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Fall Back on Spring Mountain

It was the kind of pre-Thanksgiving day that makes us feel very fortunate to live in this area. Somewhere in Wisconsin, moon boots were stepping gingerly out onto snow-covered lakes to see if the ice was thick enough for fishing. On the east coast, cars did graceful pirouettes through frozen intersections. Meanwhile, we sat in short sleeve shirts atop Spring Mountain drinking wine. We had just one weather-related concern. If we leave our wine in the car, will it cook?

It is sometimes said that we don’t get “real seasons” out here. It’s certainly true that we don’t get a lot of snow in the coastal wine country. We have to head to the Sierra Foothills if we want to go wine tasting and skiing on the same day. That isn’t a very long drive though. And if it’s Fall colors that people fear we miss, those colors are vivid on the grape vines. The grape leaves change from green to shades of gold and red just like a Pennsylvanian tree.

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles - My Top 4 Picks in Southwest Paso

Today’s post offers my best recommendations for wineries in Southwest Paso Robles, near the intersection of 46 West and Vineyard Drive. I’ll also tell you where to grab a good lunch.

Tasting Wine in Paso Robles: Southwest

Cypher

If Cypher means zero to you, perhaps Four Vines will ring a bell. Less than a year ago, the Four Vines brand and it’s deservedly popular sub-$20 Zinfandel labels were sold to Purple Wine Company. The sale means Four Vines will be better funded for expansion of its marketing and distribution at consumer-friendly prices points and high-volume stores. It also formalized a division that had already existed, that between the relatively high-production Zinfandel blends and the lower volume wines that include vineyard-designate Zinfandel and Syrah plus the assortment of wild blends collectively known as “The Freak Show.”

Christian Tietje, who had been the winemaker and one of the owners of Four Vines, is continuing to make the Zinfandel for that company’s new owners. However, he kept the high-end wines for himself, along with the old Four Vines winery and tasting room. He has named that venture Cypher, which was the name of one of the Freak Show wines.

The vibe at Cypher is hip and irreverent. Their blends have names like The Heretic, Anarchy and Loco. The labels, mostly line art silk screened directly onto the bottles, show the same attitude. You can even get yourself a ZinBitch rub-on tattoo at the tasting room. Some of the wines are serious rule breakers too. Take (Louis) Cypher itself. Nine varieties go into that blend: Teroldego, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Coa, Sousou, Tinta Ruiz, Zinfandel, Carignane, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. Huh? It’s crazy but delicious.

There are a lot of wineries with labels that try to be cool or appeal to your wild side but fail when it comes to the actual wine. Tietje takes the vineyards and winemaking very seriously. Cypher wines deliver. One of his vineyard designate Syrahs even won the Syrah Shootout at Hospice du Rhone in 2009.

The tasting room is freshly remodeled and a cool place to hang out. You might plan to stop there either right before or after lunch, since it's co-located with the Farmstand 46 restaurant (see below).

Address: 3750 Highway 46 West, Templeton CA 93465
Phone: (805) 237-0055
Open Hours: 10am - 6pm daily
Tasting Fee: $10 and keep the glass
Tours Available: $15 Barrel Tasting Experience, best to make reservations
Food Available: Co-located with Farmstand 46 restaurant
Picnic Area: Yes

Turley Wine Cellars

Turley is one of the most famous names in Zinfandel. There is a good reason for that. They were among the first to make Zinfandel in a big, super-ripe style that focused on maximizing concentration of aromas and flavors without dwelling on how much alcohol would result. They did it well and continue to be among the very best in that genre.

Turley offers Zinfandel blends but are probably best known for vineyard designates. The dark fruit flavors can have jammy richness, but not the cooked aspect that indicates over-ripe fruit. And, despite the power and sweetness of the fruit, the wines are well-balanced in flavor and structure. Signatures of the different vineyards shine on the nose and palate. Oak barrels provide tannins necessary to carry the fruit and even provide the ability to improve with age. Turley wines are among the most expensive Zinfandels you’ll find, but not unfairly so.

To me, Turley is like Led Zeppelin. They created something great, unique and intoxicating, but also inspired a huge number of copycats. The pretenders have varying degrees of success but, almost without exception, fail to capture the magic. Go for the original.

