(The Long Overdue) Paso Robles Part 2

We’ve been so busy enjoying the wines from Paso Robles, I’ve been quite remiss in posting Part 2 of our travels. So much wine, so little time to drink and post at once.

When last we were together you might remember that I said I always learn something new on wine tasting trips. In Paso Robles, I learned of some new-to-me varietals thus expanding my repertoire of California wines.

Tablas Creek

Show of hands: How many of you have heard of Counoise? Tannat?

Tablas Creek Counoise and Tannat

Although a name you might not recognize, Counoise (pronounced Coon-wahz) is used in many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Tablas Creek has been growing Counoise since the early-1990s. 

Counoise is a medium intensity wine with a bit of spiciness and plenty of fruit. Think of it as a Syrah with the volume turned down a few notches.

In particularly noteworthy vintages, Tablas Creek bottles Counoise as a single varietal wine but more often it is used in red blends to soften and complement bolder wines.

Tannat came to Tablas Creek purely by chance when their French supplier decided to throw some of the vines in with others that had been ordered. A happy accident that has resulted in a very successful and relatively easy to grow wine.

Tannat can be pretty intense. In fact, in Europe Tannat is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to calm it down. But this bold wine loves the growing conditions and climate of Paso Robles which allow it to more fully ripen, releasing its beautiful true self.

The Tablas Creek tasting room is worth the stop to explore a wide range of varietals. Plus, they have a killer gift shop.

L’Aventure

L'Aventure Tasting Room

How gorgeous is this place?

At L’Aventure we tasted a wonderful Rosé (made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot) and three additional blends from some combination of these same red wines with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

L'Aventure Estate Cuvee

This 2014 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot) convinced us to join the wine club.

If you are keeping score, that is wine club number 14 for us – the first, but not last, wine club we joined on this trip.

The stop at L’Aventure was also educational as they displayed this sample of bark showing how corks are born.

Cork bark

Pretty cool, right?

Caliza

We quickly learned that wine tasting in Paso Robles is all about fun and wine blends and more fun.

Caliza

At Caliza we started with yet another Rosé, this time a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It has taken me a while but I can honestly say that after this trip I am firmly on board the “Rosé all day!” train.

Next, we enjoyed a series of red wine blends – combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.

Caliza’s wines have garnered some great and well-deserved scores from the experts.

Thatcher

Our visit to Thatcher on this gorgeous day started with a taste of – what else? – Rosé. Thatcher didn’t make much of this wine, only 90 cases, and I’m sure it sold out fast!

Thatcher Winery

Thatcher also poured two single varietal wines: a Syrah and a Zinfandel. After tasting so many blends, it was interesting to get back to a couple of wines in their “pure form”. I’m a big fan of both Syrah and Zinfandel. These did not disappoint!

Of course, we also sampled some of Thatcher’s blends (combinations of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Grenache).

Thatcher is serious about their wine making but has a great sense of humor in naming the wines. Oxymorons are their game.

“Controlled Chaos”

“Constant Variable”

“Original Copy”

“Normal Deviation”

“Resident Alien”

You get the idea. Well played, Thatcher.

Our visit to Thatcher also coincided serendipitously with the occasional visit from our most beloved, the sentimental favorite, will always be #1 in our hearts, Paso Robles wine producer:

The Farm

The Farm

The Farm winery is tiny; proudly boasting a mere 4 employees. They do not have their own tasting room nor really enough wine to supply a full-time tasting room so twice a year or so they set up a folding table on the patio at Thatcher and share their magnificent wines.

The Farm’s stated goal is

“to make small amounts of fine red wines with the very best fruit from Westside Paso Robles (Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts).”

And YES they do!

The Farm Wines

We first met Jim and Azmina at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event. The Farm was brand new – this was their first or second vintage. My husband had not heard of The Farm before and he was curious. Because they were so new, their table wasn’t mobbed with fans so we had the opportunity to chat with Jim and Azmina and hear their story.

Their partner/winemaker is Santiago Achaval, the legendary winemaker from Argentina.

The wine was love at first taste. Big, bold reds beautifully crafted, expertly decanted, a joy to drink.

Jim and Azmina

Since that first meeting we have (of course) joined the wine club and introduced The Farm to friends and family who have joined as well.

By the way, if you are in the Paso Robles area, there are a couple of places you can taste The Farm’s wine by appointment and I would enthusiastically encourage you to do so.

We always look forward to crossing paths with Jim and Azmina. Seeing them reminds us why we love to visit wineries and attend wine tasting events, particularly the Family Winemakers of California event.

