Tag Archives: Cass

Spending the Day With the Rhone Rangers

by Don Sonderling – August 13, 2016

The Rhone Rangers Tour Comes to Los Angeles

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

With a flourish The Rhone Rangers rode into town on Saturday, August 6th hosting a grand tasting event at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  The day’s program started in the morning with a winemaker seminar (Red & White Rhone Blends), followed by a winemaker luncheon, giving attendees the opportunity to chat with winemakers while tasting a variety of rosé and white wines produced from Rhone varietals.  The Grand Tasting followed in the afternoon.  Over 40 California Rhone wine producers poured a diverse assortment of wines for a thirsty, enthusiastic crowd of about 600 Rhone wine devotees.

This  event offers wine enthusiasts the chance to sample wines from small, boutique wineries, to familiarize themselves with different styles, blends and individual varietals, and in many cases, talk with the winemakers themselves.

Jason DiFrancesco, owner/winemaker of LEVERAGE Wines, from Paso Robles, was especially excited to present his initial release of Rhone wines, which included a rosé, a Grenache/Syrah blend (Acceleration) and a GSM (Trajectory).  About the event Jason commented, “Events like the Rhone Rangers afford new boutique brands like mine to have personal interaction with those enjoying our wines.  For now, that’s our best way to have Rhone style Paso wine enthusiasts try these limited production wines.  Folks in Paso, Orange County, and Phoenix can visit our website and request a tasting appointment at our partner wine locations until we hopefully grow into a tasting room in the future”.

Rhone Rangers-Four Brix Winery
Four Brix Winery from Ventura California poured five different wines, including a 2011 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre and 2012 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Counoise, both from Paso Robles, giving the taster an opportunity to compare two similar, but slightly different and most interesting wines.


The Santa Barbara region was well represented by such standouts as Larner Vineyard and Winery (with the affable Michael Larner pouring), Beckman Vineyards, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Kaena Wine Company, and several others.

Sculpterra Winery at Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Paso Robles, well recognized for their Rhones, was represented by wineries such as Sculpterra Winery, Epoch (pouring their always standout Block B Syrah), Calcareous, Derby Wine Estates, Pomar Junction, Cass, Villa Creek and more than a dozen others.

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Not to be left out, the Northern part of the state was represented by wineries such as Bonny Doon, Chacewater, Kale Wines and Ridge Vineyards, to name but a few.

Bringing together such a varied assortment of wineries in one location provides the opportunity to taste and compare wines made from the same grapes, but from a variety of geographic “terroirs”, and experience and evaluate their differences or similarities.   In addition to contrasting how terroir and weather influences the flavor characteristics of the varietal, perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of a varietal specific tasting is the opportunity to try varieties of (Rhone) grapes that are uncommon.  The Rhone varietal family consists of 22 grapes, and tasters at the event were able to sample lesser known varieties such as Picpoul, Ugni Blanc, Cinsault and Counoise.

For this writer, personally, perhaps one of the most exciting parts of attending events like this is the opportunity to re-visit wineries I haven’t been able to get to for several years.  Suddenly you take a sip and say to yourself:  OH My!  I’ve got to get back up there!  Many of us (myself included) get in the habit of visiting comfortable favorites and old friends, so attending the Rhone Rangers and similar tasting events helps to break you out of your comfort level, and expose you to entirely new and exciting wine encounters.

For more information on the Rhone Rangers, what they do, and upcoming events, visit their website

Cheers – hope to see YOU at a Rhone Rangers event soon.

I’ll Drink to That!


People often ask me about Viognier. When I try to explain it to them, I am reminded of all the many styles in which it can be made. It can be perfumey or redolent of tropical fruits. It’s mouthfeel can be thick and rich or light with crisp acidity. But whichever style you prefer, there is a viognier for every palate, and finding the style that’s right for you is half the fun. Although this grape is the star of Condrieu in France, California is making some shining examples, many from the Central Coast. Many wineries blend their Viognier with Rousanne and Marsanne, creating a white Rhone blend that I find absolutely delicious!

