Sunday, April 25, 2010

Paso Robles AVA Event

28 Wineries Offer Their Products
to Media and Trade Members

By John Olney
April 24, 2010

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Phone: 707-299-9548 

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Thursday, April 22, 2010. Stacie Jacobs, Executive Director, of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) was the Master of Ceremonies and opened the one hour event kick-off seminar with a general review of the location, mission, objectives and characteristics of this large and geologically diverse AVA . The AVA is located in the Central Coast area of California, just about halfway between San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. To examine this AVA in greater depth, click here:  (Click on any graphic/photo for an enlargement)

(map courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance)

That’s Stacie standing in the picture below: (all photo’s by John Olney)

Following her presentation, Stacie turned the balance of the seminar session over to the well known wine editor of Sunset Magazine, Sara Schneider, co-author of Sunset’s 2007 edition of its very popular magazine/booklet series, “California Wine Country - A Sunset Field Guide.” The earliest version of this Sunset series was published in August 1968. Click here to read her thoughts on tasting wine: \

I first met Sara back in 2008, when we both served on the Nominating Committee to select the ballot list of potential inductees to the California Vintners Hall of Fame, Class of 2009, sponsored by and housed at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone Branch, St. Helena, California. Click here for details on the Hall:

Sara, pictured above, performed the duties of moderator among three distinguished Paso Robles AVA winery representatives who would be speaking about their wines, and the seminar attendees who would present them with their questions. The seminar was limited to a small group of about 32 media/trade representatives. Needless to say, I was very pleased that I was able to submit my RSVP early enough to be accepted to attend.

The seminar format was to taste and compare red wines of two distinct price points with each of the winery representatives providing us their rationale supporting the difference in pricing structure. This was a very interesting wine seminar theme and concept which comes at a particularly relevant point in time given the general economic downturn of the past couple of years plus. So, what the attendees did was first taste the wines of all three in the price range of about $15-16 per bottle. Then we moved to the wines priced between about the $35 to $50 range.

Value Priced” Wines
J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery
The first winery representative she introduced was Steve Lohr, Executive VP/Chief Operating Officer of J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery. (He is pictured below)

Steve gave us a little insight into the history of his family in the American Wine Industry. His father Jerry Lohr started the first family vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County, back in 1972 and first winery in 1974 in the San Jose area. Next on the growth plan was a vineyard purchase in St. Helena of the Napa Valley AVA. Then in 1986, Lohr again decided to expand and this time chose acreage in the Paso Robles AVA. You can view much greater details on the family members, history, vineyards, wineries and their wines by clicking here: .

Steve selected the 2007 J. Lohr Los Osos (the bear) Merlot: Los Osos and Creston Vineyards. You can visit their web site listed above to review vineyard location and winemaker notes. The wine was certainly indicative of a “value priced” product as supported by my third extensive swirl it opened up quite nicely into a very enjoyable wine.

Clayhouse Wines
The next presenter was David Frick (pictured above), Winemaker at Clayhouse Wines. The winery derives its name from the 150 year-old adobe house that the proprietors, the Middleton Family, restored. As a historian, I am looking forward to visiting and touching the walls of this old classic. Click here to review all the history and chronology of growth and production for this winery:  . For the “value priced” wines he brought the 2008 Clayhouse Malbec from their Red Cedar Vineyard. Much of his discussion about this wine focused on the nuisances and difficulties of working with this grape varietal.

I only recently have begun tasting this varietal wine so my palate is still gaining experience with it. I found it with a long lingering spicy influence which I liked very much.

Ancient Peaks
The final presenter was Mike Sinor (Pictured below), Winemaker for Ancient Peaks Winery. Click here for history and details on Mike’s background, the owners, and their wines:

I found extremely interesting this little fact on their web site: “Margarita Vineyard resides in the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which was first planted to vines by Franciscan missionaries in 1774."  Their web site also says that, “ Ancient Peaks and Margarita Vineyard are owned by three longtime local winegrowing families—the Filipponis, Rossis and Wittstroms….”

