Thursday, November 11, 2010

Discovering the Elixir of Life at Dragonette Cellars

Dragonette Logo
Adding to the plethora of wine tasting rooms in Downtown Los Olivos is one of the most well-regarded wineries and winemaking teams in Santa Barbara County.  This summer, Dragonette Cellars moved their tasting room from their working winery in Lompoc (co-located with Ampelos Cellars) to Los Olivos in what has become a winning move for this new(ish) venture from a uniquely experienced winemaking team, which includes brothers John and Steve Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis. The breath of experience among this winemaking trio is evident in every sip of wine.  Although it is important to hone your winemaking skills in the winery during harvest, the trio also pays particular attention to the conditions in the vineyards where they source their fruit.

While I enjoy visiting a working winery with a tasting room, especially during harvest, you can't help but applaud this move from Lompoc to Los Olivos. Dragonette Cellars is offering wine enthusiasts in this quaint wine tasting destination some exciting wines with depth and flavor that is elevating the level of winemaking in Santa Barbara County.

2007 MJM
Dragonette Cellars sources fruit from a variety of renowned vineyards in Santa Barbara County including Cargasacchi-Jalama, Fiddlestix, Watch Hill, Demetria Estate, Grassini, Koehler, Stolpman, Thompson and Shadow Canyon in Paso Robles.  Wine selections include a Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. You will be hard pressed to leave the tasting room without a bottle or two given the quality and depth of these wines. Wine enthusiasts will enjoy the Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir from Fiddlestix Vineyard, and MJM - a barrel select blend of mostly Syrah.  So step up to the handcrafted wine tasting bar and enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Dragonette Cellars
2445 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos (map)
(805) 693-0077
Open Thursday-Monday, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Tasting Fee: $10 for 4 wines, $15 for 6 wines
Facebook: Dragonette Cellars
Twitter: @Dragonettewines

Dragonette Cellars Tasting Room, Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You Had Me at Syrah...

Tucked away near the end of Alamo Pintado Avenue in Downtown Los Olivos lies one of the newest tasting rooms in a sea of wine purveyors. Blair Fox Cellars exemplifies the phenomenal success of a handful of winemakers focused on producing handcrafted, Rhône varietal wines from Santa Barbara County, particularly Viognier and Syrah.

Blair and Sarah Fox have brought a unique charm to this quaint town that has seen a proliferation of tasting rooms in the last few years. What makes them stand apart from some of the others is the standout quality and characteristics of their award-winning wines and the intimate charm of their small tasting room.  If not tending to his own label, Blair Fox heads the winemaking team at Fess Parker Winery and Epiphany Cellars, which includes Larry Schaffer (Tercero Wines) and Dave Potter (Municipal Winemakers).  It's apparent that if you're looking to make a mark in the wine world and producing award-winning wines, you need to join this winemaking team.

Blair Fox Cellars sources fruit from the Paradise Road Vineyard, Tierra Alta Vineyard, Purisima Mountain Vineyard, Thompson Vineyard and the Fox Family Vineyard.  Although Blair focuses on producing some of the best Syrah varietal wines in Santa Barbara County, he also produces a superb Vermentino varietal wine from the Fox Family Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.  With the help of some well-deserved praise from Robert Parker and other wine critics, Blair Fox Cellars is sure to sell out of their limited case production of wines much sooner than anticipated.  So be sure to add Blair Fox Cellars to your wine tasting itinerary the next time you plan a trip to Santa Barbara County Wine Country!

Blair Fox Cellars
2902 San Marcos Ave., Suite B, Los Olivos (map)
(Front door located on Alamo Pintado Ave.)
(805) 691-1678
Open Friday-Sunday, 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Twitter: @BlairFoxCellars
Facebook: Blair Fox Cellars

Blair Fox Cellars Tasting Room, Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos
Blair Fox Cellars Tasting Room, Los Olivos
Blair Fox Cellars, Tasting Menu

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Harvest 2010 - New Advertures in Winemaking

Better late than never - or so goes the saying.  Harvest is well underway in Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles, albeit a few weeks behind schedule.  As the days and weeks go by, vintner's are wondering what else Mother Nature will throw at them before all the fruit arrives.  It's been a harrowing vintage for most wineries as they wait for the fruit to ripen, but it will be disappointing to some whose crops may not make it in time.  The October rains merely delayed pick dates, but as the weeks go by and the season transitions from warm days to cool afternoons and cold nights, we can only hope that Mother Nature will deliver her goods before Thanksgiving with limited rain.