I first started drinking Viognier when I began to see them popping up more and more on my winery visits to the Santa Ynez Valley. The nose on most of those wines was very floral and perfumy. Not my favorite attributes and they carried over into the flavor profile as well. But because the wine itself was so clean and crisp with a lovely full mouthfeel, I persisted,  tasting as many examples as I could find. Eventually, over not too many years, I noticed a trend. More and more of the Viogniers I was tasting had lost that perfumy component while maintaining a wonderful honeysuckle nose. Ahhh, now I was obsessed. Viognier, and Rhone white varietal blends became a passion, and I was thrilled whenever I found one in a winery’s tasting line-up.

One of my “go to” Viogniers comes from Bridlewood Estate Winery, whose gorgeous tasting room is located on the Eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. No visit to this wine region would be complete without visiting this beautiful property, and no visit complete without tasting their Viogniers. Using fruit sourced from the Central Coast, Bridlewood’s Viognier expresses  an viognieraromatic bouquet of honeysuckle and nectarines, with a flavor profile featuring guava and nectarines. The wine is well balanced with a rich creamy mouthfeel. This versatile wine drinks great before a meal, and pairs beautifully with fish with a cream sauce, scallops, chicken and pasta with a brie cheese sauce and chives.

Also in the same area Tolosa Winery, along with their wonderful pinots, is making some nice Viognier. Their 2009 is 100% Viognier made with fruit  sourced from the Edna Valley AVA. It is fermented in stainless steel and then bottled to preserve freshness. This wine exemplifies the varietal with orange blossom and peach in the nose, medium acidity with a full mouthfeel, and finishing with a bit of lemon.

One of my very favorite Viogniers is from Cass Winery in Paso Robles. I have been a fan of their wines for a number of years and last year I had the opportunity to help bring in their 09 Viognier harvest. What fun that was! dscn1650csIt was a warm August morning as I entered their vineyard on the East side of Paso, where I met up with Steve and Ted, owners, Ted’s wife Lisa, the winemaker Lood Kotze and the rest of the Cass harvest team.aug-sept-09-234s As I spent the next couple of aug-sept-09-222chours sorting through bins of sweet viognier grapes, I became acutely aware of the event’s significance. This is the moment when a year’s worth of tending, nurturing, worrying, watching, waiting, hoping and praying comes together.  When that tenuous partnership between mother nature and farmer survives another year of negotiations and deal making, the fruit of that relationship is harvested, with a sigh of relief and a heavy dose of gratitude, not forgetting for one moment that this is the wine we’ll be drinking next year. Oh how much more wonderful that Viognier tastes this year! Must try this one with the famous crab cakes served every day at the Winery.

So give up the Chardonnay just for a while and venture into the world of Rhone white varietals. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

Chef Jacob’s Crab Cake Recipe

1 lb. Crabmeat (Phillips Crab)
½ cup Cooked Corn (frozen petite white corn)
¼ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced green, yellow, red, or orange bell pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup smooth Dijon mustard
Dash of Sirachi hot sauce
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups Panko bread crumbs (1 cup in mix, 1 cup for coating)

*Preheat oven to 425

Combine all ingredients and mix until ingredients are evenly incorporated without over mixing. Form crab mixture into eight balls/patties. Carefully coat the patties with the remaining 1 cup panko bread crumbs and chill covered for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-size skillet. Cook patties over medium heat until golden on one side (about 3 minutes) then flip to other side and place entire pan in oven for about 4 minutes.

Makes 4 lunch sized portions. Serve with side of remoulade and enjoy!

Chef Jacob’s Remoulade Recipe

1 cup Mayonnaise
¼ cup smooth Dijon mustard
1 minced shallot
2 Tbsp non-pariel capers, chopped
1 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice
½ tsp siracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Mix all together!

Wine and Music – the Perfect Pairing

by Xochitl Maiman – November 30, 2009

The hills of Paso Robles are alive with the sound of music.  It seems everywhere you turn there is either a musician orchestrating a wine making venture or a winery treating their patrons to the talents of  local musicians. Jazz, country,  rock and roll and even classical all have a place in this sprawling wine making community.

Just this last weekend Paso Robles played host to the Paderewski Festival with concerts and competitions honoring Ignacy Paderewski, virtuoso pianist and composer from 1879-1941. He purchased land in the Paso Robles area in 1914 and for the next 25 years planted almond trees, fruit orchards and Zinfandel grapes. Friday night  Cass Winery hosted a classical piano recital of Paderewski’s works performed by William Koseluk  and on Saturday welcomed their club members to a “pick-up” party featuring the sounds of “Funk 30”, a local band playing funk, R&B, blues and rock.

