Archived entries for Meritage

October Wine Round Up: Favorite Samples Over the Past Months

Today I’m going to talk about some of my favorite recent samples, which include wine and for the first time, spirits.  I tried 28 wines and 12 of them made the list along with one gin and one vodka.


2013 Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec – this was a great expression of Malbec.  Lots of berry, plum, herbs, mocha and chocolate notes.  I brought this to a girl’s wine group and it disappeared quickly.

2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir – this had a nice earthiness and notes of black cherry, strawberry and a nice touch of herbs.

2014 Flora Springs Merlot – this was a well-balanced merlot with plum, chocolate, berry and a bit of cherry.

Locations by Dave Phinney E and F – Dave Phinney has always had a personal mission to make the best wines possible.  Now he is taking his concept that he can get great grapes from vineyards (taking out the appellation rules) across the world and use his winemaking skills to make great wines.  It works.  I tried several of his wines and was impressed with the result.  The E blend from Spain had lots of cherry, plum, berry and spice.  The F blend from France was delicious with Grenache (Roussillon), Syrah (Rhone) and Bordeaux Blend Varieties.

2012 Northstar Merlot – this merlot was velvet on the tongue with notes of raspberry, cherry and chocolate and a hint of vanilla.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon — rich berry, dark cherry, mocha, a touch cedar.  Very easy drinking.


Jolie Folle Rosé – this embodies everything that a good rosé should be.  Notes of strawberry, watermelon and a great minerality.


2013 Ramey Chardonnay – orange blossom, stone fruit, buttered popcorn and floral notes make this a wonderful entry level chardonnay that keeps its balance.

2015 Martin Ray Chardonnay – this old world chardonnay had notes of white stone fruit, flowers, vanilla and was delicious.

2014 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio – this was a nice representation of a pinot grigio.  Fruity, crisp and a nice minerality makes it a great porch Summer wine.

2014 Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – this was my first experience with Grillo from Sicily and not my last.  It is a very easy drinking wine with lots of white stone fruit.


For the first time, I had the chance to try the Azzurre gin and vodka.  They are both made from apples, grapes and sugar cane with no added ingredients.  I served these both at a dinner party and to rave reviews.  I enjoyed both of them, but found myself going back to the gin as it truly was a sipping gin with lots of fruit-forward notes that also sung with specialty tonics.

A Conversation with Tom Gamble: A Focus on Farming and Making Great Wine

Tom Gamble at Lakewood Country Club

The moment I sat down with Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Cellars, he made it clear that it was as important to talk about how this was his family’s 100th year in farming as it was to talk about the wines he was there to pour.  Tom’s a third generation farmer, the first in his family to make wine, and this is Gamble Family Cellars 11th vintage.  As he said, “Prices for the land here make sense when paired with a successful wine label.”

“It is always said that the first generation buys the land; the second generation pays for it and the third generation starts the label,” he said.  “And, we did too.” He sees it as a legacy, but admitted that not all of the next generation of twelve nieces and nephews think that tractors are as cool as he does.  Nonetheless, he sees teaching them how to be good landowners as an important lesson.

And wearing his signature cowboy hat, you can tell that this is a man who gets his hands dirty.  The family first sold grapes to very well-known stalwarts and even some cult wineries.  When Tom decided he wanted to go to UC Davis to learn how to make wine after purchasing his vineyard in 1981, he wanted to bring the farming perspective to winemaking.

His commitment to sustainability and taking care of the land is evident. He and his wife farm 170 acres of vineyards that are made up of three distinct microclimates.  He talked about the only thing being constant is continuous change.

The wines are only available through the wine club and the wholesale market, which is where I first became associated with the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc as a by the glass selection at Lakewood Country Club (full disclosure: I am the wine committee chairman).  I enjoyed every bottle of Gamble that I tried and it was my first time trying the reds.  Our line-up was as follows:

2015 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Gamble Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount Red Wine

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Family Home

Getting to hear Tom’s story was a pleasure and expanding my knowledge of the goodness of the Gamble Family Vineyards red wines was even more fun.

