Winemaker Magazine Free Trial

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#TasteCamp Explores #HudsonValley #Cider


From numerous trips to Greenwood Lake, I've become very familiar with two Hudson Valley cider makers, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery & Applewood Winery. The former produces apple and pear ciders under the Doc’s Draft Ciders brand, while the latter recently introduced their Naked Flock ciders which replaced their Apple Dave's Stone Fence Cider. TasteCamp presented a few opportunities to expand my Hudson Valley cider experience -- starting with a trade tasting at Robibero Family Vineyards.

Among the various wineries at Robibero, Bad Seed Cider Company was pouring their inaugural release: Dry Hard Cider (6.3% abv, $12). The ciderie is co-owned by Devin Britton and Albert Wilklow, a 6th generation apple farmer. Devon is the cider maker - having a history of fermenting anything that would make a tasty beverage. Their Dry Hard Cider was clean, tart, and refreshing and hearing that they produced other styles incited me to visit on Sunday. The taproom was only a week old, yet there was already a decent crowd on my arrival. Devin was pouring four Bad Seed ciders as well as guest ciders from other Hudson Valley producers. I stuck with a sampler of his Dry, Cherried Away, Mapled Monk, and Blueberry. The Cherried Away was easily my favorite, basically the Dry fermented with tart sour cherries. This is one tasty cider. It took a few sips to start to appreciate the Mapled Monk, which is their Belgian Abbey augmented with a touch of maple syrup. There's a bit of funk from being unfiltered and inoculation with Belgian abbey beer yeast. Very interesting.  Expect a lot more of these artisan ciders - I hear there's a bourbon-maple combo on the horizon.


During day 2, our host, Carlo Devito, sponsored another Hudson Valley tasting at his Hudson-Chatham Winery. Among the participants were several cideries including the above mentioned Doc's Draft and Naked Flock. Our host poured an almost cider - the Old Orchard Sparkling Apple Wine which resembled a sparkling cider (clean, effervescent, with a nice tart finish), but it came in at 10.7% abv - too high to be labeled a cider.

Another participant was Orchard Hill Cider Mill, from New Hampton and using fruit from Soons Orchard. They produce still and sparkling cider, the latter using méthode champenoise, whereas  both styles are bottle fermented and unfiltered. Their traditional Red and Gold labels (still vs sparkling) are clean and dry with the Red Label (7.25% abv, $10) having some toasted apple elements. The Gold Label (8% abv, $18) is slightly sweeter and lighter. Orchard Hill also introduced us to their Ten66 brand - the Jerry Lee Lewis of ciders - the killer. Named for the year of the Normandy invasion of Britain and inspired by that region's Pommeau de Normandi, both the Red and Gold labels are delicious. The Red Label (20% abv, $30 375 ml) is mixed with apple brandy distilled from Soons Orchard apples  and aged in French oak wine barrels. The aged brandy is then blended with fresh unfermented Soons' cider and returned to the barrel for extra aging. The result is a tart apple pie flavor with vanilla and nutmeg on the tail. The Ten66 Golden Barrel (20% abv, $30 375 ml) is even better, brandy distilled in 2005 combined with fresh juice and barreled in 2009 - a single barrel mistelle. Not a cider, but one of the best ciderie beverages on the market.


One of the most interesting collection of ciders the entire weekend was poured by Aaron Burr Cidery. These were apple and pear ciders from uncultivated fruit - foraged from wild or abandoned orchards in the Catskills. The apples and pears are small and mangled - providing more skin contact in relation to juice. The ciders are fermented using native yeast and unfiltered to create a cider style that was consumed when the country was founded. Obviously these are very small productions, maybe 100 cases, and extremely unique and tasty. Aaron Burr also produces an Appinette (8.4% abv) cider using 30% Finger Lakes Traminette grapes and 70% Orange County (NY) apples. It comes off dry, effervescent, with a tart - slightly bitter finish. Cheers for pulling these off; Aaron Burr ciders are highly recommended.

