Starr Shing Brightly In Paso Robles


Laura Plant & Judy Starr

In October, 2008 Tom and I ventured to Paso Robles for Harvest Weekend. We heard about Judy Starr. Comments included  “She is only open on 2 festival weekends each year. “Taste her persimmons and wine. ” We heard more and more accolades including that she was the premier grower in the area and her grapes were used to produce dozens of our favorite wines.

Intrigued by both the persimmons and the grapes, I knew we were in for a treat when we wound our way through the Adelaida hills west of Paso Robles to a winding, you could say a crooked driveway lined with bright orange persimmon trees. This was a fabulous find, although it was crowded and Judy appeared to be surrounded by adoring fans. We tasted wine (personal favorite: “Gypsy Rosé”), and I gorged on dried persimmons all the way home.

Fast forward 12 months and I am now Mrs.WINEormous. It was time to personally visit Judy Starr, the overseer of all phases of ranch activity on her own Starr Ranch.

It was a sunny morning after this year’s Harvest Festival Weekend when Judy and I sat down at a table outside of her winery barn overlooking 34.5 planted acres of wine grapes. There were still low clouds and wisps of fog clinging to the surrounding hills. Breathtaking. My first impression is that Judy is a no nonsense – someone you might imagine on a farm in the Midwest or cattle ranch in Texas, handling anything that came her way on the vast frontier.

I asked about her background, expecting daring wild west adventures or a grueling struggle on the family farm. Imagine my surprise when she informed me that she came to California in the late nineties after two careers as a teacher and investment banker on the East Coast. Her farming background: a thriving vegetable garden at her home in upstate New York. How in the world did Judy develop the premiere vineyard in Paso Robles in just ten short years? I wondered, then asked.

“It started with a passion for the earth and all growing things,” she began. And the dream progressed through five years of extensive research and a painstaking quest throughout California for the right property to start premium wine grape production. Consulting with Napa Valley experts and Paso Robles pioneers, the search ended in 2000 at the Adelaida Hills about 14 miles west of Paso Robles. With daily 40 degree temperature swings and distinctive calcareous (limestone) soil this terroir possessed all of the elements that would make for exceptional fruit production and allow ample space for not only 35 acres of grapes but an additional 80 acres of walnuts, countless persimmon and other fruit trees plus another thriving vegetable garden that is a shining star unto itself.

Starr Ranch began to take shape. Varietals, clones and rootstock were chosen, custom-grafted and nourished in a nursery for a year, then planted in 2002. Fourth Leaf 2004 was the first harvest. Judy still nurtures her vines like I would imagine she nurtured her students and then her own children.

Starr Ranch

She commented that some blocks have at least 3 different clones of the same grape, resulting in interesting nuances from even a single row of vines.

Oh the grapes themselves – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Tempernillo, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Roussanne, Viogner and Mourvedre – ideal for producing Bordeaux style, Rhone varietals and just about every imaginable blending that up-and-coming local winemakers can create  All quality is carefully and lovingly overseen by Judy Starr.

In addition to providing fruit for over a dozen top wineries, Judy supervises production of two of her own labels, Bordeaux-style Crooked Road and the Rhone varieties of Starr Ranch. She also collaborates with neighboring Dubost Winery to produce an annual blend under the Windfall label.

Judy also nurtures a number of winemakers who understand and embody her same values, using her fruit and facilities for their own handcrafted winemaking ventures – ever expanding the Starr Ranch name, and quality to a wider audience of wine lovers.

I asked Judy how her background has served her in the grape-growing business. Business organization and bookkeeping came to mind first. Keeping detailed growing notes and tracking who is purchasing what could be a full-time job for some. Judy takes it all in stride for it is a labor of love.

Now when I look at Judy I see an adventurous spirit in love with the earth and enthusiastic about future possibilities. Plus I see contagious pride in what she has helped to create.

In ranch literature she is quoted as saying, “Every finished bottle is a cherished product of heart, soul, site, expertise and painstaking care. ” The motto of Starr Ranch is “whatever it takes.” No matter what it takes Judy Starr shines brightly as a woman on wine.