After my first year working at Vines on the Marycrest during harvest, I decided to go a step further this year by harvesting some fruit of my own to produce Rosé (Tempranillo/Syrah) and Syrah wines using fruit from the highly-acclaimed Alta Colina Vineyard in Paso Robles.  I am very excited about this new endeavor into winemaking and deeply appreciative of the support I am receiving from my friends at Vines on the Marycrest (Victor and Jenni Abascal), Alta Colina (Bob Tillman) and Tercero Wines (Larry Schaffer).

There are so many decisions that go into winemaking based on important measurements such as Brix, pH and acidity.  Within the first few hours and days, we acidulated, inoculated with yeast (D254), added nutrients - all in an effort to bring it into balance.  What you add or take away in the first few days depends on what kind of wine you what to end up with.  While that sounds fairly straightforward, the winemaking process demands patience, spontaneity, and tolerance - tolerance for whatever direction the wine takes itself during the fermentation process.  Unfortunately, I have very little patience or tolerance, so this is a fun learning experience.

We'll punch down the cap at least 3 times a day until primary fermentation is complete.  I'll draw the free run from the fermentation bin and press the skins of all the remaining juice before pumping it all into barrel.  After that's complete, the wine will go through secondary fermentation or malolactic fermentation in the barrel (Tonnellerie Saint Martin, to be exact) and I will let it age on the lees for the duration of time, with the possibility of racking a year out.

Take a moment to check out my recently crushed Syrah grapes from the Alta Colina Vineyard.  Let the magic of fermentation begin!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Edward Sellers Opens New Tasting Room in Westside Paso Robles

After years in the making, Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines opened its new winery and tasting room on Highway 46 West.  Dozens of people crowded the tasting room on opening day, September 10th, so I decided to stop in for a tour and to congratulate Ed Sellers.  The estate vineyard is located on 30 acres of prime Westside Paso Robles real estate.  The winery produces approximately 5,000 cases annually.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines is dedicated to producing hand-crafted, award-winning Rhône-style wines - Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc.  Selections include Cognito, Cuvée Des Cinq, Le Thief, Vertigo, and Saboteur.

So what are you waiting for?  Head over to Edward Sellers, grab your glass of wine, and enjoy the amazing views of the vineyards or watch the winery at work during harvest behind the large glass windows inside the tasting room.  Welcome to Paso Robles!

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines
1401 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles
Open Daily, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
(805) 239-8915
Twitter: @EdwardSellers

Edward Sellers Pouring in the New Tasting Room
Edward Sellers Tasting Room
View of the Vineyards from the Tasting Room
View of the Vineyards from the Tasting Room
Edwards Sellers Winery and Tasting Room
Edward Sellers Vineyards
Grab a Glass and a Seat in the Vineyard

Monday, September 13, 2010

Parker Scores the Central Coast Rhône Rangers

On August 31, 2010, Robert M. Parker, Jr. released his much anticipated tasting notes and ratings for Rhône wines from California's Central Coast (plus scores for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).  Parker tasted hundreds of wines over a period of two months, but only scored half of the total wines submitted by vintners for this edition of The Wine Advocate.

Not surprisingly, Parker offered some rather high scores and flattering comments for the usual suspects (i.e. Alban, Saxum, Sin Qua Non). Let's get the obvious out of the way; Parker has been in the wine business for approximately 35 years.  He has tasted tens of thousands of wines over this period.  Over time, his palate has honed into a particular style of wine - ripe, concentrated and fruit-forward. We drink and rave about what we like and so does Parker.  I doubt he is immune from any bias, especially after decades of tasting and scoring wines.

