It was so hard to pull ourselves away from the coast, but we had the vineyards of Paso Robles beckoning to us. The plan was to spend 2 days cruising the tasting rooms, and there are three vineyards in the area that allow free overnight parking to Harvest Hosts members. A general rule of the program is to spend no more than 24 hours at each place, so I planned to spend our first night at Stacked Stone Cellars on the west side of town.
We had phoned the day before and then again 30 minutes before we got there, so they’d know when we’d be arriving and could open the back gates for us. The road up to the winery is winding and narrow but perfectly fine for us to make our way. The winery is situated in a little valley in the middle of two steep hills and the front gate leads in through a more narrow road, so it made perfect sense to come in through the back.
The owners, Don & Maddy Thiessen came out to welcome us when we arrived, and made us feel very welcome from the moment we arrived. It turns out Maddy is originally from Vancouver, so we had a few moments of discussing home before Don lead us down the property, past horses, goats, long horned steers, pigeons, dogs, and cats to a little oasis under the trees right out in front of the tasting room. They told us to make ourselves at home, and to make use of the patio table and chairs right outside. When we asked if they’d mind us turning on our generator, Don showed us where we could plug our RV into their electrical outlet instead.
After lunch, we went into the tasting room to sample their wines. We particularly enjoyed their Zin Stone 2011, a blend of their Estate Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, and purchased a bottle. We were interested in the Rosetta 2011, what they called a Rose Zinfandel. I asked what the difference was between that and a White Zinfandel, and of course, it’s the sweetness. The Rose was very dry.
The main reason I had wanted to visit Paso Robles was that I’d heard it was home to some of the best Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs and still had plenty of small, family run wineries where they have time to discuss the wine with you. Don didn’t disappoint us. He has a big personality, and is full of humour and mischief. His politics and my own are definitely polar opposites, but it didn’t matter much since he was so much fun to talk to.
Don told us, if we wanted to go wine tasting at some of the other wineries, we should drive further up Peachy Canyon Road, to the west. The countryside is so perfectly beautiful up there. It looks very Tuscan, with vineyards cascading over the rolling hills and the same tall, thin, bullet-shaped Italian Cypress trees. This time of year is when they are fully into their harvests, so the grapes are very plump and ripe, and the leaves are reddish brown.
First up was Calcareous, a winery high up on a hill with gorgeous scenery all laid out below us. The winery was more like a large scale style, and very busy, so it was very hard to get anyone’s attention, and even when we had, it took forever to get served. It was definitely a beautiful setting, but the service and wines didn’t really impress us much. We quickly moved on.
Next down the road was Nadeau Family Vintners, who had some Zinfandels, Petite Sirahs, and Grenaches, but they were all too delicate for me. What I love about Zins and Petite Sirahs is the dark, robust, heavy flavours. The owner was very nice and gracious, and welcomed us to pick some grapes on our way out. We were glad to, especially since they were so sweet and tasty. Wine grapes are not at all what I expected them to be.
Right across the road, and up the hill, was the fourth winery, Minassian Young Vineyard. This winery is run by a husband and wife, David and Amparo Young. It was Amparo who was running the tasting room that day, while her husband was busy with the harvest. She told us, harvest time is the best time to visit the wineries, as you are more likely to have the owners and winemakers around to answer questions. She had a lot of very interesting information.
We’d been hearing already from other owners that a lot of them use dry farming techniques like they do in Europe, meaning they rely entirely on natural rainfall with no supplemental irrigation. This makes the roots go deeper in search of water, and creates more more robust grapes. Minassian goes even further in their ideals of minimalism. I took this quote from their web site, but it’s what she had also told us about their philosophy:
“Our winemaking philosophy is to produce wines in a consistent manner, where the differences between vintages arise only from variables we cannot control such as temperature and rainfall. In addition, most wines are produced without blending fruit from multiple vineyards. This minimalist approach ensures that every vintage is representative of the terroir for each vineyard.”
We really enjoyed their wine, especially their 2010 Junipero, a blend of 38% Tempranillo, 36% Grenache, 15% Mataro, and 11% Zinfandel, so went ahead and bought a bottle. It really wasn’t what we’d come here to sample, but you just never know what your preference is until you try them all. That’s my philosophy on pretty much everything in life!
Our last winery of the day, Michael Gill Cellars, ended up being a guilty indulgence in more than one way. Walking in, I noticed signs asking patrons to “Please don’t touch the animals.” I wondered why they’d not want us to touch them, and also if I’d even be capable. I have a hard time passing by the mangiest street cat or dog without trying to be friends. I’d find it impossible for whatever pets they had here unless they were dangerous. This made me start thinking of pets such as snakes, lizards, spiders etc, but would they classify those as animals?
I hate to say it, but the wines here were just wonderful. Even worse, we purchased their priciest wine, a $65 bottle of utterly sublime, 2010 Tuxedo Syrah. Between very liberal pours and a taste I just couldn’t get enough of, I forgot all about my distaste for the place and ended up contributing to their profits which end up funding trophy hunting trips. I’m very ashamed of myself.
When we went to pay, Harold found he’d left his credit card at the last winery, so we headed back there, to be told they’d sent it back down to Stacked Stone Cellars, as we’d told them we were staying there. By that time, it was almost 5pm, when most of the tasting rooms close, so we headed back down to our temporary home. We spent the evening drinking wine and enjoying the ambience of the vineyards.
Ack! it's so offensive to be confronted with dead animals on walls. I hate to think a lover of fine wines could be so cruel.
It wasn't just on the walls. It was full size polar bears and wolves and zebra rugs. So cruel and abhorrent.