I attended the Cass Winery BBQ and dance. As usual, we were running later than I liked after a hectic exit from LA, and a late afternoon meeting in Paso, so we arrived at a run. But the magic of this place took hold quickly and time slowed down and so did I. Within minutes I had a glass of  wine in hand and my favorite cowboy boots were carrying me into the scene…….  It was dusk so there was a warm glow to the outside area where tables were set up, a buffet on one side and on the other, the stage where the sounds of Patsy Cline and a country fiddle were luring me in. A quick survey of the large crowd revealed Steve standing along listening intently to the music – I dare say even he was being swept up in the magic. The Cass vineyard provided the perfect backdrop for the event, stretching out into the encroaching darkness. As it became darker and the twinkle lights strewn overhead began to, well, twinkle, a full moon presented itself for dramatic effect, taking up position right between two of the long branches of  the glorious oak tree nearby. In my book, how could there be a more perfect setting…..the vineyard, my cowboy boots covered in dust, “Crazy” being crooned, a glass of wonderful wine in my hand, a full moon, tri-tip coming up and my wonderful husband to share it all with. Yeah, those happy tears made another appearance.  So we ate, we drank, we made friends with the drummer, we listened as a 14-year old fiddle player shared her brilliance right alongside the veteran entertainers, and the whole evening ended in an intimate chorus of “Amazing Grace” sung by the band and the remaining party goers.

Monty Mills and his band in front of the Cass vineyard.

Monte Mills and his band in front of the Cass vineyard.

325Table Setting - Cass Winery BBQSteve Cass at Cass Winery BBQ

Yes, I’m having a love affair with Cass Winery, but there’s more! When you visit Cass Winery, and visit you must, you will be greeted and served by warm, friendly people happy to make people happy. There’s a feeling of family here, like you’ve come home. As you taste through their delicious wines your gaze might fall upon the grand piano, slightly out of place in the tasting room setting. But actually it’s perfectly at home here as music is another passion of the Cass family and they have been instrumental (pun intended) in re-energizing the annual Paderewski Festival and hold concerts to promote young musicians.

Then to complete your visit and your Cass tasting experience enjoy the gourmet food prepared daily by Chef Jacob Lovejoy. Cass is one of the few wineries out on the wine trail that serves food and it’s best enjoyed on the patio with the view of the oaks and the vineyard.

I hope you plan a trip to Paso Robles soon and make sure to leave a couple of hours open for a visit to Cass. Perhaps you’ll fall in love too. Cheers!

What’s New in Paso Robles Wine Country?

New wineries, restaurants, event venue and more don’t detract from the small town feeling of Paso Robles.

posted by Xochitl Maiman     November 4, 2013

Half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the Central Coast of California lies Paso Robles. The area, known these days primarily for it’s burgeoning wine country, is true to its name, “The Pass of the Oaks.” Gorgeous, huge, age-old oak trees share the landscape with the rolling vineyards, in an area once known for its mineral hot springs. The last 10-15 years have brought huge progress and growth to the Paso Robles wine making industry, and appropriately the restaurant scene has grown right along with it. And yet, with all this growth, Paso Robles manages to keep its small town feel, all revolving around the charming Downtown Park.

Recently I took a trip to Paso to see for myself what’s new – here’s just a taste…..

The newest winery to join the over 200 existing wineries, is still under construction, (hoping to open by end of year), but they have been pouring their wines at tastings around the country creating a buzz and much anticipation over the inaugural releases. LAW Estate Wines is the dream of proprietors, Don and Susie Law. They have brought on one of Paso Robles’ top winemakers, Scott Hawley to head up the wine program, and have acquired a 45 acre site for the winery, (up to 10,000 case production capability), and 260 acres for vineyard plantings on the west side of Paso Robles off of Peachy Canyon Road. Their inaugural vintage, (2010 with a 1500 case production), of  big, lush red wines, is set to be released to their allocation list this Fall.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction in Paso Robles, Calif.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction in Paso Robles, Calif.

