Friday, July 18, 2014

I Heart Central Coast Wine, Part 1

I Heart Paso ... nothing says it like Heart Hill at Niner.
I’ve just returned from the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference (WBC 14) held in Santa Barbara County, just a car ride north of my home in Los Angeles, which included a one-day pre-conference excursion to Paso Robles wine country, a bit farther north.

What I’m writing here is going to sound a lot like a paid advertisement for the two areas, but I assure you it is not. Days after returning home, I’m still energized by and somewhat swooning over what I saw, experienced, learned, and, most importantly, tasted. I've been to both areas often, and while I've always been intrigued by it, I’m now in love!

What is so clearly apparent to me after this trip is that both Paso Robles and Santa Barbara offer amazing beauty, many hidden treasures — more pop up on each of  my visits — and an overall approachable wine and food community that is open, accessible, and eager to share its bounty.

Additionally, the opportunity to be around 350 other like-minded wine enthusiasts was not to be missed, and was about as rewarding an experience as any I've had in a very long time. Wine bloggers, like wine makers, are quite passionate about their subject. And, like many others in the blogosphere, our passion is usually not linked to a paycheck, but to the experiential, the transcendent, and the pure pleasure that our “little hobby” affords us.

Ancient seabed fossils add nuance to wines
Let’s start with Paso Robles (I’ll delve into Santa Barbara on my next post). A seminar at Niner Wine Estates (gorgeous) with six prominent wine makers provided us bloggers with the basic facts. Paso is a 1,000 square-mile American Viticulture Area, or AVA, that will, hopefully soon, be divided into 11 sub-appellations… the paperwork is in! (I’ll also write more on pending Paso AVAs in a future blog, as there is a lot to share on this subject.)

But generally, Paso Robles, which was voted Wine Region of the Year in 2013 by Wine Enthusiast, is an area of varied soils, created by the Pacific Continental Plate, with limestone and ancient seabed fossils being prominent. It has many microclimates because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, its many canyons running north/south/east/west, and varying elevations. As a result, Bordeaux varietals, Rhone varietals, Italian varietals, Spanish varietals, and others are all produced successfully in the Paso AVA.

There are currently at least 250 tasting rooms in Paso, and plenty of affordable hotels and motels. I stayed at the historic Paso Robles Inn, which was once a grand hotel that burned to the ground in the early 1900s. It was rebuilt with just one small portion of the original building still standing, along with the requisite ghost (not seen by me, darn it!).

Paso has its pioneer wine producers, like J. Lohr, Eberle Winery, Castoro Cellars, and Tablas Creek Winery, all of which have been instrumental in developing the area into the world-class region it has become. But there is also a strong sense of camaraderie among the vintners in Paso, with more established wineries working hand in hand with new wineries. Advances and innovations such as tannin management, sustainability, water management, farm worker education, and cover crop management are shared among the Paso wine growers and makers. LEED and SIP certification programs are also prominent.

The Dusi family has been growing wine grapes since 1925
This sense of community among the winemakers was apparent in our visit to Dante Dusi Vineyards, where five wineries — Brochelle Vineyards, McPrice Myers, J Dusi Wines, Tobin James, and Turley Wine Cellars — served us their Zinfandel, produced from the very vines amongst which we stood. If you haven't experienced this kind of tasting, you should. Dusi dates back to 1925, and thus far four generations of the Dusi family have worked the vines, including granddaughter Janell of the J Dusi label. Each of the winemakers at Dusi had a unique spin on the Zinfandel, and all were lovely expressions of this California standard
with roots in Italy.

Another Paso stop was the magnificent hilltop Daou vineyards in West Paso Robles, where the Paso Cab Collective of about 20 wineries provided tastes of their Bordeaux varietals. Sunset at Daou, with the ocean breezes blowing through the mountain pass was a hypnotic experience. And Cabs from Paso are world-class, in my opinion.

Caliza Pink
Brochelle Zinfandel
Rhone varietals also had their venue, at Tablas Creek, where the host as well as Calcareous Vineyard, Caliza Winery, Ecluse Wines, and Edmond August Wines poured. A favorite for me, of course, was the Caliza Pink, a Rosė made from Syrah and Grenache with a touch or Mourvedre. It was bright, fresh, and went down easy.

Our day excursion to Paso ended with a trip to Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Templeton and a Thomas Hill Organics lunch. The duck tacos and kale salad were a treat. Thomas Hill Bistro and Wine Bar in downtown Paso should be a stop on everyone’s itinerary as it’s a great example of the farm-to-table movement prevalent in the area, with locally sourced organic fruits, vegetables, baked breads, and grass-fed meats.

Next post, I follow the wine trail to Santa Barbara County, where WBC 14 delivered many surprises.


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