Tuesday, August 27, 2019.
We again got an early start, as we leave the hotel at 7:30am to go & visit Syrah pioneer/legend, Gary Eberle out in the Geneseo District of eastern Paso Robles. We actually meet Gary out in the Steinbeck Vineyard, where he shares his insights into the beginning of his journey into grape growing, winemaking & spearheading the Syrah grape variety in California. As was duly noted while the vine he made famous is today referred to as the Estrella clone (after the winery he was working at), it rightfully should have been named the Eberle vine, because of all of his efforts bringing it to the forefront, even to this day. Joining Gary was iconic owner/grower Howie Steinbeck. The stories & insights were amazing & broadened all’s knowledge of how it all came to be. How often do opportunities like this come around?
After kicking around the dirt & tasting nearly ripened Syrah grapes for a while, we then headed to the Eberle winery & specifically down to the cellar underneath, to taste more wines & attend a panel of top Syrah meisters from various parts of the Paso Robles appellation. The Syrah panel, moderated by Randy Caparoso, included Austin Hope (Austin Hope); Jeremy Weintraub (Adelaida); Bob Tillman (Alta Colina); Damian Grindley (Brecon); Gary Eberle (Eberle); Neil Collins (Lone Madrone) & Justin Smith (Saxum). The discussions were focused & full of insight. We also had the opportunity to taste a Syrah from each of them, while they provided color commentary–2016 Adelaida Syrah “Viking Vineyard”; 2016 Alta Collina Syrah “Old 900 Estate”; 2015 Austin Hope Syrah; 2017 Brecon Syrah “Reserve”; 1997 Eberle Syrah “Library selection” (yup, you read that right–1997); 2016 Lone Madrone Syrah “Willow Creek” & 2016 Saxum “Booker Vineyard”. As a side note, I thought Randy did a really excellent job moderating the panel.
We then adjourned back upstairs to the deck/patio for a walk around tasting to taste even more Syrah reds–2017 Booker “Fracture”; 2017 Brecon Syrah “Haggis Basher”; 2015 Cass Syrah “Backbone”; 2016 Clos Solène “Hommage a Nos Pairs”; 2016 Denner Syrah “Estate”‘ 2016 Denner “Dirt Worshipper”; 2017 Eberle Syrah “Steinbeck Vineyard”; 2016 Epoch “Authencitiy; 2017 Jada “Jersey Girl”; 2017 Law “Intrepid”; 2016 Saxum “Broken Stones”; 2015 Torrin “Akasha” & 2016 Vina Robles “Terra Bella Vineyard”. My palate was stained & colored, BUT, it was well worth it. Thank you all.
We had but a short time afterwards to say good bye & pay our respects to all who made this special opportunity happen before we had to again board the vans & head off to our next stop–Denner Vineyards. We had a 25 minute ride, just long enough for a quick power nap, before we pulled into the back gate heading towards the top of their vineyards blocks. It was dusty & quite hot, as we jumped out to see & hear Anthony Yount of Denner Vineyards, who along with their vineyard manager gave us much insight into what Denner is all about in their vineyards. At one point, they even showed TWO sets of 3 grape bunches each. One set, were grapes from the lower…..the middle…& the top of that specific hill. They couldn’t have been more different in sight–from green to ripening/colored–& taste. The other set was yet another hill–the same grape, but each grown on a different root stock. Amazing!!!!! Yes, on this trip, I was definitely tasting as many different grapes from all of the sites & varieties I could. It really is amazing how different acids, tannins, grit & taste can be. How often do opportunities like this come around?
We then broke for lunch & a much needed break from all of the information/insight deluge. The food really hit the spot (thank you Denner) & the casual conversations with everyone was kind of a relief. Then the headlining winemakers for the next seminar–A Grenache Panel– started trickling in & the greetings & conversations changed back to the focus of why we were all there. It all certainly started to ramp up, as it should considering the all star panel coming up next on the schedule.
Which brings us to the next seminar/tasting–A Grenache Panel–with a time limit of 1 hour, featuring 8 winemakers & 8 wines to taste. Joining in for this one included–Eric Jensen (Booker); Carl Bowker (Caliza); Anthony Yount (Denner); Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch); Philipp Pfunder (Law); Justin Smith (Saxum); Scott Hawley (Torrin) & Cris Cherry (Villa Creek)–moderated by yours truly. The question I was asked by a long time wine friend a short time ago–“when are we going to start speaking & sharing about terroir, rather than being so grape variety centric”. While the seminar was named Grenache, we asked each of these top winemakers of the Paso Robles that same question. Thankfully many of the insights shared were really insightful & most were engaging. The bottom line, is Paso Robles has come a long way, not only with the Rhone styled grape varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre & in this case Grenache, but also identifying where it could excel & why. The wines presented clearly showcased how special & individual they can be. We also wanted to remind attendees, that these kinds of red wines can fill a much needed opportunity on the restaurant floor, which lies somewhere between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon, in terms of weight, density, structure & drama. And, to grow that opportunity, we need wine professionals who understand the hows & whys & to then champion the thought.