Unfortunately, Parker took it upon himself to offer some less than flattering comments about a few Santa Barbara County vintners and wines, while heaping praise upon others whose wines may or may not be widely accepted by most novice wine consumers, except for the fact that they scored 90+ points.  After carefully reviewing most of Parker's tasting notes and scores for the Central Coast Rhône Rangers, it was obvious to me that the current edition of The Wine Advocate lacked copy-editing (i.e. calling Craig Jaffurs, "Greg Jaffurs") and missed the mark on a few wines, which have been widely received by wine consumers and bloggers.  There is no reasonable explanation for Parker's critiques.  Here's one example:
In describing Tercero Wines, Parker notes that "these are all relatively straightforward, one dimensional efforts."  He fails to rate the 2007 Mourvèdre and calls it "without any ripeness" and "largely a failure."  Contrast this with comments from bloggers and wine consumers at the Rhône Rangers Los Angeles Tasting, as well as other posts online and you get a far different picture about this wine, but fail to grasp how Parker came to his own conclusion.  The point is that Tercero Wines received similar scores to other wines, but Parker took it upon himself to offer a rather scathing criticism of these wines.  On top of it, Wine Spectator offered a glowing score (91 points) for the 2007 Cuvée Christie, but Parker seemed disinterested in this wine too (80 points).
Rather than add to the speculation surrounding Parker's tasting notes and ratings, I would like to point out that Parker is one of many "wine critics" in the business.  While his opinion matters for some, wine consumers can find many more accurate and reliable alternatives to Parker and the other wine critics, by searching for tasting notes from fellow wine consumers at the highly-regarded CellarTracker.  Social media and blogs are offering many other alternatives to the traditional rating system and tasting notes. This is helping consumers make better informed decisions about tasting and purchasing wines, as well as helping wineries market their wines to a broader consumer base.

I am looking to forward to tasting many of the wines that Parker scored in the recent edition of The Wine Advocate to determine for myself if they deserve these scores or come close to the descriptions provided by Parker and his scribes.  Parker's scores should inspire wine consumers to seek out many of these wines and help people plan their next wine tasting vacation to Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.  If you interested in knowing about some of the scores, add your question in the comments section.

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Pronounced "Lom-Poke"

When someone asks you "hey, let's head north to Santa Barbara for wine tasting," what destinations come to mind?  Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos, Solvang, or the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail?  Perhaps, you have heard of a quaint coastal town known for its infamous prison and coastal valleys - Lompoc (pronounced "Lom-Poke").

You've probably driven west on Highway 246 through the Sta. Rita Hills. Did you ever think of continuing further west into town?  Well, plan your next wine tasting trip to Lompoc and be prepared to enjoy the finest wines Santa Barbara County has to offer.  If you are under the impression that every winery produces their wines at a magnificent estate overlooking some dramatic vineyard landscape between oak studded hillsides, then the location of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and Pinot Prison (or as some affectionately call it, Prison Row) could disappoint you.  Look at it this way: you're here to experience a wine revelation, so take pictures along Highway 246 and wave at Foley, Melville and Babcock.  Besides, what's better than leaving your car in a nondescript industrial center and walking a few yards to the left or right to taste wines?

Peter Cargasacchi, Cargasacchi/Point Concepción, Open House

On this particular weekend, Cargasacchi/Point Concepción and Loring Wine Company opened their winery doors for the weekend, so it was an opportune time to visit Lompoc's "Wine Ghetto" and "Pinot Prison." First stop: Lompoc's Central Avenue for great Pinot Noir and deadpan humor c/o Peter Cargasacchi.

Cargasacchi produces two Pinot Noirs using estate fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills.  He also produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Syrah under the Point Concepción label from estate and purchased fruit. These are superb wines!  To my pleasant surprise, I ran into some fellow Central Coast wine enthusiasts at my first two stops in the afternoon. Gentlemen, how did we get through the tasting at Loring Wine Company?

