Paso Robles holds a special place in my heart. It’s the first place Laura and I visited on a road trip. Over the past four years I’ve developed many friendships with people in Paso, and it goes without saying I love their wine. When I received an invitation from the CAB (Cabernet And Bordeaux) Collective to their inaugural event, I jumped at the chance.
The event got underway on the last Friday of April in the Park Ballroom in downtown Paso with the “En Primeur” event. 16 wineries poured barrel samples of the 2012 vintage, most of them Cabernets, with a few Merlots and a few blends. Skeptical at first what Bordeaux that young would taste like, I was won over nearly immediately. Sample after sample tasted elegant, smooth, full-bodied and oozing with potential. Mike Mooney from Chateau Margene poured his 2012, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre and it was simply elegant. Daniel Daou offered the 2012 Soul of a Lion Cabernet and I would have guessed it had spent years rather than months in barrel. Kevin Willenborg, Vina Robles’ new winemaker, shared the 2012 Suendero, and it, too was a magnificent expression of the varietal.
Saturday morning a group of us gathered at the gorgeous Windfall Farms for a panel discussion with six winemakers, Gary Eberle from Eberle Winery, Daniel Daou from Daou Vineyards & Winery, Steve Peck from J. Lohr, David Galzignato from Jada Vineyard & Winery, Scott Shirley from Justin Vineyards & Winery and Kevin Willenborg from Vina Robles. Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff launched the discussion noting the dramatic improvement in the quality of Paso’s wines especially over the last several years. He says the region has “fulfilled expectations.”
Gary Eberle settled in the area in May of 1973. After taking several soil samples, he knew there was tremendous potential. He planted 700 acres and opened Estrella River Winery. Much of the fruit he grew was purchased by Napa wineries. He was the first to plant Syrah vineyards in the U.S. Scott Shirley was one of three winemakers on the panel to migrate from Napa, where he worked at Opus One and Hess Collection. What drew him to the area he told us was “great soils, great climate and great people.” Kevin Willenborg also comes to Paso from Napa and his resumé includes Petreus, Louis Martini and Francis Ford Coppola. His says the high diurnal variance in addition to the excellent soil makes for a “creamier” wine. There’s more roundness of the tannins in Paso he notes. The third panel member to move south from Napa is Steve Peck who spent three years at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Longer hang times began in the 90s in an effort to lessen the “green” characteristics of many wines. David Galzignato said tha Jada owner Jack Messina was seeking a place to plant Bordeaux varietals when he found his vineyards. Galzignato believes Paso has the “potential to be the best appellation in California.” Danial Daou pointed out that Paso Robles has 614,000 acres planted to wine grapes, an area large enough to hold two Napas and Lake County. The climate in Paso allows for ripeness, he says. The calcareous soil along with higher quality clones and lower production make for a better wine.
Gary Eberle mused that Robin Mondavi wasn’t much of a winemaker, but he was a hell of a marketer. Had he settled in Paso Robles instead of Napa? One can only wonder. The CAB Collective is off to a roaring start. I wish them nothing but the best. After the panel discussion, Gary Eberle opened two bottles of his 1980 Cabernet. It is drinking magnificently.