To further the insights we tasted 8 Grenache based wines–2017 Booker “Ripper”; 2016 Caliza Grenache “Willow Creek”; 2017 Denner Grenache “Estate”; 2016 Epoch “Sensibility”; 2016 Law Grenache “Nines”; 2015 Saxum “Rocket Block”; 2015 Torrin Grenache “Willow Creek”; & 2017 Villa Creek Garnacha. Yes, quite a line-up & quite the tasting! WOW! Thank you to all.
The vans then took us to our next stop–the iconic Glen Rose Vineyard in the Adelaida district. I clearly remember my first visit to this vineyard when only the bottom section had just been planted. I was astounded at the meager soils, the high elevation & the breadth of what was happening in this spot. A few years later, I remember a tasting at Hospice de Rhone, a line up of Paso Robles Syrah, BLIND. I was really taken by glass number 15. It was a Syrah from Glen Rose Vineyard. I was back on the road the next day to go & again see the vineyard because of the character the wine displayed in the glass. What I saw on this later visit has stuck in my mind since. Glen Rose Vineyard is really something to marvel. No pictures I have seen ever does it justice. Furthermore, pictures certainly don’t capture the feeling of awe I get standing there & feeling the relentless winds & the smells of the desolate, remote, untamed surrounding countryside. So, it was with great anticipation for me to go back & again visit on this trip.
Joining & actually hosting this visit was Ryan Pease (Paix sur Terre)/ Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, a major sponsor & organizer of this SOMM Camp. (Our Hawaii gang had made it a point to visit his winery/tasting room, when we arrived a few days before, since we had been hearing so much about Ryan & his wines recently. I just wanted to better understand his wines & his winemaking genius, before SOMM Camp actually started). Let’s just say, he is one you should keep an eye on moving forward. After a talk about the vineyard & its various parcels, Ryan poured us 3 of his Paix sur Terre Mourvedre wines to sample–2016 Paix sur Terre “The Other One–Glen Rose Vineyard; 2016 Paix sur Terre “Comes a Time–Alta Colina Vineyard” & the 2017 “Been Away Too Long–Denner Vineyard“.” The differences were astounding & memorable. Thank you Ryan Pease & Don Rose for another memorable stop.
I should also take this moment to thank Ryan Pease for helping put together & organize this event, the vineyard tours & corralling all of the mega-talent who joined in to make this event so special. While it takes an army to detail the logistics & scheduling, it also takes a well respected insider to huddle the team together to put their best forward. Kudos to you.
Okay, it was time to load up the vans again….& head to Saxum.
There is no doubt that Saxum & winemaker/owner Justin Smith is the most ballyhoo-ed out of the Paso Robles appellation. AND, deservedly so. The wines perennially get such high, world-class acclaim & accolades. Quite remarkable when you meet Justin & see how humble & down to earth he still is. Furthermore, he is truly a man of the vineyard. Completely.
I also have found it so incredibly remarkable how his father, Pebble, chose to purchase & plant his James Berry Vineyard where it is still located & farmed today. It is Grand Cru, if there was such a thing in Paso Robles. It is also the benchmark others look to replicate. It just has something extra.
After a vineyard walk up to the Bone Rock parcel from their cave down below (I told him I needed an elevator installed if he wants me up there) we tasted 2 barrel samples–2017 “Bone Rock” (Syrah blend) & 2017 Hexe (Grenache blend), each from his oldest & most unique parcels of the estate as the base. (I wanted to add to all, now try & see if you can get some. LOL).
Rather than make that climb up to the top of Bone Rock with the entourage, I instead sat outside, off to side, smoked my stogie & talked story with a couple of winemakers who had trickled in. From my vantage point, I soon saw more & more winemakers intermittently arriving & parking their cars before walking by me & saying hello. I thought it so interesting that each knew the code to enter the gate, where to park & unload & each knew the passcode to get into the cave. It was like this was their home or hangout. Yup, it was very apparent, this was kind of like a frat house–Paso Central.
The walk around tasting was all set up & ready to go when the event attendees came back down off the reverent hilltop.
