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Wine Tourism

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles - 3 Top Stops on Anderson Road

Anderson Road is today’s area of focus in the NorCalWine 5-part series of articles on tasting wine in Paso Robles region-by-region. Anderson Road is not far from the intersection of Highways 101 and 46 West. The wineries below are listed in alphabetical order. In the other articles, I covered the downtown Paso Robles/46 East and Northwest Paso Robles/Adelaide Road, Southwest Paso Robles and Arbor Road/Live Oak Road.

Tasting Wine in Paso Robles: Anderson Road

Brian Benson Cellars

Brian Benson Cellars makes me smile. The wines are well-made in an out-going and flavorful style. The decor is hip with a retro-modern flair reflective of the owner's interest in old-style hot rods with chopped tops, shiny paint and pinstriping. Tastings are poured by said owner, Brian Benson. He's fun to talk to and can tell you all about the wines with the certainty that only winemakers can provide.

26 year-old Brian Benson made his first wine 14 years ago. He grew up around wine. His grandparents owned a vineyard. His father bought one in 1995. By late 2000, Brian was working as assistant winemaker for his father full-time. One year later, he released a wine under his own label.

The wines include vineyard-designate Syrahs from Denner Vineyard and Glenrose Vineyard, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Westside Vineyard, a Zinfandel and a Syrah-Mourvedre blend, plus a wine called Kandy Red available in custom pinstriped bottles.

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Address: 2985 Anderson Road, Paso Robles CA 93446
Phone: (805) 296-9463
Open Hours: 10:30am - 5pm Friday through Sunday
Tasting Fee: $5 applicable to purchase
Tours Available: No
Food Available: No
Picnic Area: Yes

Caliza Winery

Caliza, Spanish for "limestone is a reference to the calcareous soil that contributes to the quality of Paso Robles' wines. The 20-acre Caliza Winery estate vineyard neighbors both the Booker Vineyard and the Stephan Vineyard of L'Aventure and there is a layer of limestone that underlays them all, the remains of a prehistoric seafloor. Mostly situated on south-facing slopes at between 900 and 1200 feet, the vineyard benefits from cool ocean breezes that bring evening temperatures down by as much as 50 degrees from daytime highs.

As with the other recommended wineries in this article, Caliza wines consist primarily of Rhone varities with some Zinfandel and an occasional squirt of Tempranillo. From its first vintage, owner/winemaker Carl Bowker has been enjoying excellent reviews on the wines from a variety of sources including the SF Chronicle Wine Competition, Wine Spectator and NorCalWine. This came as a happy surprise to Bowker, as wine is a second-career for him. However, he's worked very hard at it, studying viticulture and enology at Napa Valley College and also had a lot of help from friends and neighbors such as winemaking ace Scott Hawley who's acclaimed Torrin Vineyard is immediately nearby. [Torrin doesn't have a tasting room.]

As you would expect for the area, Caliza wines are generous on the palate with full body and ripe fruit. Despite their fruit concentration, the wines are balanced and complex. Notes of earth, spice and dry herb  join with flavors from new oak. I expect most of the wines to drink well for ten years from the vintage. Production volumes are small, from 200 to 300 cases per wine.

Address: 2570 Anderson Road, Paso Robles CA 93446
Phone: (805) 237-1480
Open Hours: 11am - 4:30pm, Thursday - Sunday and by appointment
Tasting Fee: Yes
Tours Available: No
Food Available: No
Picnic Area: Yes

Booker Wines

These days, trend-setting chefs and their foodie followers are increasingly focused on local, seasonal ingredients. There is a belief that the products not only taste better, but can be more nuanced in their flavors, more healthful for our bodies and more sustainable agriculturally. In a slightly different, though not dissimilar trend, the wine industry has been increasing focus on small production lots of “hand-crafted” wine made from the grapes of distinguished, carefully tended vineyards. But, as with the seasonal food movement, there is a downside for those of us who have grown accustomed to an “anytime, anywhere” mode of consumption. You can’t always get what you want.

Producers of excellent and distinct wines tend to run out of one vintage before the next is ready for release. As with Linne Calodo and Denner in last week’s article, the Booker Vineyard tasting room isn’t open right now. They ran out of juice.

