by Xochitl Maiman – December 2014
Wine tasting along Adelaida Road blends local history with modern day winemaking.
There are many options to choose from when deciding where to spend the day tasting in Paso Robles wine country. As a frequent visitor to the area, I find there is also a tendency to want to spend time at the familiar wineries that over the years have become favorites where I like to “check-in” and say hi to friends. So on a recent trip, a rare rainy weekend, I focused my attention on Adelaida Road – a stretch of windy country road that runs along the northern side of the region between Highway 101 and Vineyard Drive, and located primarily within the boundaries of the newly designated sub AVA known as the Adelaida District.
The road is a portal into a parallel universe of pastoral vistas and quiet tranquility. Old oaks line both sides of the narrow road meeting in a leafy canopy that dapples the sun on the windshield. Around each turn is a landscape of hillsides and fields corduroyed with perfect rows of vineyards, at this time of year turning myriad shades of gold. Deer gather in groups, seemingly plotting their covert entrance into a yard or vineyard and hawks hang motionless in the sky above. On this particular day the much needed rain quietly added its glistening touch to the scenic canvas.
Our first stop – the brand new (literally open just a few days) tasting room and winery facility of Alta Colina. Last time I had visited, on a 100+ degree day in late August, it was still very much a construction site so I was excited to see the finished product. Bob and Maggie Tillman were both there to greet us and Bob suggested we start with a vineyard tour. Never to be kept out of a vineyard by a little rain, we jumped into his truck and slowly made our way up the hillside of the 130 acre site – the vineyard elevation reaches almost 800 feet with stunning views in all directions.
Planting of the 32 acres now under vine began in 2005. The vineyard is dedicated to Rhone varietals including Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah, mostly Entav selections with one block dedicated to Alban grafts. The Tillman’s maintain an organic vineyard – no synthetic soil additives and cover crops are all naturally occurring grasses.
Once back at the winery, Bob gave us a tour of the new digs – his excitement with the new place and how it had turned out was a pleasure to experience. Architect Rebecca McKay of Real Architects in San Luis Obispo, created a lofty, contemporary 8,600 square foot facility which includes a 650 square foot tasting room – a big jump from the 150 square foot tasting room they previously occupied up the street. With all the new winery space, the Tillman’s project an eventual case production increase to about 4000 cases from their current 1800 case production. The facility also includes the first Tesla charging station in Paso Robles.
Maggie and Bob Tillman, Alta Colina
Favorite wines tasted at Alta Colina:
2013 Grenache Blanc
2012 Claudia Cuvée (Marsanne)
2011 Toasted Slope Syrah
2011 Block 2 Bio Syrah
The Alta Colina tasting room is open Thursday through Monday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 2825 Adelaida Road.
Our next stop down Adelaida took us to Lone Madrone and an epic tasting with winemaker, Neil Collins. Indeed, the tasting notes sheet I was given had 20 wines on it! Clearly something for everyone here. It seems Neil has deep rooted relationships with many local, mostly “west-side” growers that afford him access to a large number of varietals from which he makes his single varietal and blended wines. (Important to note here that, while managing his own wine program at Lone Madrone, Neil is also the winemaker at the highly esteemed Tablas Creek down the road. He credits his ability to stay on top of things to the great teams he has working with him). The winery takes its name from the lone Madrone that stands in their original vineyard and the tasting room is warm and inviting in a refurbished horse barn. (Loved the old hot walker in one of the outdoor sitting areas.)
While Neil and I chatted about all things Paso Robles, including the new AVA’s, the push to bring attention to Paso Cabernet Sauvignon, organic and biodynamic farming practices, and changes in the local farming landscape over the years, he poured for me some of the wines in his lengthy line-up. And even though Neil produces so many wines, I’d say there was no compromise on quality here. This description taken from their website says it best: “The wines of Lone Madrone are all unique and yet characteristically balanced with structure and finesse.” Of the 13 wines I tasted, here are some of my favorites:
2013 Chenin Blanc – dry farmed, 43 year old vines
2013 Picpoul Blanc
2012 Points West White – blend of viognier, marsanne, rousanne and picpoul blanc
2011 Points West Red – blend of Mourvedre, grenache, syrah, cinsault and counoise
2012 Bailey Ranch Zinfandel
The vineyard was beautiful in the rain, but I will definitely return to enjoy the view and a picnic on the patio on a sunny, dry day. The Lone Madrone tasting room is open daily from 10:30am-5pm at 5800 Adelaida Road.