Here is what we tasted–
2014 Austin Hope GSM; 2015 Austin Hope Grenache; 2015 Austin Hope Mourvedre/Syrah blend; 2017 Booker Oublie (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2017 Booker Vertigo (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2017 Brecon “Forty Two” (Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Syrah); 2016 Clos Solène “Harmonie” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah)’ 2016 Clos Solène “Fleur de Solene” (Syrah, Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon); NV Clos Solène “Sweet Clementine (Grenache & Syrah); 2017 Denner “Ditch Digger” (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Graciano & Cinsaut); 2016 Jada “Hell’s Kitchen” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre); 2017 Jada Hell’s Kitchen” (Syrah, Grenache, Graciano, Viognier & Tannat); 2017 Jada “S+GT” (Syrah, Graciano & Tannat); 2016 Law “Audacious” (Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan & Syrah); 2016 Law “Sagacious” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre)’ 2016 Law “Beguiling” (Grenache & Syrah); 2017 Linne Calodo “Sticks & Stones” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre); 2017 Linne Calodo “Rising Tides (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah)’ 2016 Linne Calodo “Overthinker (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Carignan); 2016 Paix sur Terre “Songs of Its Own” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Cinsaut); 2017 Saxum “G2 Vineyard”; 2017 Saxum “Heart Stone Vineyard”; 2016 Torrin “The Banshee” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2016 Villa Creek “Avenger” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache)’ 2015 Villa Creek “High Road” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache) & the 2015 Vina Robles “Syree” (Syrah & Petite Sirah). WOW! –power packed, teeth staining, but all well worth it! Thank you all for sharing. Yet another incredible opportunity & one I will remember forever!
I would also like to add a side note here. During our travels in the vans & at the various meals throughout the 4 days, one of the queries/opinions I shared whenever asked was–“while many wines may age, the question for me always is, does it get better with age.” And, specifically with very ripe, opulent, lavish red wines, the question looms larger in my opinion. I remember having a 2002 Australian 99 point rated Shiraz again 5 to 6 years after it was released. The wine had greatly changed with the additional, though relatively short bottle age, from BIG, black, decadent & powerful to a dull shoe polish sheen & highly distracting nuances of prune juice. I wondered what had happened. I experienced similar awkward changes over the years time & time again & always found it perplexing & questioning. I know, for sure, it doesn’t happen all of the time & might be in fact a very infrequent occurrence. A couple of years back, because of my lack of experience with aged Paso Robles born “trophy” wines, Justin Smith of Saxum popped open several of his “library” wines, just to show our group what is possible, at least with his wines. The wines were so WOW-inspiring, I will remember this experience forever. It clearly showed what could be.
With this thought in mind, on this day & this tasting, Justin then opened a 2005 Saxum “Heart Stone Vineyard” bottle just to show attending sommeliers a very different perspective on what his wines can be. Crazy good!!!! Thank you again Justin for sharing.
What a day so far! So much to see & experience AND so much to taste. OMG. Wearily, we all boarded the vans to head back to the hotel to freshen up before the night’s dinner. I thought it would be a power nap opportunity, but my mind was still racing too much from all of the information, sensory intake, so it ended up gratefully being a “take a shower” opportunity & some quiet time instead. I thought, what the heck, we are in the down stretch for this golden learning opportunity.
The vans departed again at 7:00pm. We were off to revisit Cass Winery in the Geneseo District for another walk around tasting with dinner to follow. What a difference night time is in this neck of the woods. The stars were out & it was so peaceful & quiet with a light cooling breeze. The walk around tasting was held in the foyer of the stylish Cass Winery, which was way larger than I had imagined.
The wines we tasted–2016 Adelaida “Anna’s Signature” Red (Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre); 2016 Alta Colina GSM; 2015 Caliza “Azimuth” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2015 Caliza “Cohort” (Petite Sirah, Grenache & Syrah); 2015 Cass GSM; 2016 Cass “Rockin’ One” Red (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Sirah); 2016 Cass “Rockin’ Ted” Red (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Sirah); 2017 Cass Grenache; 2017 Cass Mourvedre; 2015 Cass Syrah “Estate”; 2017 Eberle Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2015 Epoch “Ingenuity” (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Petite Sirah); 2015 Epoch Estate Blend (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache & Tempranillo); 2016 Epoch “Veracity” (Mourvedre, Grenache & Syrah); 2016 Epoch Mourvedre; 2016 Lone Madrone “Oveja Negra” (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah & Counoise); 2016 Thacher “Constant Variable” (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & Counoise); 2016 Thacher “Oddly Natural” (Grenache, syrah, Counoise–Glen Rose Vineyard); 2017 Thacher Grenache; 2016 Thacher Cinsault & 2017 Thacher Valdiguie. Wow! So many wines & so many styles.
The dinner was casual & the food & wine really tasty & hitting the spot. It was surprisingly sedate. It had been a long 2 days & it was therefore so wonderful to eat & hang out in such a wonderful, calm setting. It was truly a night dining with friends rather than peers, ones you got to know over the past 3 days. Thank you to Cass Winery for a wonderful evening & being such gracious hosts.