For the “value priced” Ancient Peaks wine, Mike presented us with their Cabernet Sauvignon from the Margarita Vineyard. My immediate reaction from the first sip was “Wow!” And, it just kept getting better with each additional intensive swirling and sip through three iterations. What a value wine! I had to see its blend: 92% Cab. Sauv., 4% Zin., 2% Malbec and 2% Petit Verlot. I don’t know what percent of which varietal made me like this wine so much, but I want some more of it, particularly at this price - $16/btle!

Higher Priced Wines

Now Sara got us all excited for round two of our tasting - the higher priced wines - when she really encouraged the winery representatives to give us the meat of why these wines are so priced.

J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery
Steve presented the Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cab., a blend consisting of 90% Cab. Sauv., 4.6 % Petit Verdot, 2.8 % Merlot, 2.3 % Cabernet Franc and .03% Malbec. I must admit, the immediate effect on my palate and senses was that I was enjoying a very smooth wine. Steve described how the grapes were hand selected not only on the vine but in the sorting process on the way to the crusher. This wine just kept getting better with each swirl and sip.

An attendee asked Steve to discuss the move afoot to further specialize the AVA into eleven (11) distinct sub-appellations.  He described his winery's efforts to spearhead the segmenting which will be based on better defining the geological and climatic differences that exist as one moves around in the large Paso Robles AVA.  He feels optimistic that they will be successful in their attempts to better define the unique difference in the AVA.

Clayhouse Wines
David presented the Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah-Show Pony from Red Cedar Vineyards. This wine also improved significantly as I swirled and sipped it. It had a most enjoyable flora- like nose to it. David gave us his insight into how much more of an in-field vine/grape selection process defines the final product of fine wine.

Ancient Peaks
For the final wine, Mike presented us the Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge, a blend of grapes from Margarita and Whittstrom vineyards. This was a blend of 46% Cab., 24% Petite Sirah, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. Again, I found a most enjoyable wine. Mike also provided his description of the increased selectivity process used to produce this more expensive wine.

Mike was asked by an attendee to comment on a rather local alleged debate  about whether the East or West side produced better wines. Mike carefully placed this question in perspective to the fact that Highway 101 basically divided the AVA and what the gentleman was referring to was simply that and not intended to reflect of wine quality on either as being better than the other.  He suggested that people were making more of the loose statement than they should be.

Wrap Up

Other than the Ancient Peaks 2007 Cab., the third wine tasted and priced at $16/btle, the higher price wines, $35 to $50/btle, were more pleasurable to my taste. That is not to say I didn’t find the lower price point wines just fine, because I did. I suppose that probably just like most folks during these economic times, my budget would require me to purchase the lower price point wines but when I have those extra bucks, I’m going to splurge with a purchase of the higher end wines.

This seminar session was very well organized and coordinated by the PSWCA. It was a great educational as well as delightful tasting event. Congratulations to Stacie and Sara. And, a special thanks to Steve, David and Mike for letting us hear their expertise and taste their wines.

As I still had a fairly long ride back to Concord, California, I only had time to taste a few of the wines of the other attending wineries. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc from the booth of the Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery ( and found it very much to my liking.

The  next booth was Robert Hall  Winery ( )/ selected to taste the same varietal. This was also an enjoyable wine matching the style I like best.

Then I went back to reds. At the Opolo Vineyards ( booth, I first tasted their 2006 Sangiovese and found it much to my liking. I followed that with a taste of what seemed like an interesting blend of 2006 Barbara and Sangiovese that they call Montagna-Mare. I am a big fan of Sangiovese but this blended wine was just not for me.

My final taste was the 2005 Pinot Noir of the Maloy O’Neill Vineyards. ( This wine left an excellent lingering taste on my palate as I exited the event satisfied that I now knew some of the tastes in another AVA beside Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.

This was an afternoon well spent and now I plan to travel to the Paso Robles AVA to experience more of their wines and expand my taste buds and experiences!

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