LAW Estate Wine's 2010 "Audacious"

LAW Estate Wine’s 2010 “Audacious”

Tablas Creek Vineyard, a well established and very popular winery, has, in their constant pursuit of a vineyard complete with all thirteen Châteauneuf du Pape varietals, planted this year half an acre of a relatively unknown white Rhone varietal called picardan. According to  Jancis Robinson, there is less than one acre of this grape planted in all of France. At the time of my visit, Jason Haas, the son of Tablas Creek Vineyard founder, Robert Haas, and general manager, wasn’t quite sure how they were going to use the grape, but I look forward to tasting whatever they come up with. Read more about the nearly decade long process to complete the varietal collection on the acclaimed Tablas Creek blog. More on this story to come….

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard with new picardan plantings

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard with new picardan plantings

Picardan at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Picardan at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Out on the wine trail there are many wonderful Bed & Breakfasts to stay in for the most complete wine country experience. The newest of these is Sundance B & B, perfectly located among the rolling, vineyard covered, oak studded hills of Paso Robles’ East side. The proprietors, Neil and Alma, have transformed the one-time private home on 10 acres into a Tuscan-style villa overlooking gorgeous gardens and vineyards, some mature and some newly planted. Alma paid great attention to every detail in designing the three guest rooms, each uniquely decorated, and all luxuriously appointed with fine bed linens, antiques, art, Aromatherapy toiletries, large closet with plush robes, refrigerator and spectacular views! Private gourmet dinner packages are offered on Saturdays, and breakfasts are delicious as Alma is an accomplished cook as well as host. This is the kind of place you’ll want to return to again and again, knowing it will feel familiar, warm and welcoming. Read my complete post about Sundance B&B with images here.

Sundance Bed and Breakfast

Sundance Bed and Breakfast

Back in town, there’s lots of “new” to talk about…..

Taste wines from four of Paso’s hottest winemakers in one place at the Paso Underground. Located right across from the downtown park, this unique tasting room used to be a garage. Now it’s the place to taste the outstanding wines of Edmond AugustTurtle Rock VineyardsAaron Wines and Clos Solene. Enter through the back off of Railroad St. via a nice patio space where gnarly, twisted grape vine samples hang on the walls and, along one fence, planted vines represent the varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne. The Paso Underground is a “not to be missed” wine tasting experience during a visit to Paso Robles wine country. Plan ahead as their hours of operation are limited, but they do take appointments. This is one “underground” you’ll want to tell everyone about!

The Paso Underground Tasting Room

The Paso Underground Tasting Room

From the folks that brought Il Cortile to the downtown area, comes their newest restaurant, La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant, located near the also new location of Artisan Restaurant. Spanish for “the harvest”, La Cosecha focuses on the cuisine of Spain and South America. This place offers a small but awesome outside seating area perfect for watching all the happenings and people in downtown as is it directly across from the park. Food is yummy – cocktails are creative – wine list small but mighty.

Tapas at La Cosecha

Tapas at La Cosecha

There is a new cookie store in town too – Brown Butter Cookie Company, the hugely popular Cayucos cookie store, has opened a second location at Park and 12th Streets in downtown Paso Robles. Think Brown Butter Sea Salt cookies….. I missed it on my last trip, but it’s at the top of the list for the next one.

Perhaps the biggest new thing in Paso Robles this year is the Vina Robles Amphitheatre. Located off of 46 East and adjacent to the Vina Robles Tasting Room/Hospitality Center, the 3300 seat, (the furthest being a mere 150 feet from the stage), “boutique” amphitheatre was host to some very big names in entertainment during its 2013 inaugural season – Moody Blues, John Fogerty, Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Steve Martin, just to name a few. There is a wide array of seating options from casual lawn seating to luxury boxes, concession areas offer a wide variety of food and beverages, and of course the sound system is “state of the art”.  Their 2014 concert schedule will be announced in the spring, but you can stay up to speed with updates on their Facebook page.

