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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!

The Back Roads Wineries of Paso Robles to Host Grand Tasting During Harvest Weekend

Back Roads of Paso Robles Wine Country

Back Roads of Paso Robles Wine Country

In the 12 years or so that I’ve been visiting Paso Robles, the number of wineries has grown from 50 to almost 200! As I see it, so much more to love about this beautiful and welcoming California wine producing region.

Without question, some wonderful wines are being produced in Paso Robles, many by the small family owned and operated wineries that, I believe, are the heart and soul of the area. The rolling, oak studded hills, corduroyed with endless rows of vineyards on both sides of Highway 101, are home to small charming tasting rooms where visitors can enjoy an intimate wine tasting experience, often while visiting with the winemaker or owner. Sharing the landscape with the vineyards, olive orchards offer the sculptural beauty of the trees while providing the fruit for some of the state’s finest quality olive oil.

Olivas de Oro olive tree orchard

Olivas de Oro olive tree orchard

The Back Roads Wineries of Paso Robles, is a collective of over 20 such wineries along with olive oil producers and charming B & B’s located in the beautiful countryside east of Highway 101. Together these wineries produce an impressive and large variety of wines. Expect to find carefully handcrafted wines made from Rhone varietals such as Viognier, Rousanne, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.   Classic Bordeaux varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. You’ll even find wines made from Italian varietals like Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Barbera. Of course, there’s plenty of Zinfandel and creative and innovative blends abound! A tour of the Back Roads wineries could take days, especially when it’s so easy to get lost in a long, relaxed conversation over a glass of wine while hanging out on a patio with a stunning vineyard view.

A Back Roads vineyard view.

A Back Roads vineyard view.

For the first time, visitors to the 2012 Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend, October 19-21, will have the opportunity to taste wines and olive oils from many of the “Back Roads” producers all under one roof at the “Taste of the Back Roads” Wine Seminar and Grand Tasting to be held Friday, October 19.  Join the winemakers, as they take a break from the busy harvest, in tasting and learning about their fine hand-crafted wines and olive oils. The “Foaling Barn” at the picturesque Windfall Farms will be the setting for what I’m sure will become a Back Roads harvest annual event. Also available will be delicious food offerings from local favorites, Ted’s Taco Bar, Dean Brothers Smoke House and LaGuardia’s Homemade Since 1912. Guests will also be treated to the cool sounds of Acoustify to take them into the evening.  A special tasting seminar led by a panel of five “Back Roads” winemakers is being offered prior to the main tasting event.  Proceeds from the event will benefit the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.

Windfall Farms

Windfall Farms

The area has many family run B&B’s, many located in vineyards or on orchard property, and all with tons of local charm. Click here for more lodging info. The event and Harvest Wine Weekend are just a couple of weeks off, so don’t delay in booking your room reservations.

More info about the wineries and olive oil producers of the Back Roads is available at www.backroadswineries.com. Tickets for “Taste of the Back Roads” are available at participating wineries and at Brown Paper Tickets.

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!

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

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!