There are more cideries in the Hudson Valley waiting for my next trip. Hope to visit or taste Kettleborough Cider House, Annadale Cidery, Slyboro Cider House, and Breezy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill soon. Cheers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Discovering #HudsonValley Spirits During #TasteCamp: Part II

In Part I - Hillrock Estate Distillery of my TasteCamp series, I described the field to glass philosophy of Hillrock Estate Distillery and expressed surprise at the breadth of Hudson Valley distilleries. In historical terms, I shouldn't have been. In the early 1800's, New York, with major help from the Hudson Valley region, produced over half of this country's barley and rye. And with these grains, distilleries followed. In fact, approximately 1,200 farm distilleries were operating in the Empire state when Prohibition destroyed the industry.  In recent years, the distillation industry in New York has slowly materialized, thanks in large part by entrepreneurs in the Hudson Valley.

Ralph Erenzo is the face of the spirits industry in New York, both as co-owner of Tuthilltown Spirits and the driving force behind the four year effort to pass the Farm Distillery License Act. According to EdibleManhattan.com, Erenzo "was researching the possibility of booze-making and discovered a little-known 2000 law on the books that allowed locavore micro-distilling at a greatly reduced licensing rate. The state had slashed the $65,000 distilling permit to just $1,500 — so long as the producer was a little guy, making less than 35,000 gallons a year. "  When Tuthilltown was founded in 2003, it was the only farm distillery in the state; today, thanks to the Farm Distillery License Act, there are over 40. As long as distilleries use NY grain or fruit, they can self-distribute - ignoring wholesalers when suitable - and sell directly from the tasting room.  


I visited Tuthilltown and learned that their award winning bourbons were not the first products Brian Lee (Erenz's founding partner, distiller, and principle investor) produced. It was actually the Indigenous Empire State Wheat Vodka (80 proof / 40% abv, $27) and Indigenous Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka (80 proof / 40% abv, $37). Both very smooth and also used as the base for the Half Moon Orchard Gin (92 proof / 41% abv, $37). In addition, the distillery produces a Hudson Valley favorite, cassis, with their Cassis Liqueur (44 proof / 22% abv, $24) -"created by hand-harvesting organically grown local fruit and macerating it with raw cane sugar in a neutral spirit for 4 months in Tuthilltown Whiskey-cured barrels." The result is a tart and tannic port styled liqueur. Quite tasty. And then there's the world class whiskeys: from the Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41) to the Hudson Single Malt Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml), Hudson Manhattan Rye (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml), and Hudson Four Grain bourbon whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml). The Hudson Maple Rye Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml) is an interesting twist - aging the base of the Manhattan Rye in used maple syrup barrels. The whiskey retains a fair bit of rye character with subtle maple notes.  Like Hillrock Estate, this whiskey does not come cheap; but boy are they oh so good. 

The growth in the Hudson Valley distillery industry due to the Farm Distillery License Act led our TasteCamp party to Hillrock Estate and the Saturday morning spirits tasting.  A dozen distillers participated in this event - which organizer Carlo Devito billed as the largest single tasting of Hudson Valley spirits in modern times. And appropriately, Tuthilltown participating pouring their Indigenous brand, the Half Moon Orchard Gin, and Cassis Liqueur.  I started the tasting with Millbrook Distillery, founded by Paul Coughlin and Gerald Valenti in Dutchess County. Their Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey (90 proof / 45% abv, $37) is made from local corn and rye (25%) with natural spring water from Rolling Hills Farm.  Plenty of caramel to finish off this very drinkable bourbon. 

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery table was vacant, so I parked in front in order to sample their Black Dirt Distillery series - named after the fertile soil in Orange County. The Black Dirt Bourbon (90 proof / 45% abv, $45) produced from 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye and aged a minimum of three years in new American Oak. The result is a clean, slightly honey sweet whiskey with the rye coming through in the tail. I'm a lover of apple jack and was excited with the Black Dirt Apple Jack (100 proof / 50% abv, $45) made from Jonagold apples and aged in charred new American oak. This starts with honey and vanilla which then yields to the apple profile, finishing with pie spices. Nicely done. The final offering was the Warwick Gin (80 proof / 40% abv, $27) and uses classic botanicals such as juniper, coriander, angelica root, and anise. It also includes lemon and lime peels which gives it a citrusy profile.

