Friday, August 14, 2009

Scenic Drive Itintin Down the Central Coast

San Simeon (tour Hearst Castle)

Cambria (listen to the seals)

Cayucos (stop for coffee and get your toes wet)

Morro Bay (kayak)

Solvang (The Hitching Post II...bbq filet rare plus please)

York Mountain Winery

We had a spontaneous picnic here while 2 guitarists had a jam sesh on the hilltop.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Brian Benson Cellars

Hot rod enthusiast meets babyface wine maker. His tasting room (across the street from Booker) was our last stop on Sunday. Brian grew up in the vines in Paso watching his parents and grandparents make their wine, Dark Star Cellars. He's all grown up now and has his own label that's getting a lot of attention. But like most winemakers in Paso, he's still humble, sincere, and passionate about his work. My favorite part about his tasting room is the tiny barrel he keeps on display, which held the first wine he made as a boy. Brian's first commercial vintage was in 2001 (he was 19!) of 147 cases split between cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel.

This cool cat (he sported a black tee and a straw fidora) loves vintage cars about as much as he loves wines. He told us a few stories about hot rods he's restored himself, while having us taste through his current release. My palate was a bit burnt out by this time, so I don't think I can give a fair review of his wines, but I will revisit a bottle in the next stay tuned. Thanks again for squeezing us in late Sunday afternoon, Brian! We'll be back again soon :)

Torrin Vineyards and Scott Hawley

What are the 3 most important factors in winemaking? 
Location. Location. Allocation.

Scott Hawley, owner and winemaker of Torrin Vineyards, has almost everything going for him. Priceless terroir landlocked by Booker and L'Aventure vines in Paso Robles. A lovely, loving, and gifted wife who is his partner in the project (word is they're hands down the most attractive couple in town). Two little ones running around the vines. Natural talent that's producing some of the finest wine coming out of the region.

However, his current resources can only produce 217 cases of his three bottlings of the velvety libation (80 cases of Akasha, 72 cases of Banshee, and 65 cases of Maven). He's got the allocation of a Burgundy Grand Cru. No secret marketing game here.

Moral of the story: If you can find a bottle at one of the handful of retail shops in California that have allocation (or his east coast retailer in Boston), buy it. Or get on his distribution list yesterday.

"I'm on a BIIIIKE"

Booker Wines and Eric Jensen

Booker was not only our homebase, but quite literally our wine playground. When we arrived around noon on Sunday, after a LONG Saturday (tasting appts from 10am to 4pm), Bobbyfox, Orion, and Eric welcomed us with wine straight from the barrel and free reign of the property. This place was about fun.

After a taste of Eric's experiment with cement tanks for his '08 "White" and his delicious 100% '08 Grenache (bursting with sweet and tart red favorite!) we unpacked a picnic and invited everyone working and visiting the winery to join us. 

I couldn't have dreamt a better Sunday afternoon in wine country until the quad, motocycle, and mule started their engines. Eric Jensen and his team are as rockstar-farmer-winemaker as it gets. Next time maybe The Stones will be there. (Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that Fergie was in the tasting room an hour before us!) Make a stop at the Booker Tasting Room a priority on your next trip to Paso:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Track Ball On The Lawn

Probably the best way to end Day #1 in wine country. Just try not to get too frustrated when you consistently whif. Maybe Terry Hoage will join us next time. I hear Eric Jensen is quite the athlete too...

Feelin' "Juicy"

in the back seat. We may or may not have grooved to Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Saturday afternoon. Thanks for all of the local knowledge along the way, Bobbyfox!

Adelaida Cellars

Adelaida was the only winery I had visited before and one I sincerely looked forward to returning to. The hospitality we received at Adelaida was unmatched my first trip to Paso in December. I was there celebrating a friend's birthday - it was casual trip with no appointments or tastings with winemakers. We had no connections or pull. Only common tourist enthusiasm for tasting their wines.

At that time, Adelaida went out of their way to welcome us and made everyone in the group (from novice to professional) feel comfortable. They educated us about their wines and answered our questions. There was no hard sell on their wine club and we got the feeling that everyone who worked there LOVED their job. It also helped that their wines were top quality and well-balanced. (But don't things always taste better when you're surrounded by happy people?)