Having the opportunity to meet the people responsible for the wine and to learn about their journey and their passion adds so much to the enjoyment of the wine.

Well, not only was this post long overdue, it is LONG. I will save the rest of our Paso Robles tales for Part 3. Look for more fun, more wine blends, a craft project and a character. I’ll be back soon!

 

No one paid me to say this.

Do not drink and drive!

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Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Disney Vacation Club – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

After spending a bajillion dollars on Disney vacations over the years, we finally wised up and joined the Disney Vacation Club.

Disney Vacation Club locations

Disney Vacation Club is kind of like a timeshare but, rather than buying specific weeks at a specific location, members buy points which can be used anytime at a variety of Disney resorts and hundreds of non-Disney properties.

Welcome home

Even with a pretty generous carryover policy, points do have an expiration date. Recently, Peter and I found ourselves with a handful of points that had reached the point of “use it or lose it”.

Reviewing our options and taking into consideration that we already have reservations for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World with the entire family, Peter suggested a getaway to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

A little back story…

I am a native Floridian; born in St. Petersburg. In my youth, the city was known as the retirement capital of the world. The downtown streets rolled up at 4pm to allow everyone to get in line for the early-bird dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria.

Today, downtown St. Pete is swanky-town where you can pay a cool million for a condo with a view of the water and a plethora of museums, galleries and hip restaurants at your doorstep.

But I digress.

The point is, back when I was growing up and the state’s population was largely concentrated on the two coasts with a whole lot of nothing but orange groves in the middle, we Floridians felt a strong affinity for our locale.

An East Coast – West Coast thing.

Florida's Best Coast

There was no ambivalence. You were “Ft. Myers” or “Ft. Lauderdale” – not both.

I will always be a true-blue, loyal Gulf Coast gal.

The West Coast, the Best Coast.

So, when Peter suggested vacationing on Florida’s EAST Coast I was not immediately on board.

Old misconceptions die hard.

But, this is Disney after all, so I decided that I could cope. Look at me, walking in the flip flops of others to understand our differences.

Flying into the Orlando airport, we had momentary buyer’s remorse as we headed to our rental car rather than the Disney Magical Express bus to Walt Disney World.

Those feelings were quickly dispelled by the scenery upon our arrival at the resort.

Ocean view

After spending some time relaxing by the pool we enjoyed dinner on site at the Wind and Waves Grill and cocktails on the lovely porch at the Green Cabin Room. Their wine list was not great but the Agave Nectar Margarita was a delicious Plan B.

We spent one entire day lounging under an umbrella on the beach. This fair-skinned Irish gal was also under a hat, towels and a double layer of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Under my umbrella

The cooling breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect setting to enjoy my magazines and take a nap.

At one point, we ventured into the surf to frolic in the waves, reminding me of two truths:

  1. As I am no longer 17 years old, my boogie board should have been retired some time ago.
  2. The monster waves of the Atlantic Ocean are much meaner than the gentle, rolling swells of my beloved, placid Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing by the pool.

The pool

Although we resisted the temptation to join in the poolside games like bingo and dive for sharks, we were powerless over the two-story waterslide as a vehicle for somewhat more age-appropriate thrill seeking.

Pool slide

We patiently waited in line among the children and there is no truth to the rumor that we elbowed little ones out of our way or distracted them by shouting, “Hey, look! There’s a shark!”.

After three glorious days, it was time to say goodbye to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and head off on our next adventure.

Spoiler alert: the next adventure involves wine.

As my friend Mickey says, “See you real soon!”

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Napa Wineries At Harvest Time

Our college gang had so much fun on our 2015 trip to Napa that we decided to return for a visit this fall. Napa wineries at harvest time!

Everyone was on board, quite excited to revisit some of our favorite wineries and discover some new ones.

We were even more excited when our pal, Ellen, decided to plan a private surprise birthday party for her husband at one of our favorite Napa wineries. More about that soon.

In planning our Napa 2016 adventure, we decided to take a slower pace and schedule only two tastings per day. It worked out very well and no one suffered from wine tasting fatigue.

Believe it or not, it’s a thing. The struggle is real.

We visited…

Chappellet Vineyards

Chappellet produces a variety of wines including, in my opinion, one of the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the price. They also bottle Molly Chappellet’s favorite – Chenin Blanc – which is light and delicious.

Chappelet

Chappellet was such a hit on our last trip that several of us became wine club members. As wine club members we were able to get all of the tasting fees comped and we were able to use the gorgeous picnic area overlooking the entire valley.

view from Chappellet

Timing was on our side as we had the added treat of getting to see some of the harvesting machinery in progress.