Paso Robles music - Funk 30 playing at Cass Winery pick-up party

Funk 30 playing at Cass Winery pick-up party

Since music has been an integral part of my life, and since I’m always anxious to try new wines, I set out to visit a couple of wineries where music and wine are the perfect pairing.  My first stop was at the D’Anbino Vineyards and Cellars tasting room located in the historic train depot in downtown Paso Robles.

D'Anbino Tasting room signage

There we were warmly greeted by Joannne Rubino, one of the owners of the winery. Her husband, Carmine Rubino, and his partner John D’Andrea both have had long successful careers in the music recording industry, film and television. The walls of the tasting room, which looks more like a very hip nightclub, are lined with photos and awards including a couple of gleaming Emmys in a glass case.  Career memorabilia also adds character to the space, including a Bay Watch pinball machine and a Roman helmet given to Carmine from HBO as a gift for his work on the series “Rome”.  Most of the family are musicians and when everyone’s schedules line up just right, D’Anbino fans are treated to concerts in the tasting room often paired with their wines and a generous helping of Italian comfort food.

Joanne Rubino

Joanne Rubino at D’Anbino tasting bar

Paying homage to the family’s musical background the bar is embedded with a half  dozen piano soundboards, genius idea of Mike Rubino, a composer working in the Los Angeles area. The large space, comfortably appointed with couches, and some high rise cocktail tables and chairs, is perfect to accommodate the crowds that gather when the family band plays or when they bring in a guest artist. (Check the Events page for their upcoming dates.)


Enjoy live music at the D'Anbino Vineyard and Cellars Tasting Room - Paso Robles

The lineup of wines all feature the D’Anbino family band depicted in a colorful watercolor image on the label. We tried them all, but a few were standouts for us. The Syrah Rose had plenty of rich color to it and good body to go with. Full flavored, this is one of the nicest roses I’ve had in a long time. A quartet of varietals make up Quadraphonic, a juicy wine with Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead grape, accompanied by Merlot, Cabernet Franc and earthy rich Syrah. Wonderful layered finish. Their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, a bronze medal winner, is fruit forward with smoke in the mid-palate and vanilla in the long finish.  For those of you whose favorite wine pairing is port and chocolate, their Cabernet Port is a must. (Pun intended) It is not syrupy or over sweet and is delicious all by itself. Pair it with a chocolate mousse or just some good dark chocolate and you have the perfect ending to a special occasion or holiday meal.  Speaking of entertaining – their Cabernet Wine Jelly is delicious with a little goat cheese on a salty cracker. What wine would you pair with some cool jazz?

What would you pair with “roots and blues”? Something with a little mojo perhaps? Domaine Degher is offering both. Denis Degher started writing songs as a teenager. Attaining  recording and engineering skills was the natural progression and brought Denis  successful careers in the music and recording industries. For the last decade he has been recording under the Sleepy Guitar Johnson moniker, and it is under that name that he performs with his trademark red Gibson in and around Paso Robles  when he is not tending to his new-ish winery located in the north-western part of the area.  Denis, after being bit by the wine-making bug and  with a growing appreciation for wine, decided to purchase land in the rolling hills of Paso Robles to plant his small organic vineyard. There, with his young black lab, Coltrane, Denis  has created a horticultural symphony with the vineyard section accompanied by a colorful ensemble of trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers. To walk the estate with Denis is to truly understand this man’s commitment to heartfelt and intelligent farming.

Denis Degher

Denis Degher


Domaine Degher


By day, Denis is a gracious host, proudly pouring a tasting of his small but impressive lineup of red wines. His 2005 Mojo is my favorite – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese.This is a lush wine with soft tannins and a wonderful long finish. We also took home a couple bottles of the 2007 Cabernet. Although a little young right now, the beautiful fruit and tannins will clearly meld into a fabulous wine with a little cellaring.


That night, Denis performed at Vinoteca, a cozy popular wine bar located right across from the park in downtown Paso. We met up with some old friends and made some new ones as we sipped one last wine for the evening and listened to the sounds of  Sleepy Guitar Johnson. With roots firmly planted in music and terroir, Mojo is the perfect pairing of wine and music.

Update: April 15, 2016

Domaine Degher Wines  has recently opened a new tasting room in Downtown Paso Robles at 827 13th St.