Halter Ranch is a parallel universe unto itself, seamlessly juxtaposing historic Paso Robles with modern day winemaking. Located at the intersection of Adelaida Road and Vineyard Drive, the first thing you notice on arrival is the grand Victorian farmhouse built in 1885. A drive across a long covered bridge takes you to the recently constructed winery facility, looking much like a mountain ski resort, but housing a large “member lounge” and the state of the art winery.
Visible from the lounge through floor to ceiling windows is the multi-level winery which utilizes gravity flow to gently get fruit from de-stemmer to tank.
While a large facility, with case production at about 12,000 annually, Halter Ranch takes great pride in their sustainable practices across the board – They are SIP Certified and maintain a 3 mile wildlife corridor through the vineyard, which I found particularly interesting. Unique to Halter Ranch is the 22,000 square foot cave system accommodating 2500 barrels. Winery and cave tours are complimentary and given Saturdays and Sundays with reservation. Plan on about 45 minutes – well worth the time.
The vineyard is planted with 19 grape varieties – 60% Bordeaux, 40% Rhone, plus Tempranillo. Halter Ranch is a member of the Paso Robles CAB Collective, and last April at one of their tasting events I was able to try a couple of vintages of their flagship wine, “Ancestor”, a Bordeaux-style reserve blend named after the large coast live oak located on the property. The current 2012 vintage is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and would be lovely enjoyed with some hearty winter dishes.
The Halter Ranch tasting room, located at 8910 Adelaida Road, is open daily from 11am-5pm.
Almost to the end of Adelaida Road lies Tablas Creek, a winery for which I could devote an entire article. I have visited there many times and always learn, see or taste something new.Tablas Creek is about all things Rhone, and indeed they envision their vineyard with all thirteen Châteauneuf du Pape varietals. The project, started in 1985, is a partnership resulting from a long standing relationship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The vineyard is certified organic and some blocks are farmed by even stricter biodynamic standards. The wines, born of vineyard soils similar to those of Châteauneuf du Pape, and crafted by winemaker, Neil Collins, are traditional Rhone blends, complex and elegant. The grounds reflect their philosophy of working with the land, and I was particularly impressed with the retaining wall created from the calcareous shale native of the area.
Tablas Creek vineyard in summer
I am a huge fan of the Tablas Creek blog – always a great read full of wine info, vineyard updates and local area news. It is maintained by Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager at Tablas Creek, and supported by a team of contributing writers. The tasting room at Tablas Creek, featuring a large and thoughtfully curated selection of gift items, is open at 9339 Adelaida Road, and is open daily from 10am-5pm. Don’t forget to check out the corral of working animals too!
Just a bit further west on Adelaida, history once again beckons you to stop and travel back to a simpler time of country living. Located on a small portion of the land homesteaded by the Ramage family in the 1800’s, and occupying one of the original buildings, is Kiamie Wine Cellars. Partners Aram Deirmenjian and Greg Johnson realized their dream of developing a fine California winery with their first vintage, 2005. They moved from a downtown area tasting room to their current location, nearer to the westside vineyards where they source their fruit, in 2010, renovating an old tack room into a cozy, rustic tasting room. Arriving here is like visiting old friends – greeted by Aram or Greg accompanied by one or more of their dogs, you’re welcomed in, poured your first taste, then escorted outside to relax, breath and forget about whatever big city you’re visiting from.
Personal note: It was about 7 years ago that I first met Aram at a tasting event in the San Fernando Valley. During a brief conversation, he made a career suggestion for me involving social media and wineries – thanks Aram for encouraging me to pursue the work I have been very happy doing ever since.
Learn more about Kiamie’s Rhone and Bordeaux style blends.
Also, not to be missed while touring and tasting along Adelaida Road are the Re:Fined Distillery hand crafted spirits being produced from wine grapes (really!) by Villicana Winery’s founders Alex and Monica Villicana. Their gin is my personal favorite – just lovely! Visit them and enjoy this unique tasting experience at 2725 Adelaida Road, daily, 11am-5pm.
As always, I’d like to thank all the winery owners and winemakers for their generous hospitality while taking time to show us around and share their stories. It is truly the people of Paso Robles that, along with the land’s beauty and bounty, make Paso Robles an ideal destination for wine tasting and touring.
View the complete photo album for this Paso Robles tasting adventure.
I’LL DRINK TO THAT!