Address: 2900 Vineyard Drive, Templeton CA 93465
Phone: (805) 434-1030
Open Hours: 9am -5pm
Tasting Fee: $10 for standard tasting, keep the Riedel glass. Reserve tasting of two wines available separately for $5.
Tours Available: No
Food Available: No
Picnic Area: Yes

Denner

I typically recommend only tasting rooms or experiences that are open to anyone, if sometimes by appointment only. I’m making an exception for Denner. Their tastings are also appointment only, but are open only to club members and their guests. There are several reasons for the exception. Denner's sustainably-farmed vineyard is one of the best in West Paso Robles and provides fruit for several top wineries, including Linne Calodo, Justin Winery and Villa Creek. Denner’s own wine, to which just under half of its 100+ acre estate vineyard is dedicated, are often exceptional in their own right. And the physical winery is architecturally unique and among the few to be wholly gravity-flow in Paso Robles.

The reason the tasting room is open only to club members is that the wine sells out very quickly. For that matter, wines by the bottle are essentially available only to club members. This isn’t a unique situation. Many boutique wineries sell out quickly and a lot of them aren’t open at all. At the lowest level, club members receive 8 bottles per year for about $300 plus tax. That’s an awfully expensive tasting fee, so you might want to visit with a friend who is already a member.

The vineyard includes 19 different grape varieties. The vast majority are either Rhone or red Bordeaux. There is a smattering of Zinfandel and a trace of Vermentino. The most-planted variety is Cabernet Sauvignon (33%) followed by Syrah (20%). The Denner wines include a 100% Viognier, a Roussanne blend, a Grenache-based rosé blend, Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel varietal wines. There are also two red blends, one of Chateauneuf du Pape varieties and one of Bordeaux grapes.

Address: 5414 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles CA 93446
Phone: (805) 239-4287
Open Hours: By appointment, 11am - 4pm. Open only for club members at this time.
Tasting Fee: Yes, applicable to purchase. The amount of the fee changes depending on what wines are being poured.
Tours Available: By appointment
Food Available: No
Picnic Area: Yes

Linne Calodo

Linne Calodo was founded in 1998 as a joint venture between Matt Trevisan and Justin Smith, wine-obsessed friends who roomed together while attending Cal Poly in nearby San Luis Obispo. Smith eventually left Linne Calodo to found Saxum and pose for the cover of Wine Spectator magazine after making its Wine of the Year. Matt remains at Linne Calodo making very highly sought-after juice himself.

The wines are so popular, in fact, that what used to be an appointment only tasting room is now even more exclusive. They don’t do tastings of current releases anymore. Not even by appointment. In part, that’s because the wines sell out too quickly for it to be practical. The other reason is that Matt simply doesn’t like the commercial, bar-like vibe that goes with regular tasting rooms. He preferred the days when tastings were rare, but done with him personally at his house.

The good news is that you can have that kind of experience if you plan ahead. The only tasting offered by Linne Calodo now is a library tasting with winemaker Matt Treviso. It is for small groups only (minimum of four people, maximum of eight). The experience includes four back-vintage wines, a cheese plate, and a great discussion with Matt about the wines, vineyards and winemaking in general. In order to ensure his availability, appointments must be made at least two weeks in advance.

The Linne Calodo wines themselves are based mostly on Rhone varieties and entirely from grapes grown in west Paso. An 18-acre estate vineyard provides most of the fruit they need. Seven of the blends are solely Rhone-based, three include Zinfandel with some Syrah and Mourvedre. Just one of the wines is white, Contrarian. The last vintage was 62% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 12% Grenache Blanc and 8% Picpoul Blanc.

The character of the reds leans (heavily) toward the bold and rich, geared toward enjoyment on its own in the American style rather than needing food or extended bottle age. Trevisan described his 2009 Problem Child Zinfandel blend thus, “...uncontainable fruit explosion of sweet cranberries, currants, and plum lunges to center stage. Managed gracefully by the soft and lush Syrah and animal instincts of Mourvedre.” That sounds awfully good, doesn't it?