Frank Morgan: “Get in the Car” and Other Going Rogue Experiences at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Frank Morgan sporting the saying that started it all…

It all started with a phone call from Steve Havill, Wine Club Manager for Bella Grace Vineyards.  Steve saw a few posts I had done after other conferences and wanted to make sure that the Amador County pre-conference tour was going to be an amazing experience for the wine bloggers.  I immediately went out to my network of #goingrogue bloggers to get their opinions.  I have to say what we proposed was a success as the tour was sold out before any of us could register.

But Steve was bound and determined that he was going to do something special for the group.  So the day the conference ended, we boarded a bus and began our journey to discover what makes Bella Grace special.  The answer?  The family… the wines … the hospitality … the experience … and my very own Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” customized shirt…

Charlie and Steve Havill

But first about Amador County.  The region is self-billed as “The Heart of the Mother Lode” and became the destination for those looking to strike gold.  The region fell upon hard times after the California Gold Rush became saturated and Prohibition hurt the wineries established during that time.  Today this area is thriving and there are over 50 different wineries with very different microclimates. Steve told us that surprisingly, 60 percent of the grapes leave Amador Country.  It is known for Zinfandel, but also a number of other varieties due to the number of Italians who brought vines from Italy during that time.

Bella Grace, which was named for two great grandmothers, was founded in 2006 by Charlie and Michael Havill who followed their dream of owning a vineyard.  The winery and vineyards are located in the Sierra Foothills, which is known for a variety of grapes from Zinfandel to Primitivo to Rhone varietals.  The focus has always been on quality and sustainability.  Steve told us that the goal was “to continue the experience of being at our home to every guest in our winery.”  Bella Grace makes 8,000 cases annually as well as organic olive oils, imported balsamic and fruit flavored vinegars.





We met most of the family that day and their very talented son, Chef Robert, who recently moved back from Colorado after cooking at Taste.  He provided a gourmet dinner that paired beautifully with the wines.  In fact, this is part of the hospitality – as they do more than 250 dinners a year at no cost to their wine club members.  I loved every wine that I tried.

You can’t do one of these #goingrogue experiences without the side stories.  From Jeff Kralik’s ongoing quest to saber sparkling (with varying levels of success) to the surprise Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” T-shirts to Michelle Williams and I rapping The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere on the bus ride back, it was absolutely a great end to a very fun trip.

This year it seems that #goingrogue was the overall trend, as the conference was so spread out from the host hotels.  Walking was not an option for most of us.  I felt like I didn’t get to spend the usual quality time with so many of the people I wanted to see, but there were some constants.


The Unconference hosted by Craig Camp, now with Troon Winery continued.  This has become one of my favorite events every year because it brings an intimate group together to laugh, eat, talk and in my case, try Troon Wines for the first time.  Color me impressed, Craig.  I’m excited for your new venture and I know you will do a great job putting them on the map.

Gary Krimont

Thea Dwelle scheduled a pre-trip this year that allowed me to discover Anderson Valley wines.  I discovered Foursight Wines, a winery with five generations of family involved that just celebrated its tenth vintage.  I enjoyed being part of the “pinot people” and loved the diversity of these wines.  We also experienced the hospitality of Phillips Hill and Gary Krimont at Yorkville Cellars who poured great wine and kept us in stitches.  I loved discovering the history and great boutique wines of this region.


Operation Masthead: Four Bloggers Quest to Secretly Make A Wine (and Wait to Tell the Tale)

Early Draft of Masthead Wine Label

Call me Bond … James Bond.  Well that might be an overshoot, but it started out as an amazing clandestine story – Operation Masthead.