Pretend for a moment that they are open and you are there. What you would be tasting are wines based primarily on Rhone varieties grown on Booker’s estate vineyard, near that of L’Aventure Wines’ Stephan Vineyards. Planted on steep slopes of Paso Robles’ excellent calcareous soil, the vines are packed tightly so that they compete with each other for water and nutrients. This reduces vigor and yield for the individual vines and forces their roots to dive deep into the hillside. All of that leads to fruit of higher quality and distinctiveness.

The most powerful of their wines, Syrah-based concoctions with names such as Alchemist, Fracture and Vertigo, soften for up to 30 months in oak barrels. The lighter-bodied Grenache-centric wines see much less barrel time and the Roussanne-Viognier just one year. Though each wine is different from its sibling, the red wines can generally described as deeply colored and rich on the palate with complex mixtures of ripe black and red fruit, earthy notes (gravel, graphite, smoke, espresso, leather) and spice (sandalwood, pepper, five-spice) and flowers. They age for five to ten years, if you have that kind of patience.

I just checked in with Booker by phone and they aren’t sure whether they will be open in a month or two when two new releases come on line or if they’ll wait until Fall for a full roster of wines. I suggest you check in with them in advance of your next trip to Paso Robles though, because the wines are worth your time. If you do find them open, make sure you buy enough for a year because they’ll surely run out again.

Address: 2640 Anderson Rd., Paso Robles CA 93446
Phone: (805) 237-7367
Open Hours: 11am - 5pm, Thursday through Sunday, when they have wine. Closed as of July 2011.
Tasting Fee: $10, keep the glass
Tours Available: No
Food Available: No
Picnic Area: Yes

Come back next Wednesday for my recommendations on tasting wine on Arbor Road and Live Oak Road in Paso Robles.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

A Good One Day Napa Valley Itinerary for First Timers

Last Saturday I led a group of five friends on a wine-tasting trip through Napa Valley. I always enjoy doing that. It’s an added treat when the people haven’t spent much time there before. In that case, I try to provide a variety of experiences that show the diversity of the region’s wines and wineries while busting some of the stereotypes. While it’s interesting for Napa Valley veterans to check out the latest exclusive winery, under-the-radar winemakers or wines made from unconventional varietals, people new to the region’s wine don’t have the background to fully enjoy those experiences.

I usually limit the itinerary to four wineries per day for trips like this. Doing more doesn’t allow the leisurely pace most enjoyable for new visitors and casual tasters. Even at four, there isn’t time for an extended lunch or going to wineries that are very far apart. Still, on this Saturday with having shared some tastes, each person tried more than 30 different wines.

Here are the wineries I selected:

Domaine Chandon: The only special request I was given for the weekend was that we taste some sparkling wine. So, we started at Domaine Chandon. They offer a wide array of sparkling wines, a flexible approach to tasting and are more centrally located than the other sparkling houses. Sparkling wine sets the mood, readies the palate for higher alcohol wines and is best tasted before bold, tannic red wines.

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It's a lovely walk from the parking lot to the hospitality center at Domaine Chandon.

Robert Mondavi Winery: This is the winery that began Napa Valley’s modern era with respect to wine, wineries and international recognition. The building is a 1960’s riff on Mission architecture that still looks great today and is set within one of the valley’s most significant and historic vineyards (To Kalon). The Reserve Tasting Room offers one of Napa Valley’s best opportunities for tasting back vintages of top wines.

A Quick Lunch: There a several good restaurants for lunch in Yountville, plus the Rutherford Grill in Rutherford. However, if all you have time for is a quick sandwich, I think the best bets are the Yountville Deli (co-located with Ranch Market Too) and the Oakville Grocery. Both have pre-made and made-to-order sandwiches available along with other tasty treats (including espresso!). You can eat in or take away.

A Quick Detour: On the way from Robert Mondavi Winery to Tres Sabores, I made a quick left into Rubicon Estate. [Well, I actually missed the turn on the first pass. The Rubicon name has been painted over on the walls near the entrance in preparation for putting on the new/old name: Inglenook.] The Rubicon-Inglenook winery is one of Napa Valley’s most historic. The wine is well worth trying of course, but if there’s no time for that a drive through the parking lot gives visitors of a taste of the beautiful grounds and estate winery building, one of the valley's most splendid.