Nearby, Dutch's Spirits had the most interesting spirit, Sugar Wash Moonshine (80 proof / 40% abv, $28), a 100% cane neutral spirit produced in small batches from pure Demerara sugar. Very clean with hopscotch notes. Sugar Wash is a traditional moonshine recipe when corn is scarce and is a perfect fit for this distillery's past. There's too much to convey for the full story, but click here to read it's connections to mobster Dutch Schultz and his clandestine underground distillery. Co-founder Ariel Schlein was also pouring the distillery's Peach Brandy (80 proof / 40% abv, $42) - subtle peach and very smooth. They also concocted a cocktail of the Moonshine, hard cider, and house made bitters - delicious.


The newest player in the Hudson Valley spirits is Denning's Point Distillery, who just celebrated their Grand Opening September 20th. They were pouring two products, the VisKill Vodka and Beacon Whiskey. The vodka is distilled from a mash of Finger Lakes winter wheat and is quite smooth. The Beacan Whiskey is light, smooth, with hints of caramel.

I wish I had more time to spend with Angus MacDonald, Master Distiller of Coppersea Distilling.Like Hillrock Estate Distillery, Coppersea floor malts and mills their grain - for the later sourced from various Hudson Valley farms. However, I was given the two minute warning to hurry up so savored their Pear and Peach Eau De Vie as well as the Coppersea Green Malt Rye (90 proof / 45% abv) - a 100% malted rye whisky made from unkilned malt (unroasted malt). Very limited quantities for this herbal treat.

While walking out I noticed that Hudson Valley Distillers, LLC had arrived and were sampling more Apple Jack. The bus could wait a little longer, right? This veteran owned distillery is owned and operated by Thomas Yozzo and Chris Moyer, who utilize the fruit from Moyer's Spirits Grove Farm orchard. They also built greenhouses to grow botanicals for their future Tom’s Old Tom gin. I quickly sampled the Adirondack Applejack ($25 350ml) and the Hardscrapple Applejack ($25 350ml). The former was aged in white oak barrels like an whiskey while the later is produced to align more with Scotch. The latter also honors Chancellor Robert Livingston, entrepreneur,  contributor to the  Declaration of Independence, and former owner of the land that now includes Spirits Grove Farm. That's the beauty of the burgeoning Hudson Valley distilling industry. Young, but loads of history in every bottle. And the Hardscrapple is more like a whiskey than applejack - toasted nuts, vanilla, and caramel. Very nice.

Unfortunately the bus spirited us off to our next destination and I failed to sample from Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery and Catskill Distilling Company . Next trip for sure. Cheers to Hudson Valley Distillers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Discovering #HudsonValley Spirits During #TasteCamp: Part I - Hillrock Estate Distillery

Before my TasteCamp trip to the Hudson Valley, I was vaguely familiar with a few area distilleries: Tuthilltown bourbon,  Demarest Hill Winery grappa, and Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. But that was the extent of my experience  - until the TasteCamp spirits tasting at Hillrock Estate Distillery - which, in the words of Through the Bunghole, was EPIC. Not only did we learn about the premiere "field-to-glass" distillery that hosted the event, but a dozen other Hudson valley distilleries sent representatives to showcase their products - exhibiting a fascinating range of spirits made from locally grown grain or fruit.

Hillrock Estate is the first of its kind in the United States (post-prohibition, that is): a field-to-glass distillery. In other words, the estate grows rye and barley, malts the grain on site (using imported peat), and distills the fermenting mash into whiskey. Thus total control over all aspects of production.  Our tour started in the courtyard framed partially by two restored buildings, one a 1806 Georgian house built by a successful grain merchant and Revolutionary War Captain.

In the background were fields of organically grown heirloom rye. Once harvested, the grain from each plot is floor malted - a labor intensive process that requires the grain to be raked every 6-8 hours over the thee day germination process. The raking releases heat and carbon dioxide while spreading moisture - promoting consistent germination. When the required amount of starch has been produced, the grain is air dried, and de-culmed to remove the rootlets. At Hillrock Estate, the grain is most likely roasted using imported Scottish peat to add a degree of smokiness to the finished product.