“I have something amazingly cool that I am working on and you are going to be a part of it, but it is very secretive…,” said Bradley Gray in the scope of his representation of Scotto Cellars.  Granted, this was about ten months ago and while I was intrigued, life happened and no further information was shared.  Fast forward almost nine months and he called me back with the opportunity of a lifetime.  “How do you feel about making a wine from Lodi with Famed Winemakers Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto and some really cool well-known bloggers,” he said.  “You’ll do the blending, help with the marketing and then you’ll debut it at the Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference.”  Um, yeah.  You had me at hello…

It turns out that four bloggers – Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from and Cindy Rynning of  received the same invitation and I’m sure had the same “I will make this happen come hell or high water” reaction that I did.   Cindy and I were picked up at the airport by Bradley and Scotto’s head of marketing, Robert Walker, and we drove out to Lodi to meet Peter and Nancy for our tour of the under construction Scotto Cellars tasting room.

After making wines for five generations, the Scotto’s are opening their first tasting room on South School Street in downtown Lodi.  The tasting room will feature wines as well as craft ciders including one made with Pinot Grigio made by Paul Scotto, Winemaker and Cider Master.  This is going to be a really cool spot complete with food, wine, a future Speak Easy and just a cool place for folks in Lodi to hang out.

And food, wine and family is part of the Scotto heritage.  Wine was an addition to the weekly Sunday gatherings and has been part of the family’s routine for many generations.

Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy in 1883.  In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY.  They opened Scotto Liquors, one of the oldest liquor stores in the state of New York, which has since been sold, but is still in business.  The Scotto’s made wine in their home from whatever fruit they could source in Brooklyn and similar to the Gallo family, sold it door to door out of crocks from a horse drawn wagon.  In 1961, they bought a facility in Pleasanton, California, that they named Villa Armando, where they began making their own wine.  They created Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands.

In 1963, Anthony Sr. moved from Brooklyn to Livermore Valley in California to continue making wine.  They added wineries in Napa and Lodi to continue the Scotto expansion – making them the 30th biggest winery in California.  In the 1980s, they expanded the Scotto portfolio into Lodi and Napa.  Five generations later, they have expanded the scope of their wines to include more than 40 brands sold to 180 customers around the world.

We toured the Lodi operation including the cider operation and were amazed by the technology and supply chain (I am a former supply chain marketing geek).  From the mobile bottling unit that can do 110 bottles a minute to the efficiencies of producing 350,000 cases of wines under different brands (some named specifically for geographies), it was clear that this was a well-run machine.  And you can tell that this family does this because they love it – wine is in their blood and they want to share their family traditions with employees, distributors and wine drinkers.  We got to meet Anthony Jr and spend significant time with Paul and Natalie Scotto Woods and found them all to be unassuming, passionate and clearly happy to come to work and do what they love every day.

Winemaker and Cider Maker Paul Scotto, Scotto Cellars

It was unusual for a group of storytellers to not be able to tell a story.  We are all about the story, wines, reviews, food, travel photos, social media and becoming immersed in a region.  We couldn’t really do that because this was under wraps.  It was funny to see a bunch of fish out of water as we weren’t quite sure if we could, should or were able to talk about this amazing journey.

Mitch Cosentino and me

So let’s talk about Operation Masthead – an exercise in how four people with zero background in making wine actually made a wine.  We started with a visit to Mohr-Fry Ranch, which is run by Jerry Fry and his son, Bruce.  Ironically, a few weeks later, they were named the 2016 Growers of the Year by the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

We are talking bad ass grapes.  Mohr-Fry is an iconic, family-owned vineyard and farm in Lodi with roots that reach back to the 1850’s in California.  The farms began in Mount Eden and over time extended into Lodi and the San Joaquin Delta.  The Fry’s farm about 12 varietals on 600 acres – all for winemakers of their own choosing.  The Mohr-Fry vineyard designation appears on all of these wines.  Mitch Cosentino talked about the importance and quality of these grapes and how he remembered when he first could purchase them for his wines after waiting for four years to just pick one row back in 1998.  He talked about the differences in grape costs of Cabernet grapes from Napa Valley at $6,300 a ton to the Lodi price of $750 a ton.

