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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!

Thanksgiving Dessert

Thanksgiving can be a very hectic affair for the host/hostess and sometimes a shortcut or two is just what’s needed to keep things manageable. And if a homemade dessert is your “assignment” for the grand feast, but perhaps you are short on time or just not much of a baker, this simple cake that starts with a mix could be the thing for you. I recently found this recipe in a notebook of magazine recipe clippings probably from the early ’80’s, but it’s a good and simple recipe with lots of festive Fall flavors. If you’ve read some of my past recipes you’ll  know that I am a fan of F.R.O.G jam, a marmalade I pick up on my trips to Paso Robles. (fig,raspberry,orange and ginger marmalade) The marmalade in this recipe is optional, or you could use any regular marmalade.



1 pkg 2-layer-size spice cake mix

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup milk

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup finely snipped pitted dates

1 Tbsp molasses

1/4 tsp gound nutmeg

1/3 cup of F.R.O.G.  jam or marmalade (optional)

2 Tbsp. Jack Daniels or bourbon, optional

1 – 8 oz. container whipped dessert topping, thawed

In large mixer bowl, combine cake mix and soda; add milk and pumpkin. Blend at low speed of electric mixer till moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in nuts and dates. Pour into two greased and lightly floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or till cake tests done. Cool; remove from pans and cool completely on racks.

For filling: In small bowl place 1 cup of the dessert topping – mix in 1/3 cup of  jam or marmalade if using. Place one cake layer, flat side down, on cake platter. Spread filling on cake layer leaving 1/2 inch to edge of cake all around. Place second layer, top side down, on top of filling.

In container with remaining topping, fold in molasses, freshly ground nutmeg and Jack Daniels. Spread topping over top of cake. Chill cake several hours before serving.


If you are very lucky and can snag a bottle of Bootlegger from Red Soles Winery, this wonderful solera style dessert Viognier would be perfect to serve with this cake and end the meal. See more details on this delicious wine in my last post.

Red Soles Winery "Bootlegger" Dessert Viognier

Red Soles Winery "Bootlegger" Dessert Viognier

Enjoy the holiday, and may you all be blessed with a table surrounded by those you love. Cheers!


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!

Sunday Dinner #2

This last Sunday really got away from me…shopping, cleaning, cooking, social media updating.  Are our lives really simpler with computers? Are they a distraction keeping us from things we should be doing? An addiction to hard to resist? Are we hiding behind our user names in a world where we are more “out there” than ever? All the more reason I say to get into the kitchen and cook that special dinner for friends or family.

This last Sunday, I went for a version of pasta and meatballs. Basic idea, but tweaked just enough to feel “special”.


Muhammara (Red Pepper and Walnut Pesto) with Pita Chips

Florentine Meatballs with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Mac and Cheese with Broccoli and Prosciutto


Meyer Lemon Budino

The Muhammara is a delicious pesto like dip and any leftovers can be served over steamed broccoli, pasta or roasted chicken.

The meatballs are a version of a Rachael Ray recipe, and I added the rich mushroom sauce.

I didn’t include a salad recipe – use your favorite and be creative.

Recipe: Meatballs

1 box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and completely drained by pressing with a fork in a small strainer

1 pkg ground turkey (about 1 1/3 lb)

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper and olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine first 8 ingredients in bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Form into large meatballs, about 3 tablespoons each, and place on cookie sheet lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick spray. (Alternatively, a Silpat silicone liner is great if you have one) Drizzle with olive oil and roast about 20 minutes, or till cooked through. Meanwhile make the mushroom sauce.

Mushroom Sauce:

1 (.88 oz.) pkg Mixed Wild Mushroom Medley (Trader Joe’s )

2 Tbsp butter

1/2  cup chicken stock

1/2 cup reserved mushroom liquid

1/2 can condensed roasted garlic cream of mushroom soup

3 Tbsp cream or milk

1/4 cup sherry or dry Marsala

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried basil

Rinse mushrooms and re-hydrate in bowl by pouring boiling water over to cover. Let soak for about 10 minutes. Drain reserving liquid in measuring cup. Chop mushrooms and saute in butter till softened and just starting to brown. Add chicken stock and reserved mushroom liquid. Bring to simmer and stir in soup. Add milk or cream. Bring to simmer and add Marsala and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange meatballs on platter and pour sauce over.

Florentine Meatballs with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Florentine Meatballs with Wild Mushroom Sauce

What can I say about Mac and Cheese, except that I think it is the ultimate comfort food. This version is extra creamy, pretty with the broccoli and a little smokey from the prosciutto. Of course you could use bacon instead or leave it out all together.


1 lb pasta (I prefer DeCecco Galletti, looks like half moons, but any kind of shell- like pasta will do)

4 cups of broccoli florets

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

4 cups whipping cream

1 cup Quatro Fromaggio, about 4 oz. (shredded 4 cheese blend includes parm, fontina, mozzarella and provolone – found at Trader Joes)

1/2 cup additional Quatro Fromaggio for topping

1 cup (about 4 oz) grated cheddar cheese

5 oz chopped prosciutto

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Add broccoli and cook just till crisp tender. Drain well. While pasta is cooking make sauce. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in cream. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes, stirring often. Add cheeses and stir until sauce is smooth. Add to pasta and broccoli along with prosciutto and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour into oven proof casserole and top with additional shredded cheese. Broil just till slightly browned.

Mac and Cheese with Broccoli and Prosciutto

Mac and Cheese with Broccoli and Prosciutto

Meyer Lemon Budino

Meyer Lemon Budino


Bridlewood Central Coast Viognier – Reserve – 2007 – $24.00

I love white Rhone varietals, especially blends, with so many of the Fall foods we like to eat. Even this wine, although it is 93% Viognier, there is also 3% Rousanne, 3% Chardonnay and 1% Marsanne blended in. This full bodied wine opens with aromas of honeysuckle and guava giving way to flavors of peach, honey and tropical fruits with a creamy texture. Also great with lobstser and crab, or as an accompaniment to fruit and cheese.


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!