Tres Sabores: This winery is proof that Napa Valley is about more than big wineries, shiny tasting rooms and $150 Cabernet Sauvignon. Tres Sabores is a small, family-run winery committed to organic viticulture and wines that have complexity and power but also excellent balance. Tastings are by appointment only, but are relaxed, personal and informative. If the timing is right, your visit may include not just tasting but a vineyard walk, meeting the sheep, or tasting estate pomegranates. Every time I’ve taken people to Tres Sabores, it has been their favorite stop of the day.

Alpha Omega: This is a good place to end a day of tasting. Alpha Omega offers several different varietal bottlings, including a good Sauterne-style dessert wine. Overall, the flavors at Alpha Omega are bold and the textures silky. The wines are in the modern, international style but not over-the-top. It’s well-located just off Highway 29 in Rutherford. The tasting room is open until 6PM so a stop there can lead into dinner nicely.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. All photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Take a Tour at Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa Valley

There are a lot of different types of winery tours you can take in wine country. You can do "normal," yet informative, hose and tank tours. You can go on vineyard walks. There are tours focused on "green" practices and/or biodynamics. Some tours feature ornate historical buildings or extensive underground labyrinths. You can sip your way through barrel rooms with a wine thief or get a detailed tour of a winery which could be mistaken for a Bond villain's lair.

Excellent tours all, but they may also take two or three hours to complete. You don't always have that much time. Sometimes, interesting yet brief is better. Schramsberg Vineyards offers exactly that. And the tour ends with world-class wine.

Wine Routes: The Wineries of Hwy. 84 In Livermore

Just 30 miles from San Francisco, is an easy, uncrowded and rewarding place to go wine tasting. The lack of fame, boutique-wineryfication or crazy land prices keep the wines affordable. And the wine is good.

Livermore is one of the oldest wine-growing areas in California. Spanish missionaries planted its first wine grapes in the 1770’s. It’s also home to the United States’ oldest continually-operated, family-owned winery, Wente Vineyards, which was established in 1883. Just six years later, Charles Wetmore’s Cresta Blanca Winery became California’s first international gold medal winner, taking home a prize from Paris. And Livermore wineries were also the very first to produce varietally-designated wines made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. So why don’t we hear more about Livermore wine?

Livermore's gravelly soil is conducive to high-quality wine grape production and led Hugh Johnson to say that the area comes as close to the white wines of Graves as one can in California. Livermore Valley also features grapes of impeccable pedigree. Charles Wetmore planted Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon cuttings taken directly from Chateau d’Yquem in the 1880’s. Wente clones of Chardonnay, developed in Livermore from cuttings brought from France by C. H. Wente, are used for 80% of all Chardonnay grown in California. So it is neither terroir nor grapes that keep Livermore from the limelight.

The culprits were Prohibition and land development. When Prohibition was instituted in 1919, there were more than 50 commercial wineries in Livermore. During the dry period, that number declined precipitously. Much of the land was planted over to other crops or used for grazing cows and sheep. Then, starting in the late-1960’s suburban sprawl began to cover good vineyard land with houses and small businesses.

After California’s success in the famous Paris tasting of 1976, nearby Napa Valley increased acreage under vine dramatically. That couldn’t happen in Livermore because so much land was covered by buildings or zoned as non-agricultural. And while the number of its wineries has grown rapidly of late, Livermore still has fewer wineries than it did in 1919.

5 Thoughts on a Day of Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

I spent a full day wine tasting in Napa Valley yesterday. I didn’t have any particular events there I needed to attend or people I had to meet. I went with a couple of industry friends who had specific wineries they wanted to visit, so I didn’t even have to worry about deciding where to go or setting up appointments. It was a tasty and relaxing day. The following are some of my thoughts based on the morning’s visits. Tomorrow, I’ll post comments on the afternoon tastings.

#1: An appointment for a tour and tasting at Spottswoode is a great way to start the day at this time of year. The visits start with a short tour of the tank and barrel rooms. After that though, you walk down the street to see their (certified organic) vineyard. The vines look great right now and the vineyard stretches west toward the hills. It’s a pretty view, especially in the morning light.