This trip we (not me, but Bobbyfox and "Charlie") scheduled a tasting appointment for us where they poured about 9 nine wines - including their pinot noir and cab reserve. As if we hadn't received enough VIP treatment from Paul (our gracious host at Adelaida this trip) already, he grabbed a few bottles and glasses after our tasting and we piled into his truck to have a toast from a scenic hilltop on their land. 

Literally breathtaking.

I will go back to Adelaida every time I'm in Paso and continue to buy their wines (this trip I purchased the '06 HMR Estate Pinot Noir and the '05 Viking Estate Vineyard Cab Reserve). And next time I may bring a giant fresh pineapple with me as an overdue thank you gift.

You CAN take the Newport Beach out of Newport Beach

The gang and Terry Hoage:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Terry (and Jennifer) Hoage Vineyards

Terry and Jennifer's tasting room was our second stop on Saturday. I wasn't sure what to expect from a champion NFL player who majored in genetics and has been making wine for the past seven years. What a career path! But he'd be the first person to have you believe his wife is the talented palate behind the operation and he just grows the grapes.

After meeting Terry and tasting (what's left of) his last release, he took us into the cellar for some barrel tastings. It was an educational experience I very much appreciated. He is a brilliant, patient, and curious human. He took the time to answer our micro questions about his winemaking techniques. The highlight was tasting the 08 barrel syrahs side by side and recognizing the difference the barrel makes on the nose and palate. One was Moreau and the other Taransaud Beaune. The Moreau let the syrah's signature dark fruit notes of blackberries and cassis shine. While the Taransaud Beaune presented a new nose of smoke, lively spice, and rolled along the palate to a savory maple bacon finish. Fascinating stuff.

When it comes time to taste his wines, Terry's sensitivity is to mouthfeel. He wants to make wines that embrace the palate and beckon another sip. His wines do this well and I particularly recognized it in the Estate Rose, "Bam Bam", and the Cuvee, "The Pick". I would love to try the Cuvee "5 Blocks" someday.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"We Love You, Charlie!"

L'Aventure Wine Tasting

Stephan Asseo, Bordeaux transplant and L'Aventure's owner and winemaker, restored my faith in balanced, disciplined Paso Robles wine. Prior to this trip, I had very high alcohol, low acidity, jammy, and generally klunky encounters with (benchmark) wines from this region. However, I always approach a new wine with an open mind and I was ready to be pleasantly surprised.

When we arrived at L'Aventure's tasting room at 10am Saturday morning (opens to the public at 11am), Stephan was sweeping the stoop outside his tasting room. The sign of an artist...we were in for a treat.

He greeted us humbly and then told us the story of his search for the right piece of land in California. His winemaking techniques are old world. His vines are (relatively) new. Plus, he has the freedom to work with any varietal, as the wine laws here are much more flexible than those in France. 

As we learned more about his style, I honed in on his focus around harvest time. It is not on the brix level (sugar level) of the grapes or, more generally, the ripeness of the fruit. Stephan picks his fruit when he believes the tannin to be ripe. Tannin is the skeleton that gives red wine its structure and ultimately connects, and supports, every other element. Choosing to harvest when "the tannin is ripe" is not a technical decision at the mercy of a number (like picking at "x" brix, or sugar, level in the berries). It's based on taste, experience, and the 6th sense of man who grew up in one of the most remarkable wine regions in the world. Ripe tannin sets a wine's "tannin" skeleton in perfect alignment. The fruit, alcohol, and acidity work their magic to fill it out. The result is a work of art. An integrated, disciplined, and memorable wine. I almost forgot to tastes fantastic. Like all of the wines at L'Aventure.

The Estate Cuvee had to be my favorite, but I also enjoyed his Estate Cote a Cote and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Buy and drink or hold:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paso Robles Wine House

Last weekend I tasted my way through Paso Robles with a group of fellow cork dorks from Newport Beach and Laguna. Our social chair made the wise executive decision to rent a giant house with breathtaking views instead of all individually booking hotel rooms. 

It was genius. And the house was ideal for cooking (only pictures do it justice), lounging (big comfy couches with an entertainment center), swimming (heated salt water pool), and stargazing (chaises and heat lamps). We were a 5 minute drive from town and also close to all of the wineries we visited. Halfway through the trip we even had a masousse come to the house to get our knots out (those barrel tastings are really back breaking...).

The highlight of the house for me was that feeling at the end of our days of going "home" together. I highly recommend this accommodation strategy.

Vacation rentals. So hot right now.