Entrance to Vina Robles Amphitheatre

Entrance to Vina Robles Amphitheatre

Vina Robles Amphitheatre

Vina Robles Amphitheatre

With everything there is to see, do and taste in Paso Robles, isn’t it time you planned a visit soon?

I’d like to thank Oliver Esparham, General Manager, Law Estate Wines, Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, Neil and Alma of Sundance B&B, Simone Michel, Director of Customer Relations & Marketing at Vina Robles and the winemakers at the Paso Underground, (who opened up special for our group), for taking the time to show me around their beautiful sites. Cheers!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!


Laraneta Wines Tasting Great at Ladies Night Out

Laraneta wines featured at event in Woodland Hills

Who doesn’t love a night out during the week? And if there’s wine involved, that much the better? Earlier this week I attended the monthly “Ladies Night Out” at Ruth’s Chris in Woodland Hills on the recommendation of a friend. Turned out to be a really nice evening.

Ruth’s Chris is a chain of restaurants located across the United States and known for their astounding steaks. The restaurant in Woodland Hills is located near major business areas and therefore the perfect location for after work networking and unwinding. Upon arrival we were directed through the beautiful main dining room to a perfectly sized private room in the back. 5 or 6 tables were set and decorated with red roses, lights were dimmed and white wine being poured.

The one man in the room, (actually he was joined by a second a little later on), was Joe Laraneta, proprietor of Laraneta located in the Paso Robles wine region. Seemed he was having a pretty good time “schmoozing” with the women.

Joe Laraneta with a couple of the attendees

Joe Laraneta with a couple of the attendees

From reading the brochures on each table we learned that besides making wine, Laraneta also produces olive oil from trees on their estate, and they operate a charming Bed & Breakfast, Honey Oak House, situated right in the middle of the vineyard! Joe was busy opening bottles when I first arrived, but it wasn’t long before he was pouring his “Cameo“, a white wine made from the Vernaccia grape, a varietal normally associated with the town of San Gimignano in Tuscany. This refreshing white wine was crisp and clean with hints of green apple and pear. Perfect way to start of a warm summer evening.

"Cameo" made from the Vernaccia grape

"Cameo" made from the Vernaccia grape

As the second wine, a Sangiovese, was being poured the ladies began to take seats as the first “small plate” was about to be served. And it was also the time for some introductions and thank you’s delivered by the special events coordinator for the restaurant, Maya Camara.

Maya Camera and Joe Laraneta

Maya Camara and Joe Laraneta

The first course was scallops on puff pastry on a bed of spinach and topped with Bearnaise sauce. Oh so good…..

Scallops with Spinach and Bearnaise Sauce

Scallops with Spinach and Bearnaise Sauce

The reds of Laraneta

The reds of Laraneta

I loved the Sangiovese – lots of dried strawberry, white pepper and good acidity. After that we tasted a newer release and Orange County Fair – 2013 – Gold Medal Winner, “Misto“-2010. This wine is a blend of 47.5% Sangiovese/47.5% Merlot/5%Cabernet Sauvignon, and would pair well with so many foods from roast chicken to duck to lamb. It was their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, however, that was crazy good with the next course of a petite filet, cooked to perfection, in a peppercorn sauce served over silky mashed potatoes.

Petite Filet, cooked to perfection, with a peppercorn sauce

Petite Filet, cooked to perfection, with a peppercorn sauce

The last wine of the night was their 2005 “No. 5“, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. Luscious and full bodied, this wine tasted of dried cherry, cocoa, blackberry and spice. This would also be great with a steak but was delicious with the Osso Buco Ravioli and the chocolate being served by ChocoBoost.