Loring Wine Company was pouring the full selection of wines including multiple vintages of Pinot Noir from vineyards in Santa Barbara County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Sonoma County and Mendocino County. Unfortunately, the wines were poured by vintage instead of a vertical pouring.  It was challenging enough to keep track of the nuances of each vintage from the same vineyard, but it was quite an experience to enjoy so many wines from a great Pinot Noir producer based in Santa Barbara County. Since that time, Loring Wine Company has opened a tasting room in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

Loring Wine Company Open House
Loring Wine Company Open House

By late afternoon, we trekked from the Pinot Prison to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Located behind the Home Depot at the intersection of Highway 246/Ocean Avenue and Highway 1, the "Ghetto" includes a collection of the best wineries in Santa Barbara County.  These aren't just tasting rooms, but wine production facilities too.  While I did not have enough time to sample all the wineries, I did get around to tasting wines from three great producers: Flying Goat Cellars, Samsara and New Vineland/Piedrasassi.

Under the tutelage of Winemaker and Chief Goatherder, Norm Yost, Flying Goat Cellars produces mostly Pinot Noir from the finest vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, as well as Pinot Gris and a wonderful sparkling, bubbly Rosé de Noir ("Goat Bubbles").  Tasting Fee: $10

Flying Goat Cellars (Lompoc Wine Ghetto), Pinot Noir
Flying Goat Cellars, Lompoc Wine Ghetto
Samsara Wines (Lompoc Wine Ghetto), Pinot Noir and Syrah

Next stop: Samsara.  Winemaker Chad Melville produces Pinot Noir and Syrah from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County (Verna's) and Mendocino County (Alder Springs).  In my opinion, these wines are intended for wine drinkers looking for ripeness, density and texture (tannins), most of which is up my alley.  Tasting Fee: $10

When Sashi Moorman is not tending to his day job as winemaker for Stolpman Vineyards, he's working on a number of other wine related projects, including New Vineland/Piedrasassi.  At 5 minutes to 5:00 p.m., I ran across the driveway from Samsara to his tasting room before the doors closed.  Fortunately for me, he was still open entertaining some friends and allowed me to hang out for the better part of two hours after closing.  The New Vineland label includes a Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Rosé and Syrah.  The Piedrasassi label includes three award winning Syrah wines from renowned vineyards in Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles.  There was no better way to end an afternoon of wine tasting in Lompoc than with Sashi Moorman.  Tasting Fee: $7 (New Vineland, 4 wines), $7 (Piedrasassi, 3 wines) or $12 (Winery Flight, all 7 wines)

New Vineland '09 Sauvignon Blanc paired with charcuterie, organic egg and cheese
New Vineland/Piedrasassi, Lompoc Wine Ghetto
New Vineland/Piedrasassi Tasting List
Pinot Prison

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Écluse Wines has the "Lock" on Rhône and Bordeaux Blends

A few miles from Downtown Paso Robles lies the spectacular Lock Vineyard with sweeping views of the Westside.  In 1997, Steve and Pam Lock purchased 30 acres of rolling hillside terrain and set out to produce hand crafted, award winning Rhône and Bordeaux wines through their new boutique winery, Écluse Wines.

After a decade since their first harvest, Steve and Pam Lock have grown their winery and began planting small blocks of other Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, in addition to Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Zinfandel.

Lock Vineyard

Écluse Wines produces superb Rhône and Bordeaux blends, as well as single varietal wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel.  My first exposure to these eclectic blends came during the 2010 Rhône Rangers Los Angeles Tasting.  During a recent visit to Paso Robles, I stopped by the winery to sample their selection of wines and meet Steve and Pam Lock.  Steve was an engaging host during my visit to the winery, despite the large group of people congregating in the tasting room. 

Be sure to stop by the tasting room next time you plan your wine tasting trip to Paso Robles.  You'll enjoy the Lock's limited production blends, including Prelude, Rendition, Ensemble, Improv and single varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel.  Prices range between $28-$38/bottle.

And as for the name of the winery, here's how Steve and Pam explain it: "Écluse is the French word for the locks on the canals that gently carve their way through the remarkable French country.  Since our last name is 'Lock,' the name Écluse for our wines was born!"