Vinoteca Wine Bar is no longer open

Music - Denis Degher at Vinoteca, Paso Robles

Denis Degher at Vinoteca Wine Bar, Paso Robles

Friends share a nightcap at Vinoteca Wine Bar

Friends share a nightcap at Vinoteca Wine Bar

On the other side of the park from Vinoteca is the tasting room for Vihuela Winery. Vihuela, (also the name for a Spanish Renaissance guitar), offers up some big spicy red wines, one of which is named after the hot and spicy musical group, Incendio. Vihuela’s association with the group inspired this firery Syrah based blend and recommends enjoying this wine with the Incendio cd, a blend of the  exciting sounds of 3 spanish guitars. Incendio wine and Incendio the group – whip up some tapas and it’s a party. Vihuela shares digs with Vivant Fine Cheese, so it’s easy to find all the gourmet goodies needed for an impromptu gathering of friends. Their location also has an inviting patio where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine and cheese plate along with live music, often featured on the weekends.

Incendio Red Wine

Cheese selection from Vivant

Cheese selection from Vivant

Music, wine and friends – it’s all there in Paso Robles!

I’ll Drink to That!

Harvest – 2009

When you last heard from this wandering wino, I had just arrived at the vineyard gates of Cass Winery after a short and bucolic drive from my digs of the previous night, High Ridge Manor. Feeling  relaxed, rested, and excited to finally get into the vineyards, I drove, slowly, so as not to disturb the dust mites, (was that for real, Steve?), deep into the vineyard past rows of ripening Grenache, Rousanne, Malbec and Syrah. The heavily laden vines seemed to stretch on forever, with the vineyard dotted here and there by massive oaks spreading their long limbs over the vines as if to protect them. The well grazed hills rolled on the horizon and the bright morning sun illuminated the whole picture. My mission that day was to participate in my first ever harvest and the first harvest of the year for Cass – the Viognier was ready!



The excitement was tangible as Steve and Ted, co-owners,  Lood the winemaker, pickers and friends all gathered in the vineyard and walked up and down the rows, looking hopeful that this was going to be a year plentiful with sweet, ripe fruit.aug-sept-09-234s On my approach, I could see that the pickers were already busy and that the bins loaded on the tractor trailer were quickly being filled. The buzz was good, everyone seemed happy. The fruit was indeed plentiful, and as I tasted those fresh off the vine grapes for the first time, their sweetness confirmed that delicious wine had once again started its journey from vineyard to bottle. How exciting to experience the source of the wine that we share with friends in celebration, toasting a holiday or just enjoying quality time with those we love. Those moments start here, and it’s humbling to witness this  fruit being given from the vine over to the hands of those who will nurture it into a bottle of, as Galileo put it, “light held together by water”.

aug-sept-09-222c dscn1650cs

After introductions, I took my place alongside the bins. My job was to gently go through the clusters in the bin pulling out any debris or unripe clusters. The chatter was lively as we worked, the sun warm and nurturing, and our hands sticky from the grapes.

After some time at this, I took a walk through the vineyard. Just couldn’t get over the beauty of those grape clusters hanging so perfectly from their vines.

aug-sept-09-244s aug-sept-09-250saug-sept-09-267s

Bird control

Bird control

I followed the road up to the winery where Lood had already begun to process his treasure. An amazing thing is the de-stemming machine. Whole clusters are loaded into the hopper where they start their brief journey through the machine and emerge, separated,  into two piles. One pile holds all the bare stems, while the other holds a mound of grapes, now glistening with juice from being ever so slightly crushed. It  reminded me of the way red caviar looks when mounded in a bowl. Transparent, but full of color and “glistening”.

Weighing in

Weighing in

After dodging the forklift a few too many times, I sought cooling refuge in the tasting room. There I met up with my new friend from August’s I’ll Drink to That meeting, Lindsay Dodson Brown. Happy to run into a familiar face, we chatted while she poured me a tasting of two of their newer wines, and of course, the Viognier.



Cass Viognier – 2008 – This crop got harassed first by frost, then by sweltering drought. The yield, though, did produce fruit that after tank fermentation and blending  with a bit of Marsanne, resulted in a lovely expression of this varietal.  Beautiful floral nose and a rich mouthfeel with flavors of peach, apricot and pear. Absolutely delicious. Try this with crab cakes!