Address: 3030 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles CA 93446
Phone: (805) 227-0797
Open Hours: By appointment, 2 week advance reservation required
Tasting Fee: $50 for library tasting of four wines with winemaker Matt Treviso
Tours Available: A brief tour is included with the tasting above
Food Available: Cheese plate included with tasting
Picnic Area: No

Where to Get Lunch

Farmstand 46

Christian Tietje of Cypher hasn’t always been a winemaker. He used to be a chef. His interest in healthy food made from locally-grown organic ingredients and the dearth of nearby eateries led him and his partner, Susan Mahler, to open Farmstand 46. It’s THE place for lunch in this area. Much of the produce is grown on the property.

Most of the Farmstand 46 menu is freshly made sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas, the latter available just Friday through Sunday. But they also have deli salads and picnic lunches of charcuterie or rotisserie chicken that you can take away. The daily specials can be enticing too. On a recent trip, I was impressed by a savory Spanish-style stew. Prices are reasonable, around $10 for a sandwich. There is seating inside and out.

Address: 3750 Highway 46W, Templeton CA 93465
Phone: (805) 239-3661
Open Hours: 10am - 6pm daily
Tours Available: You can wander through the garden

Wine Tasting in Other Parts of Paso Robles

This article is one in a five-part series on wine tasting in Paso Robles' different areas. Here are links to the other four articles:
5 Excellent Stops near 101 and Downtown
5 Can't Miss Wineries in Northwest Paso Robles
3 Top Stops on Anderson Road
3 Winning Wineries on Live Oak and Arbor Roads

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.

California Chardonnay You’ll Want to Buy

There is a lot of angst in the media about California Chardonnay again. The controversy doesn’t seem to have affected sales much though. People still buy it by the gallon, sometimes literally. So, why all the hullabaloo?

There is plenty of good, expressive Chardonnay coming from California. However, you may have to search a bit for it. The best wines, which are not always expensive, may not be the ones on your local grocery store shelf. That is especially true if you don’t live in California. To help you find the good stuff, I’m providing a list of some of the ones I’ve enjoyed most over the last year. If you want to cut to the chase, or run to the store, just skip down to my recommendations at the end because the next few paragraphs will discuss some of the current controversy.

Coppola Acquires Inglenook Name for Rubicon, Hires Phillipe Bascaules

Francis Ford Coppola, owner of Rubicon Estate Winery, acquired the Inglenook trademark from The Wine Group this week. The purchase fulfills Coppola’s longtime dream of reuniting his historic estate winery and vineyards with their original name. For many years, the Inglenook brand has been used for inexpensive, mass-market wines. Now it will once again be associated with high-quality wine from Rutherford in Napa Valley. In a separate move this week, Coppola hired Phillipe Bascaules to serve as Estate Manager and Winemaker. Bascaules has spent the last 21 years at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, serving as Estate Director for the last 11.

In 1975 Coppola purchased the 1,560 acres which had been the part of Inglenook estate. Included were 125 acres of vineyards, in need of replanting, and the Niebaum residence. However, he was not able to purchase the Inglenook name which was owned by a different company. So Coppola dubbed his new winery Niebaum-Coppola. He acquired an additional 70 vineyard acres, formerly part of Inglenook, in 1995 holdings. In 2006, Niebaum-Coppola became Rubicon Estate Winery to leverage the success and name-recognition of the winery’s flagship product, a Bordeaux-varietal blend called Rubicon.

Francis-ford-coppola
Francis Ford Coppola at Rubicon Estate, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Get ready for the Annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting in SF on Aug 23

While much of the sheer volume of California wine is produced by very large corporate wineries, the vast majority of wineries in the state are family owned. It is those small, unique wineries that produce most of the best wines this country has to offer.

It isn’t always easy to find many of the wines for tasting though. Production quantities tend to be low and distribution limited. Some of the best small wineries don’t even have tasting rooms. So, while family wineries thrive on selling wine direct to consumer it’s often hard for consumers to get that essential first introduction to a wine.

The Annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco is perhaps the best chance to taste a multitude of these special wines. This year, on Sunday, August 23, there will be about 360 small wineries offering tastes. With most of the wineries providing samples of multiple wines, the variety will be staggering. As will some of the tasters.

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