Écluse Wines
1520 Kiler Canyon Road, Paso Robles
(805) 238-4998
Open Friday-Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Twitter: @EcluseWines
Facebook: Ecluse Wines

Barrel and Tasting Room
Some of the '09s in Barrel
The Tasting Room and Wall of Accolades

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room

After years of direct shipping and distribution, Helen and Adam Tolmach have opened a new tasting room for the masses to savor their award-winning wines from Santa Barbara County.  In July 2010, the Tolmach's opened their tasting room at the edge of Downtown Ojai on a quaint street filled with art and pottery stores and cafes.

Located in the Historic Firehouse, The Ojai Vineyard tasting room is an inviting space accented by an outdoor garden and seating area, large windows for a blast of natural sunlight, hospitable tasting room staff, and a horseshoe-shaped wine bar to accommodate wine enthusiasts visiting this fabulous R&R destination.

The wine list includes a flight of six wines, including a Chardonnay, Riesling, two Pinot Noirs (suggest a side-by-side comparison), Syrah and Viognier dessert wine.  The list changes with the vintage and availability, but the varietals should stay consistent.  If you are visiting Ojai, stop on by, and if you're planning a trip to Santa Barbara County, fit it a tasting in your itinerary.

The Ojai Vineyard produces an average of 6,000 cases of wine (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinto Noir, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah) from a dozen vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County, including Clos Pepe, Bien Nacido, and Thompson vineyards.

The Ojai Vineyard
109 S. Montgomery St., Ojai (map)
Open daily 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tasting Fee: $15 (6 wines + glass)
(805) 798-3947

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2010 Rhône Rangers Los Angeles Tasting

When the Rhône Rangers get together for a tasting, you better prepare your taste buds for a tantalizing experience of the finest wines from California's Central Coast (and those other wine regions in the north). And it certainly helps to bring a collection of wineries and winemakers together at home in Los Angeles, thus saving me a long drive north.

This year's tasting was held once again at Pier 59 Studios West in Santa Monica.  Nearly 40 wineries poured Rhône wines for over 200 wine tasters.  I'm sure it was a challenge for most of the wineries to maneuver their wines and decorations on 3 foot tables when the crowds descended on the event beginning at 2pm.  But like everything else in life, it all works out and people leave with piqued palates and purple tongues.

Sadly, I did not get a chance to taste every wine at the tasting (I left my Town Car and driver at home). You have to balance it out: try something you love or know or take a chance with a new wine/winery.  Why not try a little bit of both, especially since I had 3 hours to sample and savor as much wine as can possible be consumed.  More than a few wines stole the show at the LA tasting and helped to rekindle my romance with Rhône wines and reconnect with my favorite winemakers and friends.  Here are a few of recommendations:

-- 2007 Viognier, Bien Nacido Vineyard: Lush mouthfeel, vibrant flavors of melon and green apples, crisp acidity and good minerality. 
-- 2006 Grenache, Paso Robles: Check out my previous tasting notes

Cass Winery
-- 2008 Syrah Dessert Wine: "Sinful goodness in a bottle"

Ecluse Wines
-- 2006 "Rendition" (59% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre): Dark, rich fruit, spicy mid-palate
-- 2007 "Improv" (69% Zinfandel, 31% Syrah): There's nothing "improvised" about this blend, which brings together rich fruit flavors, spice, smoke and smoothness.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines
-- 2008 Viognier: Crisp acidity, hint of lime, and an excellent food pairing wine
-- 2008 Estate Blanc: Bright, crisp, refreshing and good minerality

-- 2006 "Gypsy," Santa Barbara: Quite frankly, one of the best bargain wines from Santa Barbara County - where you waiting for tasting notes?
-- 2007 "Revelation," Santa Barbara: Some people experience a "revelation" when they first taste this wine

-- 2008 Côte à Côte: Sure, $85 is a lot of money for any wine (P.S. we're still in a recession), but there is a clear consensus out there that this is a great wine - a wine you hope someone else is buying so you can enjoy it thoroughly without thinking about the bill

Tercero Wines
-- 2007 Mourvedre, Camp 4 Vineyard: Larry never ceases to amaze me and this wine is another quintessential Larry Schaffer wine - complex dark fruit flavors, earthiness and well-balanced (not sure if the latter describes Larry)

Unti Vineyards
-- 2009 Rose Blend (77% Grenache, 23% Mourvedre): Drink, enjoy, repeat...