When Mitch and the Scotto Family began their relationship and the Scotto’s wanted premium Sangiovese, Mitch knew that Block 433 was the ideal choice.  The vineyard is farmed and certified according to Lodi Rules™ for sustainable wine growing.  As Mitch told us, “So we know our grapes were the best they could be.”  Walking through the gnarled, twisted vineyards, we felt history under our feet.



Now for the blending.  Picture a mad scientist lab with test tubs, Riedel glasses, beakers, 11 components to blend with and four different barrels of Sangiovese aged in different types of Oak – French, Hungarian and American.  We were guided by Mitch and Paul who taught us lesson after lesson about Sangiovese and Zinfandel being a match made in hell to the right palate cleansing crackers to use doing the process.  We debated, sipped, spit, swirled, debated, debated and debated some more for more than three hours.  We selected a final cuvee that was 100 percent Sangiovese that combined two barrels of Sangiovese; one aged in French oak, the other in Hungarian oak.

The name Masthead was chosen to reflect both traditional media – a standard newspaper page from long ago and printed wine reviews.  We made 528 bottles of Masthead 2014 Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese and will debut the wine next month in Lodi at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference.  We felt validated when Mitch told us that he was hoping we’d go with a different Sangiovese as he really wanted to use this one for his wine.


Cindy Della Monica, Owner

This was the main story, but there were also some other plotlines that evolved over the three- day period.

First,  Cheese Central, a gourmet cheese shop absolutely needs to be a must visit on your Lodi list.  Owner Cindy Della Monica is passionate, knowledgable and is not afraid to steer her customers to try new things.  I cannot wait to go back.

Cindy and I were the first women to stay at the Scotto apartment located upstairs from the tasting room.  It’s a converted old hotel that is such a really cool space and is where we conducted our blending session.  It is located in a cool spot in downtown Lodi, which had its own vibe – from the middle of the night ringing phone to the homeless guy named Sean in the alley to the “Garry’s Lounge Bar Rules” (no hoodies allowed) for the across the street dive bar.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a ghost or two roaming the halls.  I had an early plane out of Oakland on Wednesday morning and Bob and Bradley were nice enough to drive us to the airport.  I am not anywhere near a morning person and kept waking up dreaming that I missed waking up.  We originally had a 5:15 am pick up time, but Bob and Brad decided to come at 4:45 am.  Let’s just say that the doorbell scared me to death, I fell out of bed and then tried to navigate the light on the ceiling fan in the dark.  One cut hand later and a litany of words that I would never use in front of my kiddo, we were on our way at the originally scheduled time.

I will never look at a blend the same again and learned so much about the time, patience and talent that goes into the process.  Nancy and Peter were able to try the Masthead wine this week and all accounts point to this being a great wine.  And to read the stories from Cindy, click here.  Peter and Nancy’s chronicles are linked here, here and here.

Note: A special thank you to Bradley Gray for many of the photos shown above. Because I merged ours together, I’m not sure  where to issue a photo credit.

Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.



2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…



2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.


2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.



2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.


2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.


2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.


2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.

2016: A Personal Journey and Year of Discovery

A journey is defined as the passage or progress from one stage to another.  That has certainly been part of my #seewhatsnext experience.  In December, I left my job as Chief Marketing Officer for a software company. If you followed along, you may remember my conversation with Cyril Chappellet, the CEO of Chappellet Wine, where I promised him that I would use this time to do some amazing things.   My goal was to finally exhale, spend time with the family and enjoy the ability to have some funded time to decide what I want to be when I grew up.  Little did I know where that journey would take me.

Barton Creek #goingrogue

Our Group Adventure at Chappellet Winery

Paso Robles with the Texas Writers

Fast forward seven months and I feel like I did just that.  I traveled to Austin to experience the Omni Barton Creek’s new wine and food program and rediscovered Texas wines in the process.  I went to Sonoma and Napa with a group of dear friends and had the trip of a lifetime.  I was invited on a Paso Robles media tour with a group of Texas journalists and actually zip lined over a winery.  And, I made my own wine with a small group of bloggers and a legendary winemaker (more on that next week).