After looking at the vineyard, the tour proceeds down the street to the residence. Built in the late 19th century, the house has been beautifully maintained. It backs on to the vineyard but the front and sides of the yard are thick with a wide variety of trees, flowers and a vegetable garden. If you want to take a peek before going, take a look at the Spottswoode virtual tour.

Back at the winery, you taste three wines. First is the Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc. It is crisp, clean and refreshing with flavors of gooseberry and lime that are forward but not aggressive. Highly recommended, $36.

#2: The 2006 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a very good wine, but its tannins clamp down on the fruit strongly right now. The wine needs a couple of years in your cellar. If you’re looking for really good Cabernet Sauvignon to drink with dinner in the near term, the 2007 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon is a better choice. That wine is made in a ready-to-drink style, though it could certainly hold for a few years. The tannins are just to the chalky side of powdery and will no doubt be very silky when accompanied by food. Fresh red fruit is framed by wood-derived flavors of oak, vanilla, caramel and brown spice. The are also subtle notes of rose petal and dark flowers. The fruit is more dominant on the palate, but there are also cocoa and oak accents. Highly recommended, $60.

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#3: Barrel tasting is fun and also a good way to get an understanding of the various grape varieties, vineyards, blocks and barrel techniques that make up an estate wine. Every now and then it can be frustrating though. You sometimes come across a barrel that you want to take home right away. My friends and I had exactly that experience yesterday at Pride Mountain Vineyards with some 2009 Cabernet Franc. It was in it’s sixth or seventh month in used French oak with medium toast. (The barrel was first used in 2005.) The wine was absolutely delicious. It had a great silky texture, beautiful ripe fruit with a lot of tasty coffee notes and just enough leafy characteristics to highlight the variety. Despite our pleading and creative offers, our guide insisted that all of the barrel would be needed to create Pride’s blends.

We tasted from several different barrels. Invariably, the slightly more delicate wines were in neutral oak and made me want to fill a canteen with the juice while the wines of firmer structure were in new oak and I was happy to let them mellow out for a while. [Pride generally keeps their wine in oak for eighteen months and then in bottle for another six. All of the oak is French, but the amount of new oak varies based on the personality of the component wine. The final Cabernet blends wind up with no more than an aggregate of 35% new oak. Cabernet Franc and Merlot blends see even less.]

#4: Fortunately, Pride Mountain Vineyards does have bottles of wine to sell. That makes up for the disappointment of not being able to kidnap a barrel. That said, the 2007 Pride Syrah which was one of my favorite California Syrahs from the 2010 Hospice du Rhone event is sold out. (I guess I’m not the only person that liked it.) The 2008 Pride Syrah has just been released though and was showing well yesterday. It had a nose of fresh dark berries in cream with smoke and light accents of black pepper and leather. The flavors matched the nose, but with greater emphasis on the black pepper. There was very good balance between the tannins, alcohol and fruit, all of which persist for a lengthy finish. Highly recommended, ready now but best after a year in the cellar, $60.

The 2009 Pride Viognier Sonoma County is also very good. [Pride is situated such that part of it's vineyards are in Napa County and the rest in Sonoma County.] It’s intensely aromatic with apricot, baking spice, white flowers, ripe pear and white peach on the nose. The flavor is equally intense creamy stone fruit, spice and floral essence. This is a very full-bodied wine with enough acidity to carry that off. It would go very well with a fresh crab salad or meaty crab cakes. Highly recommended, $42.

#5: When you’re trying to maximize time at wineries, an extended lunch is not an option. My friends planned ahead and made a stop at the V. Sattui Winery deli in the morning to pick up duck rillettes, brie and an Acme Bakery baguette. Eating that while taking in the view from Pride’s mountain top vineyards made them happy.

I had been running late in the morning, so I had to wing it for lunch. That was not a problem though. I swooped into a open parking spot in front of St. Helena’s Model Bakery. Debating briefly between a pre-packaged turkey club sandwich on sliced sourdough and a  big slice of their thick crust pizza, I opted for the latter. I was able to enjoy a shot of their Peets espresso while they warmed the pizza up for me. Fast, inexpensive, very tasty and the right amount of food to prepare me for more tasting, it was just what I needed.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Spottswoode photo provided by the winery. All rights reserved.