Some people become weak-kneed in the presence of a Maserati. My grandsons go crazy over road construction vehicles. Show me a de-stemming machine that is separating the precious grapes from the leaves and stems and my heart just sings.

Chappellet harvest

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Have you heard of the 1976 Judgement of Paris? It’s the story told in the movie “Bottle Shock” – American wines beat French wines in a blind tasting competition shocking the French and putting Napa on the map.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars  holds the proud distinction of producing the 1st place Cabernet Sauvignon at the Judgement of Paris.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery) describes its wines as “Iron fist in a velvet glove.” I think this is quite accurate.

The Cask 23, Fay and S.L.V. Cabernets we tasted are big, bold and need to be cellared for a while. Because we know and love the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, we asked our guide if he would pour some for us. He did and, as a result, he sold a bunch of bottles.

My advice to you, if you want to taste something – ask. It usually works out well for both sides.

Lewis Cellars

We scheduled an open day to allow everyone to relax or do whatever they wanted to do.

About half the group chose to stay home and watch the Notre Dame football game. The rest of us chose to “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame” by raising a glass while wine tasting.

Lewis Cellars is owned by former Indy car racer, Randy Lewis, his wife Debbie and son Dennis. A real family affair.

Lewis Cellars

Lewis makes a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and blends. And, they do it all very, very well.

This tasting experience is small and intimate (limited to 6 people) and truly is all about the wine. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn. Oh, and to taste some killer wines.

Andretti Winery

Carrying on our race car theme and, because our pal Elizabeth has a family connection to Mr. Mario Andretti, we added this winery to our unscheduled day.

Andretti Winery

If the folks at Disney were to add a Tuscany section to Epcot’s Italy, I believe it would look a lot like the Andretti Winery. The grounds are beautiful and very true to the theme.

Although the wines were not my favorite of the trip and we had an unusually cranky guide, it was well worth the stop.

Silver Oak Cellars

Silver Oak Cellars makes two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are a fan of Cabernet, you should definitely put Silver Oak on your list of Napa wineries to visit,

Silver Oak Cellars

Three fun facts about Silver Oak:

Unlike most wineries who use French Oak barrels, Silver Oak ages their wine in American Oak barrels. Silver Oak is so dedicated to this that they bought the Missouri cooperage from which they have been sourcing barrels so that they can be guaranteed a steady supply.

Silver Oak barrel

Silver Oak worked with their cork supplier to develop a process which results in better corks. The industry average for “cork taint” is 4%. Silver Oak’s average is a mere one-half percent. This saves them money and gives us more reliably excellent wine.

Silver Oak ages their wine in bottles MUCH longer than everyone else. Look at the Napa Cabernets on the shelves of your wine store today. You will see lots of the 2014 vintage and maybe even some from the 2015 vintage. Silver Oak won’t start selling their 2012 vintage until February of 2017.

Who needs a wine cellar when Silver Oak stores the wine so long for you.

Just kidding…. Let’s not get crazy. We still need a wine cellar.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Peter and I had previously tasted their wine but we had never visited Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa.

About 15 minutes into our tour, I turned to another member of our group and said, “I see a new wine club in our future.”

And I was right.

Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady) produces a variety of wines under their named label and their secondary label “Fel”.

Cliff Lede High FidelityI know that wine scores shouldn’t be considered the only basis on which to determine the quality of a wine but when an expert like Robert Parker tells you that a wine (2013 Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon) is PERFECT…as in 100 points… you take notice.

And when you see that the rest of their library of wines sports scores like 96, 97, 98 and 99,  you think, “Maybe these folks know what they are doing.”

And, you join the wine club.

Three fun facts about Cliff Lede:

The winery uses an optical scanning machine for sorting the grapes. The machine takes countless pictures per second, analyzes the pictures for size, blemishes, wrinkles, etc., rejecting the losers and letting only the most beautiful and perfect grapes pass.

Cliff Lede optical sorter

(Thankfully, Cliff Lede does not optically judge their visitors based on size, blemishes or wrinkles. All are welcome – no one gets rejected.)

As an homage to the owner’s love of music (heavily weighted on classic rock) each vineyard block is named after a favorite song or album.

Cliff Lede Abbey Road

Aren’t we clever? I bet we were the first to think of posing this way.

And, the winery owns The Poetry Inn, a spectacular hotel comprised of only three rooms and two suites. Sandy at You May Be Wandering wrote a great post about her stay at the Poetry Inn. Check it out.

Napa 2016 was a big success. We revisited some of our old, favorite Napa wineries and discovered some new ones.

Who has suggestions for us for Napa 2017?

Do not drink and drive!

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