Lego Table and Eurocaves: A Shared Existence

One of the Two Eurocaves

The Bad Ass Center Drawer

Personally, we had some family changes (and compromises) too.  After living in the same 1927 Tudor house for 15 years, we made the tough family decision to move to a newer house closer to my kiddo’s school.  While there are lots of bells and whistles we’ve never had before, the new casa does not include my dream cellar or any cellar at all.  From the photos, you’ll see the Eurocaves now exist as part of the family TV and Lego playroom.  And after being incredibly sporadic about my wine reviews the first half of the year, it forced me to set a process, which makes me methodical about the reviews.

And, finally, I made the decision to branch out on my own and start my own consulting business.  I’m completely flattered that two of my former bosses and good friends made this decision for me by telling me that they needed my help.  I even turned down a great full-time position with an amazing company and I still get to work with them as a consultant.  I’m still focusing on technology marketing, but having the decision of who I want to work with is life-changing.

I am sharing this all with you because you have become an important part of my community – you are my friends, you are my readers and have made this blog last much longer than I ever anticipated.  I just want to thank you.

July Wine Round-Up: Includes A Grape’s Valiant Return to Prominence in Greece

Today’s July wine-up includes wines from Greece, Spain, Oregon, Washington State and California.  I tried 20 wines and six made this month’s round-up.


My first wine was from a grape that can trace its history back 6,500 years.  The grape was saved from extinction by a group of winemakers in the 1970s.  Winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou brought together several winemakers to save his native Greek grape Malagousia.  Fast forward more than 20 years and this grape is now the fastest growing number of new plantings of any grape in Greece.

2014 Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia – I loved the aromatics in this glass – lots of notes of pear, jasmine, tropical fruit and citrus with a nice minerality.  Very drinkable on its own, but would be great paired with a grilled fish dish.

2014 Legaris Verdejo – lots of depth in this glass.  The touch of Sauvignon Blanc in this wine gives it a hint of grassiness with notes of citrus and melon with the right minerality.



2012 Murphy Goode All In Claret – this blend combines Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  It was a nice wine with notes of black cherry, raspberry, cassis, blackberry and nice herbal notes.

2012 Double Canyon Horse Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Wow.  This cabernet sauvignon was a complex, in-depth, multi-layered wine.  I tasted coffee, graphite, vanilla, blueberry, wild cherry and nice herbal notes.

2013 Double Canyon Horse Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – the 2013 vintage was much more floral.  I got the same cherry, but with more blackberry, plum and cassis.  I really adored this one too, but they were very different.

2014 Adelsheim Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir – this is Adelsheim’s first new wine release since 2005 and it is made from fruit from the Chehalem Mountains (88 percent from estate vineyards and 12 percent from growers).  The diverse soil (three types) makes this a layered wine.  I tasted spice, floral notes, blackberry, red fruit and mocha.  It’s an elegant and appropriate tribute to Adelsheim’s presence in the Chehalem area.

Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.



Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.



Paso Robles: History in the Glass

Our second day in Paso Robles was billed as a “vineyard to glass” experience.  We started with our chariot bus from Breakaway Tours where Owner Jill Tweedie helped start our journey in style.  We arrived at the train-themed Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, where Matt Merrill, the general manager, and Jim Shumate, the winemaker, greeted us with a tour.


The Merrill family has been growing grapes for eight generations and the business is still family owned.  After 30 years of growing for others, they decided to produce and farm their own wines five years ago.  The Merrill’s great grandfather was a railroad engineer and the tribute to him is an integral part of the winery experience.



Also joining us was Steve Martell, the winemaker for Sextant Wines and Ashley Leslie, portfolio manager.  Sextant is located right around the corner and Steve talked about how he uses fruit from the Pomar Junction as well as his own 100-acre vineyard.  This is when we started to hear about the Templeton Gap influence and how the diverse number of climates in the region along with the calcareous rock allow for so many different wines to be produced.  Jim Gerakaris, Winery Sommelier of Justin Wine, also talked about how Paso Robles has all of the qualities of any great global wine region.  Jim Shumate also talked about the lack of fear in trying new things that pushes the winemakers to do things that are different.