Proprietor Jeff Baker was able to acquire the services of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell  (of Maker's Mark fame) to manage the estate's operations. Distiller Tim Welly, former cellar master at Millbrook Winery,  lead our group through the distillation process as we sampled several bins of sour mash - noticing the changing sweetness-sourness ratio of the fermenting mash. We also tasting a recently distilled heart - straight from the 250-gallon custom copper-pot still - very smooth and sweet.

Pickerell then lead us through a tasting of three Hillrock Estate whiskeys, starting with the world's first Solera Aged Bourbon. The process takes six years so the initial bourbon is mature "seed" bourbon sourced by Pickerell. Like any bourbon, this whiskey was aged in new oak barrels and then a percentage is transferred to small oak barrels containing Hillrock Estate whiskey. The final step is finishing a percentage of the small oak whiskey in 20 year old Olorosa Sherry casks.  No barrel is fully emptied in the Solera process so the whiskey matures with increased complexity. Over time, the estate bourbon will eventually replace the seed bourbon.  The Solera Aged Bourbon (46.3% ABV / 92.6 Proof, $80-$90) showcases some spicy rye flavors, mingling with caramel and cinnamon, and finishes with figs and nuts.
The next two whiskeys were pure estate spirits, starting with the Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey (48.2% ABV / 96.4 Proof, $105-$120), produced in the lighter Speyside style. The barley was harvested from the estate with very little peat used during roasting. The spirit was then aged two years, resulting in a smooth, lighter whiskey but full of sweet spices - cinnamon and clove particularly. The final whiskey was the Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye (45% ABV / 90 Proof, $80-$95) - 100% rye straight from the estate's 250 acre rye plantings. The spirit is first aged in new oak with a #3 charcoal and then finished in new oak with a #4 charcoal - hence the Double Cask. This is a bold and spicy whiskey, full of caramel and sweet raisins to balance the rye. I believe I found a favorite. Public tastings are also available at the distillery - check theCompass Winery Brewery Distiller Locator app for directions. Cheers to Jeff Baker and his team at Hillrock Estate.  Next up, the best of Hudson Valley spirits.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The #FLXWine Alliance celebrates the release of 2013 #FLXRiesling

This past Saturday was the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance celebrated the release of 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling by hosting a #FLXRiesling twitter tasting. In total fifty-five media representatives received wine from a pool of nineteen wineries. In case you are not familiar with New York's Finger Lakes, it is a cool climate region specializing in many grape varieties; but Riesling is King. The region also follows the International Riesling  Foundation (IRF) Riesling Taste Profile which is designed to make it easier for consumers to predicate the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling. Below are a few facts on Finger Lakes Reisling as well as my notes and tweets as well as the winery's theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery Locator profile. Cheers.

@DrFrankWine: If we had to describe #flxriesling in three words: "sunshine, stone, fruit"
@FulkersonWinery We prefer higher butterfat content cheeses with dry rieslings. Sharp cheddars with semi-dry
@flxhosmer The west side of Cayuga Lake tends to produce more tropical fruit flavor profiles.
@LakewoodWines we had an unusually cool summer but an unusually dry fall so far. Could be one for the ages but to early to call.

Finger Lakes Riesling Quick Facts
  • 850 acres of Riesling
  • 220,000 cases of Riesling
  • Strong, regional aromatic whites with a focus on Riesling.
  • The average producer makes 2-3 styles of Riesling wine a year.
  • The Finger Lakes is home to over 200 Riesling brands



Heron Hill Winery  2013 Classic Dry Riesling ($14)
.23% R.S.; 12% alcohol

  • @HeronHillWinery 2013 Classic Dry Riesling .23% R.S.; 12% alcohol; grapes from 4 lots  #FLXRiesling
  • @HeronHillWinery 2013 Classic Dry Riesling spiced pear aroma, silky creaminess kiwi lychee flavor, citrus finish #FLXRiesling
  • @HeronHillWinery operating for 35 years on Keuka Lake @ KLWT; winemaker Bernard Cannac from Languedoc, France #FLXRiesling

