As luck would have it I had lunch with rock stars today! It may have been in the heart of Beverly Hills, but the celebs I was with weren’t J Lo or Steven Tyler or Lady Gaga. No these “stars” were some of the stars of Paso Robles! Living my whole life in Hollywood means I have seen many superstars of film, television and music. But meeting a winemaker or other wine persona is always a much bigger thrill. Now I don’t usually admit that to anyone but my husband, but when Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine said the same thing at lunch today I knew I was in good company.
Today’s winemaker lunch was the preamble to yet another of Ian’s wonderful” Stars of…” events with Paso Robles taking center stage. “The Stars of Paso Robles Wine” tasting event was a two day event held one day in Orange County and one day at Two Rodeo on the famous Rodeo Dr in Beverly Hills, showcasing over 25 of the top wine producers from the area. Now as many of you know, my favorite wine region is Paso and over the years I have met so many wonderful winery owners, winemakers, B&B proprietors and restauranteurs. But today I met three wine personalities for the first time.
Michael Mooney is the owner and winemaker at Chateau Margene, a boutique micro winery specializing in the production of small lots of premium Cabernet Sauvignon. His other label, Mooney Family Wines produces Rhone blends from the Paso Robles AVA and Pinot Noir made with fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Their wines are sold only direct from either their estate winery set amidst the gorgeous rolling hills of Creston, or from their Westside tasting room located at the intersection of Vineyard Dr and Peachy Canyon Road, just West of the 101 freeway. I have a very close friend who has been a club member of Chateau Margene for a couple of years and has shared with me some of their delicious wines. She is constantly talking about her visit to the estate winery, before the tasting room was opened, so I was thrilled to finally meet Michael and taste some more of his wine. His first offering was his Mooney Family 2009 Pinot Noir, made with fruit sourced from the Vigna Monte Nero Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This wine, released in April of this year, is a classic, elegant Pinot exhibiting lots of cherry in the nose, anise and tobacco in the palate with a long finish. This was poured with a dish of sea bass on a corn chowder/succotash like sauce with crisp edamames, and topped with micro greens.
Michael’s second wine was served with our last course, which was piquillo peppers stuffed with shredded beef in a robust tomato based ragu.
He explained that his 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was made from 60% estate fruit and that it was comprised of 90% Cab and 10% Merlot. He further explained the extended lees aging, (no racking for 16 months), and that the case production on this wine was 500 cases. He described this intense full bodied wine as having aromas of black fruit, cassis, cedar, mocha and eucalyptus. I describe it as just plain delicious, and as it opened up in my glass it just kept getting better!
The second wine celeb is probably better described as part of wine royalty. Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars is the daughter of Larry Turley, an ex ER doc who co-founded Frog’s Leap, and the niece of winemaker extraordinaire, Helen Turley. Turley has established itself an an ultra-premium Zinfandel producer and in 2000 purchased the old Pesenti Vineyard in Templeton, where they dry farm 85 year old zin vines. They also have a winery in St Helena and produce Petite Sirah, white Rhone blends and Charbono. The Turleys recently planted 5 acres of what Larry calls “truffle trees” in hopes of producing domestic truffles on their Templeton property.
The first Turley wine we tasted was 100% Rousanne, Rattlesnake Ridge from Howell Mtn in Napa, 2008. This slightly opaque wine had a figgy nose with good minerality, full mouthfeel and a long, full finish. This was poured with a salad of arugula, roasted red beets, candied walnuts, pink grapefruit and goat cheese.
Christina poured her 2008 Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel with seared tuna wrapped in seaweed, batter fried and topped with lotus root chips. This deep garnet wine had a slightly odd nose, but the depth and spice of this full bodied wine made it a delicious choice for the entree.
The third member of the panel, although not a winemaker or winery owner, is a huge celeb in the wine industry for what he has contributed in the way of industry focused social media marketing. Dare I gush and say that he is my version of an American Idol, wine/social media style? Yes. I have followed his work and was just thrilled to finally meet him in person. Joel has worked for many prestigious wineries, but for the last 6 years has been at Hope Family Wines in Paso as their Director of Communications. Last year, with the help of Dina Mande of Juice Marketing, he created the video, “What is Wine”, winning first place in the 2010 Wine Spectator video contest. This video just makes me smile every time I watch it and everyone in it is a star of Paso Robles. And as long as you’re going to YouTube, you should have a look at the video introducing the new wine being released by Hope Family Wines under the label of “Troublemaker”.
Joel’s first wine, also poured with the salad, was the Treana (another Hope Family label and symbolizing the trinity of elements, sun,sea and soil) White 2008, a blend of 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier. For those of you still not acquainted with white Rhone varietals, grab a bottle of this wine – drink it as an aperitif or pair it with summer salads, sushi and really any kind of spicy food. The wine has a floral nose and flavors of stone fruits with honey. Very full mouthfeel. Just delicious! His second wine was the Treana Red, a blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Syrah, all sourced from Paso fruit. Joel told us that this 2008 is the 12th vintage of this wine.This full bodied wine had an initial licorice component that I really liked, but the flavor profile continued to evolve as it opened up in the glass. Also great paired with the beef dish.
The food was delicious, the wine was amazing and the company was stellar. I should say also that I really enjoyed meeting the other lunch attendees from the media who provided lively conversation about our common passions…food, wine and writing.
After lunch I popped in at the tasting upstairs and said hi to a couple of my favorite wine people from Paso. Aram Deirmenjian of Kiamie Wine Cellars was uncorking his White Kuvée, one of my favorite white Rhone blends. He was truly looking like a rockstar with his new longer hair!
Ted Plemons of Cass Winery was doing what he does best – smiling and pouring wine. I had the pleasure of working with Ted and his wife, Lisa, during the Viognier harvest in 2009. They are just some of the nicest people I have met in Paso and perfect Paso wine ambassadors.
So if you haven’t visited Paso Robles yet…what are you waiting for? Great people, restaurants, B&B’s, wineries, parks, farmer’s markets, beautiful rolling hills and back roads and some of the most beautiful sunsets ever! And don’t forget the oaks…Paso Robles means “pass of the oaks”, and they dot the vineyards and frame the views everywhere you look. Paso has lots of annual events so check the website, Paso Robles Wine County Alliance, for updates and plenty of info.
I’LL DRINK TO THAT!