Our singular most memorable vineyard experience took place in Paso Robles, although funnily enough, no actual wine tasting was involved.
We were finishing up our wonderful meal at Artisans on Friday evening, when I looked over at the dinner plates of the couple next to us and started salivating to see the enormous and juicy looking scallops that the gentleman was enjoying. So I started up a conversation, and before long, we learnt that they were the neighbors of the B&B we were staying at, and that their 20 acre plot of land included 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 aces of Syrah, and 4 of Merlot. We chatted easily through the rest of their meal, and before we left, were invited for a tour of their vineyard the next morning. 🙂
The lovely couple were the Rasmussens, and their vineyard is the Rasmussen Vineyards, currently still a private family owned production. They’re still waiting for a final permit before they can start making and selling wine on the property. In the meantime however, they are bottling the bulk of their wines over at Midnight Cellars, while keeping a few barrels as garage wines.
We were excited at the opportunity for a private tour, and so early next morning, popped over for a visit. While the cellar and future tasting room is located at the bottom of the hill on their property, Larry and Elaine, when they make their weekend trek up to Paso Robles (Larry is still a partner at his architectural firm in Ventura), stay at the top of the hill in a beautiful contemporary glass studio that Larry designed. Next to the studio is a standalone building built into the slopes of the hill. We wound our way down the stairs into the main room, where we entered into an airy room with full length glass windows that open up to the view of the valley below. There was a murphy bed disguised as a cabinet, and a walk-in wine cellar. Larry drew out a bottle of his 2007 Kissed Syrah, a garage blend that his son Niles had made, and gave it to us.
They also brought us down to the cellar and tasting room at the foot of the hill, where they wanted to give us a sampling of the wines still sitting in the barrels. Alas, they couldn’t locate the wine thief. But, they did find a bottle of their 2002 Syrah, their first ever labelled wine, as well as a half bottle of their 2006 late-harvest Syrah garage wine that they had made as sort of an afterthought, from the super ripe grapes left on the vine at the end of the harvesting season. These, they pressed too into our hands.
We’ll have to find a way to thank the Rasmussens for their welcome and generosity when we get back, but it seems that in Paso Robles, such friendly behavior is more the norm than anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because the region is not as developed and commercialized as Napa Valley further up north, but most places we went, the people working the tasting room were delightfully warm, and took the time to chat with us. Back in March, when our friends visited, they had also surrendiptiously bumped into the owner of Denner at a restaurant, and were also invited to stop by the winery for a visit the next day.
Other wineries we visited in Paso Robles:
On the east side, Maloy O’Neill. There is an ongoing debate about the merits of east-side vs. west-side (of highway 101) wineries, with more people arguing that west-side wines are better made. But Larry of Rasmussens disputed this (his is an east-side winery), bringing up an example of Justin Vineyards buying grapes from the east side to make their wines. I guess, it all probably boils down to marketing. We quite enjoyed the wines at Maloy.
Our first stop on the west side was Turley Vineyards. Turley is actually a large winery, with vineyards up and down the Californian coast, including 18 vineyards in Napa Valley. Their specialty is Zinfandel. The earlier Paso Robles producers all specialized in making Zinfandel, but in recent years, the focus has shifted to Rhone style wines. Turley, it turned out, was the only winery we visited to just feature Zinfandel tastings. I particularly liked the 2005 Presenti Vineyards from Paso Robles. It’s a wine that’s definitely ready to drink now. It was smoky, spicy, and just bursting with red cherries in the nose and mouth. We didn’t end up buying anything though, in part because we were confident we would be able to find the wines in Chicago, and also because the cool temperatures of the morning were starting to dissipate. The forecast was for 105 degrees later in the day!
Our next stop would have been at Linne Colado’s, but I didn’t realize that I needed to make reservations before. 😦 Oh well, but it’s another reason to make a return visit! So we stopped by Denner instead, a small family production vineyard that only makes a collective 2,500 cases a year. We loved the wines so much, that we joined the wine club on the spot.
Jada Vineyard and Winery had cheese pairings with every glass of wine. Lida had highly recommended their Jack of Hearts, so named in part because the owner is a heart surgeon. To be honest, while I really did enjoy the wines there, I was more enamored of their cheese selection!
We also joined the wine club at Chateau Margene, although, in doing so, we promised ourselves no more wine purchases for the rest of the year. Hehe (we’ll see if we can hold that promise). Loved their Cabernets, and since it’s only a 3,500 cases winery with no direct distribution to Chicago, we had to join the wine club to get the wines. And we actually bought a 3L box wine from them to lug back to Chciago too! Haha, the NV El Pistolero’s got to be the best box wine we’ve ever had, so we couldn’t resist buying a box back just for the heck of it.
Our last stop of the day was at Anglim Winery, a new garage winery. The husband and wife team sources grapes from other vineyards, with an eye on eventually buying their own land. They’ve some really good wines, and their example inspires us – or me at least – to eventually do the same thing. I’ve got to start working towards my life long dream of living on my own vineyard and winery!