Sheldrake Point Winery 2013 Dry Riesling ($16)
0.7% R.S.; 11.4% alcohol

  • @SheldrakePoint 2013 Dry Riesling - soft peach & lemon aroma leads to citrus cream, minerals, and nice acids #FLXRiesling
  • @SheldrakePoint Home location on @cayugawinetrail with satellite tasting room on @senecalakewine #FLXRiesling
  • @SheldrakePoint 2013 Dry Riesling 0.7% R.S. 11.4% alcohol #FLXRiesling
  • @SheldrakePoint 15 years of operation; 44 acres on @cayugawinetrail #FLXRiesling

Knapp Vineyards & Winery 2013 Dry Riesling ($17)
1.1% R.S.; 12% alcohol

  • I spy a #Nomacorc with the @Knappwinefan 2013 Dry Riesling #FLXRiesling
  • @Knappwinefan 2013 Dry Riesling 1.1% R.S.; 12% alcohol #FLXRiesling
  • @Knappwinefan 2013 Dry Riesling peaches and lemon, fruit driven, nice acids #FLXRiesling
  • @Knappwinefan located in @senecalakewine with vineyard in @cayugawinetrail #FLXRiesling

Boundary Breaks Vineyard 2013 Dry Riesling #239 ($20)
0.9% R.S.; 11.6% alcohol
  •  @bndrybrx seems the most Germanic of the Rieslings: elegant - cream and acids mingle nicely #FLXRiesling
  • @bndrybrx 2013 Dry Riesling #239 0.9% R.S.; 11.6% alcohol; Geisenheim clone #239 #FLXRiesling
  • @bndrybrx 2013 Dry Riesling made by Peter Bell of @foxrunvineyards; estate located on @senecalakewine #FLXRiesling

Friday, September 26, 2014

#WineStudio Session XVII – Rinascimento Rising with Italian Wine

For three weeks in September PROTOCOL Wine Studio featured Justin Gallen, owner Rinascimento Wine Company, an importer of Italian wines. We learned about Justin during the first #winestudio session as well as Eric Guy's podcast interview of Justin here. The second and third week's we continued to learn about Justin as well as sampling a few of his imports.

Many of the wines I work with are farmed either organically or biodynamically and are naturally fermented using only native yeasts, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically good; the wines are good because of the blood, sweat and tears that are shed by the producers working with nature to make something great.”

The first wine was the 2013 Agricola Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, 100% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo produced by Francesco Cirelli. Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo is the newest DOC in Abruzzo and the grapes are harvested on a vineyard site that is "8 km from the ocean in an environment that is truly devoted to sustainable farming. They are experimenting with geese breeding, figs, olive trees and, of course, a 2.5 h of vineyards. Organic certified by IMC".  The wine itself has an interesting profile, actually two profiles. Chilled it reminds of a tart sour cherry wine with strong acids; warmer a strawberry creamsicle.

The second wine was the 2010 Musto Carmelitano Aglianico del Vulture DOC "Serra Del Prete". Musto Carmelitano is a family winery run by Miss Elisabetta Musto Carmelitano and the grapes for this wine were harvested from their Serra del Prete vineyard. Forget about oak in the already tannic Aglianic, this wine was aged 6 months in steel. The wine is smokey, with dark black fruit, leather and strong, strong tannins.

Week three consisted of two wines from G.D. Vajra, an estate located in Vergne - the highest village of Barolo. The vineyards were first planted in 1972 by Giuseppe Domenico and are currently owned by Milena and Aldo Vaira who both have worked the estate since the early 1970s. In the cellar, "Vajra wines are traditionally driven with longer macerations and use primarily Slavonian casks for aging". Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera are the grapes of choice and we started with the later in the 2011 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC. This wine starts with a tart cherry chocolate-tobacco aroma, followed by a silky smooth black fruit flavor, and finishes with nice acids. This was probably my favorite of the entire collection.  The second wine was the 2009 G. D. Vajra Barolo DOCG “Albe” - pure Nebbiolo, pure Barolo di Barolo - and a bad ass wine. The grapes are sourced from three different vineyards situated at three distinct altitudes.  This one needed to sit for three days until it softened into a jammy plum and dirt with slowly mellowing tannins.