Osso Buco Ravioli

Osso Buco Ravioli

Choco Boost/Laraneta/Ruth's Chris

Chocolate and wine

The Laraneta wines on the whole were delicious and approachable and very food friendly. I’m looking forward to tasting them again on October 23 when they will be featured at a winemaker dinner at FAB’S Corner Cucina in Sherman Oaks and paired with the delicious culinary creations of guest chef, Rico Mandel and presented by Miz en Place. This dinner is sure to be special – click here for more info.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

LAW Estate Wines – Paso Robles

LAW is coming to Paso Robles!

At this year’s Rhone Ranger tasting, Los Angeles in June,  I was quite impressed by my first tasting of the wines of LAW Estate Wines, opening in Paso Robles later this year. So I made arrangements to delve further into this new wine estate with a tour of the winery/tasting room construction site and vineyard in late July.

LAW Estate Wines is the dream of proprietors, Don and Susie Law. They have brought on one of Paso Robles’ top winemakers, Scott Hawley to head up the wine program, and have acquired a 45 acre site for the winery, (up to 10,000 case production capability), and 260 acres for vineyard plantings on the west side of Paso Robles off of Peachy Canyon Road. Their inaugural vintage, (2010 with a 1500 case production), of  big, lush red wines, is set to be released to their allocation list in the Fall.

Our guide for the day was Oliver Esparham, the General Manager of the estate, and he gave us a pretty extensive tour of the properties along with a tasting of some of their wines. We started by walking the site for the winery and tasting room. This is big, folks! State of the art gravity flow winery, 22 concrete tanks with built in jackets for temperature control, lab on site, indoor and outdoor tasting areas and an “Owner’s Library” for private tastings.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction - Paso Robles, Calif.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction - Paso Robles, Calif.

22 4-ton concrete tanks (concrete eggs for whites)

22 4-ton concrete tanks

Tasting Room

Looking through main building at "Owner's Library"

After touring the facility, we drove over to the nearby owner’s residence and tasted a bit of the “Audacious”, a blend of  44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Petit Sirah. Lots of bright fruit, weight and complexity from the Syrah, acidity and a bit of chalkiness from the layers and layers of rock that make up the hillside vineyard.

LAW Estate Wine's 2010 "Audacious"

LAW Estate Wine's 2010 "Audacious"

After enjoying the air conditioning and the wine, we hopped into a mule and headed out to the vineyard. The vineyard at 1800 feet of elevation is one of the highest vineyards in the area. 32 acres were planted to Rhone varietals in 2008 with 80% planted to multiple clones of Grenache and Syrah. Small blocks are also planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. The layers of  limestone make for a wonderful vineyard, but one dusty ride in an open mule. No worries though, the vineyard is beautiful and the views spectacular!

View from the winery of the hillside vineyards of LAW Estate Wines

View from the winery of the hillside vineyards of LAW Estate Wines

Modified goblet trained vines - LAW Family Vineyards

Modified goblet trained vines - LAW Family Vineyards

Oliver in the Law Family Vineyard

Oliver in the Law Family Vineyard

The hour got late and we needed to leave, so Oliver gave us a bottle of “Sagacious” to take with us to taste at a later date. We tasted this wine, 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, with some Paso wine loving friends. Here are their comments: “full mouthfeel”, “yummy”, “big but not overpowering – smooth”, “minerals in nose”, “dark cherry, little tobacco, dried plums”. The winery website describes the wine this way, “…fantastic acidity that allows this really big wine to feel almost light on its feet”. “And that is a perfect description. At the Rhone Ranger event I also tasted the “Intrepid”, a 100% Syrah, (dried figs in the nose), and “Beguiling”, (94% Grenache/6% Syrah), smooth, soft tannins, full with big cherry finish. At the tasting I gave all four wines highest marks. Jeb Dunnuck of “The Rhone Report” gave all four wines very high scores. Read his reviews here.

I’d like to thank Don Law and Oliver Esparham for allowing me access to the “behind the scenes” of this new winery that I’m sure we are going to hear lots of great things about in the future. Look for their opening and make this a “must visit” on your 2014 visit to Paso Robles!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!