Vines on the Marycrest
-- 2009 Summertime Rose: This is the essential summertime sipping wine that always sells out - melon, pear, vibrant and refreshing

If you love wine, especially Rhône wines, and don't feel like driving to Santa Barbara County or Paso Robles, then add this event to your calendar for 2011. To learn more about the Rhône Rangers and Rhône varietals, as well as upcoming events, visit their website and plan a trip to California's Central Coast to experience the Rhône lifestyle for yourself. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation, Santa Barbara

On Sunday, May 23rd, Santa Barbara area residents enjoyed wine and delicacies from renowned restaurants at the 2010 Taste of the Nation Santa Barbara in support of Share our Strength's campaign to end childhood hunger in America.  The event was held once again at the picturesque Montecito Country Club on a clear afternoon.  While the skies were void of any clouds, the winds caused quite a stir for anyone with a loose skirt or for anything not held down with a heavy weight.  However, the winds were no match for the fine wine and food - and the view of the Pacific Ocean were amazing!  There was plenty of beautiful people in the crowd too, which added to the allure of this event. 

For a list of this year's participating restaurants and wineries, click here.  Some of the participants included The Bacara Resort and Spa, The Ballard Inn and Restaurant, Elements Restaurant and Bar, The Pierpont Inn, Ampelos Cellars, Blair Fox Cellars, Dragonette Cellars, Reeves Ranch Vineyards, Tercero and Stella Artois (free logo glass!).  For wineries, this event was a great opportunity to expose local residents, including restaurants, to some great wines from the Santa Barbara County wine region.  I enjoyed this event and hope to return next year!  Cheers!

Hospice du Rhône 2010

It's 5:00 a.m., I am wide awake, and trekking 3 hours north from LA to Paso Robles.  Why?  Only for the greatest wine event on the Central Coast - Hospice du Rhône!  Hello Syrah.  How do you do Grenache!  What's that Chateauneuf-du-Pape?  Your a sexy chick, Picpoul Blanc!  If it didn't click yet, I love Rhône wines.  If you get an invite to attend this event, wouldn't you drop everything to go?


Before the festivities began at Hospice du Rhône, I picked up my good friend and great winemaker (plus weekend host), Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines for a quick trip west on Nacimiento Lake Dr. to visit another good friend and great winemaker, Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest. These two gentlemen are the some of the most generous individuals I know in or outside of the wine industry.  They are the reason I won't hesitate driving hours north to the Central Coast to help pour their wines or work in the vineyard and winery.  I was excited to finally bring these two winemakers together and hear them swap their knowledge about wine (and music).   

When Larry and I arrived at Vines on the Marycrest, Victor was hard at work on Carter's Crest tending to the newly planted vineyard.  It was such a beautiful morning that we all took a ride through the vineyards, chatting about the recent and arduous task of planting Carter's Crest, as well as Paso Robles wines.  Hearing two winemakers talk passionately about their trade is far more interesting to me than a trade tasting, but I got the best of both worlds this weekend.

After a great visit to Vines on the Marycrest, Larry and I headed back into town to set up for the Rhône Rendezvous tasting later that afternoon at the Paso Robles Event Center.  Hospice du Rhône operates as a non-profit business league with the specific purpose of improving the business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhône varietal wines and grapes throughout the world.  Now in its 18th year, HdR assembles wines and winemakers from France, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington to share, engage and explore the 22 Rhône varietals.