Cheers to #winestudio, PROTOCOL Wine Studio, and  Rinascimento Wine Company.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Howard County Maryland's First Craft Brewery: Frisco Tap House & Push Brewery

There are a number of breweries that have opened in the Columbia, Maryland area recently with the first being Frisco Tap House & Push Brewery. Known for providing a comprehensive craft beer menu (56 taps), the restaurant added brewing capabilities last year. On my recent visit to watch a Redskins game, they were pouring four of their Push Brewery brews: Push Meyer Lemon IPA, Push Midnight Mistress Dark Pumpkin, Push/Boulevard Mark Of The Beast, and the Push/Terrapin Dankenstein Rye IPA.

Obviously I started with the rye that is a collaboration with Terrapin Beer Company. Apparently it was inspired by Phish's two night stand at nearby Merriweather Post Pavillion. The beer starts with pine and citrus, then continues with a spicy bold flavor, and finishes with four pound of hops: Columbus, Chinook, Summit, and Simcoe. The Lemon IPA was very refreshing made from Meyer Lemon juice and finished with El Dorado hops. The Push/Boulevard Mark Of The Beast is a Pumpkin Saison in collaboration with Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company using Boulevard's proprietary Belgian yeast strains. Fall spices dominate, the pumpkin is subtle, the finish - long. On the other hand, the Push Midnight Mistress Dark Pumpkin is a different beast, over 100 lbs of local roasted butternut squash and 60 lbs of house-made pumpkin purée were used in this mash. This is a bigger beer with even more spices and even lactose to give a milk stout feel. Pretty interesting. Cheers to Maryland beer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#WBC14 Pre-tour: Discovering the Diversity of Paso Robles Wine in 24 Hours

While attending the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Paso Robles Pre-tour. The mission? To visit six wineries and taste wines from 50 producers from the region in 24 hours.  Most of the participants rendezvoused at the San Jose Airport and were picked up by Chris Taranto, Communications Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Sarah Wolcott (representing Zephyr Adventures & WBC14). A charter bus then transported us the hour plus ride to the Paso Robles AVA -- California’s largest and most diverse AVA and best known for their Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our first stop was Niner Wine Estates where we met the remaining participants and were greeting by a panel discussion on Paso Robles History and Terroir. The roundtable including pioneers like Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, Jason Diefenderfer of Hope Family Wines, and Augi Hug of Hug Cellars as well as our host Patrick Muran of Niner Wine Estates, Niels Udsen of Castoro Cellars, and Stephanie Terrizzi of Giornata. This tasting showcased the diversity of Paso Robles while sampling wines made from Cabernet, Zinfandel, Rhone blends, as well as Spanish and Italian varietals. The Castoro 2013 Balena White Blend (Whale Rock Estate) seemed to encapsulate this diversity being a an interesting blend of Pinto Grigio, Grenache Blanc, and Falanghina. The Giornata 2011 Nebbiolo Luna Matte Vineyard was another tasty wine and Stephanie Terrizzi painfully described her travails in growing this stubborn grape. Paso wines can also age. Jason Diefenderfer opened their 2002 Treana Red (CS, Merlot, Syrah) which had lost some acids, but was quite flavorful with a fig interior. (I had previous tasting a 2003 Eberle CS that was still youthful at Nomacorc tour.)  We also learned about the history of the region from Gary Eberle  particularly the 1970's with the rise of Cabernet Sauvignon and the first commercial Syrah vines.

From Niner we traveled over rolling hills of vineyards for our second destination: Tablas Creek Vineyard. Here we learned about the prestigious Rhone inspired brand as well as tasted wines from a few other Paso Rhone producers. A more detailed description can be found at #WBC14 Paso Robles Excursion: Tablas Creek Vineyard.

