Due to the honorable Rusty Sly's work conflict, blogger and Wine101er extraordinaire Eve Hammond Bushman invited me to be the guest wineau - I mean speaker - for the monthly Grape of the Night held at the Valencia Wine Company. It's kind of amazing to me how much time JD and I are spending at VWC, but proprietor Guy LeLarge and his knowledgeable and charming crew have created a friendly and warm haven for the person who wants to spend some quality time surrounded by great wines and like-minded people. That's Guy and Eve pictured to the right.
This month's Grape of the Night assignment was for everyone to bring a bottle of wine from the Paso Robles area of California. For those of you not familiar with Paso Robles - where have you been?
I opened with a short history of the Paso area derived mainly from Wikipedia:
Paso Robles’ growth as a wine industry has a long history with the area. Wine grapes were introduced to the Paso Robles soil in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries. Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez envisioned an abundant wine-producing operation and encouraged settlers from Mexico and other parts of California to cultivate the land. The first vineyardists in the area were the Padres of the Mission San Miguel, and their old fermentation vats and grapevine artwork can still be seen at the Mission, north of the city of Paso Robles.
Commercial winemaking was introduced to the Paso Robles region in 1882 when Andrew York, a settler from Indiana, began planting vineyards and established the Ascension Winery at what is now York Mountain Winery. When York purchased the land, it was primarily apple orchards, with a small plot of wine grape vines. York found that the climate and soil were more suitable for vineyards and he expanded the vineyards. Within a few years, he found that the vines were yielding more than he could market, prompting him to build a small, stone winery.
Following Andrew York’s early success in the wine business, Gerd and Ilsabe Klintworth planted a vineyard in the Geneseo/Linne area in approximately 1886. They were licensed to sell jugs of Zinfandel, Port, and Muscatel, as well as some of the area’s first white wine made from Burger grapes. The Casteel Vineyards in the Willow Creek area were planted just prior to 1908. Casteel wines were stored and aged in a cave cellar. Cuttings from the old vines provided the start for other vineyards, still producing in the area today.
As the popularity of wines began to grow, so did the Paso Robles wine region. Lorenzo and Rena Nerelli purchased their vineyard at the foot of York Mountain in 1917. Their Templeton Winery was the area’s first to be bonded following the repeal of Prohibition.
The early 1920s saw a flurry of winemaking activity when several families immigrated to the area to establish family vineyards and wineries. Sylvester and Caterina Dusi purchased a vineyard in 1924. The old head-pruned Zinfandel vines are now owned and cultivated by their son, Benito. The Martinelli, Dusi, Vosti and Bianchi vineyards were also established around this time.
The Paso Robles wine region gained more notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles, became enchanted with the area, and purchased 2,000 acres. In the early 1920s, he planted Petite Syrah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard in the Adelaide area. Following Prohibition, Paderewski's wine was made at York Mountain Winery. The wines produced from grapes grown on Rancho San Ignacio went on to become award-winners. Paso Robles’ reputation as a premier wine region became firmly established as a result of this and later successes, and through to the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new generation of vineyard pioneers came forth and flourished in the Paso Robles area.
Then we poured the wines. Interestingly, no one brought any whites.
2006 Wild Horse Merlot - 95% Merlot/2% Malbec/2% Cabernet Franc - 13.9% alcohol. Really wasn't very interesting. No fruit, just kind of dull and flat. The person who brought it said it had been a gift. Maybe it just hadn't been stored well. Disappointing.
2008 J Dusi Carignane - 14.9% alcohol. Lovely. This wine is from an illustrious winemaking/wine growing family, and the wine itself is from the family's historic Dusi vineyard. It was definitely one of the best-liked of the evening, with a beautiful aromatic nose and elegant red fruit and soft tannins in the mouth.
2007 Pulchella Syrah - 15.9% alcohol. I liked this better when I tasted with the winemaker last month. Tonight's bottle was hot and unbalanced, and we were all surprised. To be fair, I think Eve liked it a lot, but Guy and I felt it wasn't the best representation of winemakers Steve Lemley and Nate Hasper.
Cass Syrah - Actually Syrah/Mourvedre/Petite Sirah - 15.5% alcohol. Lovely, well-balanced. One of my faves of the night.
2007 Venteux 'PMS' - Petite Sirah/Mourvedre/Syrah - 14.8% alcohol. Unfortunately named, and not very interesting. Flat, no fruit.
2005 Lone Madrone 'Barfandel' - Zinfandel 54%/Petite Sirah 24%/Barbera 24% - 16.6% alcohol. The hit of the night came from my own cellar. Lush dark fruit, and amazingly well-balanced considering the extremely high alcohol.
As the small but happy crowd dispersed, making purchases and saying good night, Guy opened a bottle of Spanish wine for me to taste: Rejadorada Temple from the Toro DOC. A fascinating blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. Delish!
JD and I sat and chatted with Guy and Julie for a while after everyone else was gone. Guy's been in the wine biz for a long time, and has worked with some of the most important names in wine and food. And he's thinking about opening another wine bar/store. I was lobbying for Burbank! I have mentioned many times how I wish Burbank had this kind of establishment. Keeping my fingers crossed it comes to pass!