Our next stop was Adelaida Cellars, another family-owner vineyard located in the mountainous Adelaida District.  The winery focuses on Rhône, pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery has 157 acres of vineyards in three different locations.  We hiked up to a spectacular view of the entire AVA and were greeted by Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker, and Paul Sowerby, national sales manager.  Also joining us was Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard, and Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker of Epoch Wines.  We took in the palate of colors from the mountain, drinking a Adelaida Rose, life was good.  Jason talked about the diversity of the region, “You throw a rock and find a new soil type.”


Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard

We came back to the tasting room that was remodeled about two years ago where we tried a line-up of great wines from these producers and had lunch.  The Rhone influence was really fun to see (and try) and the wines that are being produced out of the region were top notch.  It’s an influence of Old World vs New World with a special blend of Paso uniqueness thrown into the mix.


Our next stop was a first for me – Pasolivo Olive Oil.  We experienced the process of tasting five different oils, adding spices (habanero, lemon pepper, Italian mix, etc) and determining our perfect blend.  It was fun to go into the orchard and see the olive trees in bloom.




We then traveled to one of the pioneers in the region, Tablas Creek Vineyard.  Tablas Creek is a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, a long-time importer and founder of Vineyard Brands.  In 1985, the families formally partnered and purchased the 120-acre property in 1989.  The vineyard is all about the limestone and chalky soils and temperatures that allows the sun to ripen the grapes, the rain to dry farm the vineyard and for biodynamic farming.  When Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.  Our host, Manager John Morris, talked about how making better Rhone wines helps the quality and acceptance of these wines on a global scale.  We toured the vineyards, met alpacas and sheep, learned how to graft a grapevine and saw the sustainability measures in place firsthand.

We finished in the tasting room where we tasting 12 Rhone-style wines – a diverse range from red to white to rose.  After a day at Tablas, one proudly sports the badge of a “Rhone Ranger.”

We then had about 47 seconds to get back to the hotel and change for our dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, a restaurant that started as a CSA and then evolved into a well-known restaurant that focuses on local ingredients.  We had pairings for each course and four winemakers joined us – Kevin Willenborg from Vina Robles; Molly Lonborg (assistant winemaker) from Halter Ranch; Tom Lane from Bianchi Winery and JC Diefenderfer from Treana.

Tom from Bianchi has been the head winemaker for the past 11 years and bought the property 16 years ago.  He was born in Kansas and had “an illogical, romantic vision of what winemaking would be,” he said.  This was also his second career – he has three other degrees in biology, chemistry and botany.  Tom is the quintessential Renaissance man.  He actually brought the shocker wine of the meal – a Gewürztraminer that was an awesome dry white wine.

I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly from Halter Ranch Vineyard, which originally started as a grower’s vineyard.  The winery does 15 varietals – 60 percent Bordeaux and 40 percent Rhone-based.  Molly was generous enough to give us a bottle of wine to take and it was absolutely delicious.

Kevin from Vina Robles was also on the other side of the table.  He talked about the importance of having the vines do the work.  “You express the fruit, you never mask the fruit,” he said.

JC from Treana originally wanted to be a circuit board engineer until analog geometry got in the way.  But he knew he still wanted to develop, build and create.  His long-time friend, Austin Hope asked him to design and build their crush facility in Paso Robles.  This led to JC being on the winemaking team at Hope Family Wines starting in 1998 where he apprenticed under then-winemaker Chris Phelps.  When Austin asked him what he wanted to do, winemaking was the obvious choice.  “There are many of us that make Paso special by doing things differently,” he said.

My sense of community being alive and well in the region was reinforced.  The growers and winemaker look at making this one of the greatest regions in the world as a team effort.  The fact that Tablas Creek gave away cuttings from a highly-regarded vineyard to improve Rhone wines is only one proof point.  Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini from Epoch Estate Wines summed it up perfectly, “Make the best wines that you can and help those around you do the same.”

Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.


We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.

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