On Friday at 3:00 p.m., volunteers opened the doors to eager wine enthusiasts and foodies to experience a range of Rhône wines from across the world.  I didn't have to venture far from the Tercero Wines booth to sample some fantastic wines.  We stood between Alban and Terry Hoage. You may be asking yourself, "how did Alban get thrown into the "T" section? We're still asking ourselves that same question, but it worked to our advantage.  Now to some of the highlights from Friday's Rhône Rendezvous:

Alban Vineyards - 2004 Reva, Alban Estate (Edna Valley)

Alta Colina - 2007 GSM and 2007 Old 900 Syrah (Paso Robles)

Anglim - 2007 Mourvèdre, Hastings Ranch Vineyard (Paso Robles)

Davis Family Vineyard - 2007 Côte Rosé, Viognier/Syrah (Russian River Valley)

Dragonette Cellars - 2007 Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley

Jaffurs Wine Cellars - 1999 Syrah and 2001 Syrah (Thompson Vineyard, Los Alamos) and 2007 Upslope Syrah

Tallulah - 2007 Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch (Amador County) and 2006 Syrah, Bald Mountain Ranch (Napa Valley)

Terry Hoage Vineyards - 2007/2006/2005 The Pick (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise)

Torrin - 2006 The Banshee, Torrin Vineyard (Paso Robles)

Verge Wine Cellars - 2007 Syrah, Dry Creek Valley


Saturday has arrived, I am a little hung over from the "offline" after the Rhône Rendezvous, but ready for the Grand Tasting.  The throngs of wine enthusiasts descended on the Paso Robles Event Center for one of the most enjoyable wine industry events during the year.

Although my palate was wearing thin after 24 hours of wine tasting, I tried to be as selective as possible during the Grand Tasting.  Scott Hawley, Winemaker of Torrin in Paso Robles (to the right), provided one of the highlights during this round of Rhône tasting.  Hawley poured a vertical of his prized Akasha Syrah. Here are a few of my favorites from the Grand Tasting:

Cabot Vineyards - 2007 Syrah, Kimberly's Vineyard (Humboldt)

Herman Story - 2008 Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), 2008 Nuts & Bolts Syrah, 2008 On the Road Grenache, 2008 427

Jacob Toft - 2007 Sarah's Cuvee, Syrah/Grenache (Booker Vineyard, James Berry Vineyard and Terry Hoage Vineyards); 2007 Tessa's Cuvee, Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon (Booker Vineyard); 2007 Mary Jane's Cuvee, Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah (James Berry Vineyard and Terry Hoage Vineyards)

Keplinger - 2007 Grenache/Syrah, Pelkan Ranch (Knights Valley); 2007 Syrah, Pelkan Ranch (Knights Valley); 2007 Mourvèdre/Grenache/Counoise, Goldbud Vineyard (El Dorado)

L'Aventure - 2007 Côte à Côte, Estate Vineyard (Paso Robles) and 2007 Estate Cuvée (Paso Robles)

Sans Liege - 2008 Pickpocket, Derby and Pipestone Vineyards (Paso Robles), 2008 The Offering, Zotovich Vineyard (Santa Barbara County)

Torrin - 2008 Akasha Syrah, 2007 Akasha Syrah, and 2006 Akasha Syrah (Torrin Vineyard, Paso Robles)

So what was the greatest wine I tasted at Hospice du Rhône??? Terry Hoage Vineyards, 2009 Picpoul Blanc (Paso Robles).  This wine was indescribably amazing!  Full of life and character, and the most distinguishable wine of the entire tasting.

The food award goes to Full of Life Flatbread.  I'm pretty sure I saw the Virgin Mary after eating a slice of their pizza.  Check them out in Los Alamos the next time you visit Santa Barbara County (open Friday-Sunday; hours vary).  

On Saturday evening, Larry and I headed to Thomas Hill Organics in Downtown Paso Robles for dinner.  One of the best culinary experiences!  The Grilled Meyer Lemon Pizza paired with the Tercero Wines Grenache Blanc was amazing.  Thanks to Victory Abascal for helping us score a table!  Make a reservation next time you're in'll thank me later.

I can't wait till next year!  In the meantime, I need to clear the cellar to add some new finds from HdR 2010. Cheers to the HdR staff, vendors and attendees for a spectacular event!  On to the next wine adventure...