Our first day of the pre-tour culminated with the Paso Robles (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective - an organization which "strives to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles AVA in producing superior-quality, classic and age-worthy Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals". Our host was DAOU Vineyards and what an amazing setting - both the winery's architecture and the surrounding views. Needless to say, there was a dozens of nice wines offered as a large majority of the collective's members participated.  There were many standouts including the wines from Red Soles Winery, J. Lohr Winery, Villa San-Juliette Winery, Vina Robles, and Sextant Wines. In fact, the Sextant 2012 X-Series Marselan Cabernet X Grenache was one of the most interesting wines of the trip. The two J Lohr Cuvees were quite delicious as well. During the evening we experienced the full diurnal temperature change that benefits Paso Robles as our shorts and t-shirts were covered with jackets and sweatshirts.



We started day two at Vina Robles and a discussion on The Paso Robles AVA. The presentation was lead by Steve Lohr of J. Lohr Winery and included Kevin Willenborg of Vina Robles, Mike Sinor of Ancient Peaks Winery, Justin Smith of Saxum Vineyards, and Cris Cherry of Villa Creek Winery.  The most important fact we learned is that the Paso Robles Wine Alliance has petitioned the TTP to split the broad Paso Robles AVA into 11 separate sub-AVAs. The winemakers present discussed how each region differed based on weather (Templeton Gap) and soil. The predominate soil is bedrock derived from marine and volcanic activity - particularly oyster fossils.  If approved, 85% of the grapes must be source from that appellation and they will utilize conjunctive labeling where both the sub AVA and the Paso Robles AVA will be included. The wine in this tasting was quite delicious and centered on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.

From Vina Robles we rode to the iconic J Dusi Wines, where Zinfandel vines brought directly from Italy were planted in 1924 by Sylvester and Caterina Dusi. The original vines are still in use, old and gnarly with holes forming at the vine's base.  Third generation Janell Dusi greeted us along with four other wineries that source fruit from J Dusi: Brochelle Vineyards, Tobin James Cellars, Turley Wine Cellars, and wines from winemaker McPrice Meyers. We tasted their wines and learned about their history steps from the very vines that provide the fruit.

At separate tents we experienced a comparative tasting of Dusi sourced 2012 Zinfandel from J Dusi, Brochelle, and Turley. The base for each wine was similar, full jammy flavors with a creamy texture, and usually differed at the tail - with varying degrees of spice and acids. For each group, Tobin James spun an entertaining tale of his entrance to wine making and apprenticeship at Eberle to the creation of his label. They poured a delicious 2011 Dusi Zinfandel as well as two reserve wines. I was particularly fond of two brands from McPrice Meyers. Barrel 27 Wine Company is his brand and he poured the 2012 Paso Robles Zinfandel as well as a fascinating barrel sample of PFP 21. Paydirt Wines was the second brand, a collaboration with Patrick McNeil, and he featured the 2012 Paso Robles Red a blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah. This wine has that WOW factor, juicy, creamy, and simply delicious.


Our final stop in Paso Robles was Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards, named for the wild mustangs that once inhabited the region.The winery opened in 1983 selling a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir but today produce a plethora of wines from Blaufrankisch, Verdelho, Pinot Noir, Malvasia Bianca, Rose, Merlot, Cabernet, Chadonnay, Zinfandel, Viognier, Malbec, and Syrah. We were greeted by General Manger and Director of Winemaking Chrissy Whittmann and two refreshing wines their 2013 Central Coast Floyd Rosé and 2013 Paso Robles Verdelho. The Floyd Rosé (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese) is named after their resident llama Floyd (named after the legendary band Pink Floyd) - thus a proper name for a pink wine. Over lunch we sampled three other wines with gourmet tacos the 2012 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2011 Paso Robles Unbridled Merlot, and the 2012 Central Coast Pinot Noir 2012. All three were approachable and easy drinking - nice entrance wines. In the tasting room I discovered several very nice Pinot Noirs as well as a fruit forward new world Blaufrankisch. A pleasant end that illustrates, once again, the diversity of Paso Robles. Cheers.