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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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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The First Answer Is: Bordeaux

Hi, folks!

Last time I shared that I would be on an adventure and I gave these two pictures as clues:

clues to my adventure

What could these mean?

Well, no big surprise – part one of the adventure involved wine tasting.

In Bordeaux! More on that in a minute.

Part two of the adventure, symbolized by the scallop shell, had us hiking the Camino of St. James, a pilgrimage trail through France and Spain. Truly a once in a lifetime experience, the Camino needs its very own post so I will share that story soon.

But first, beautiful, fabulous Bordeaux.

Welcome to Bordeaux

Our group of 7 hired a private guide, Claude, who came highly recommended. We corresponded with him for months and months and were giddy with excitement, anticipating our tour of Bordeaux.

Peter and I were the first to arrive at the Bordeaux airport. We grabbed our bags then started looking around for Claude.

We looked and looked, but no Claude.

Instead we saw an adorable French woman holding a sign with our name on it. She introduced herself as Claude’s wife, Ghislaine (GG for short).

It seems that Claude had undergone emergency surgery a few days earlier and would not be able to join us. Claude and GG didn’t let us know before our arrival because they didn’t want us to be alarmed.

The trip would go on just as planned but GG would be our guide instead of Claude. GG’s brother, Jean Pierre (JP for short), would be our driver.

GG and JP

We are a pretty intrepid group (plus, at that point we really didn’t have a back up plan) so we just went with the flow and let GG and JP lead the way.

And we had the time of our lives.

Following the spectacular itinerary set up by GG and Claude, we were pampered and delighted at every corner.

Have you ever been on a trip during which you feel totally cared for, like you don’t have to think about a single detail?

That was this trip.

For starters, we stayed in this gorgeous place, the Château de La Rivière.

Chateau de La Riviere

Château de La Rivière

We had the place all to ourselves, occupying 4 of the 6 rooms in the chateau. The innkeeper, Natalie, provided us with a delicious breakfast every morning

Château de La Rivière breakfast

and a fabulous multi-course dinner on our last evening. These appetizers were as yummy as they are beautiful.

Château de La Rivière appetizers

Each morning GG and JP would arrive to whisk us off for the day’s adventure.

We enjoyed tours and wine tasting at chateau after chateau, including:

Château Pape Clément which was named after its most famous resident, Pope Clement V.  It is one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux – first planted in 1252.

Château Pape Clément

Château Carbonnieux which also dates back to the 13th century.

Château Carbonnieux

Our very own Thomas Jefferson visited Château Carbonnieux during his wine tasting trip through Bordeaux in 1786. According to his diary, he was a fan of the wines produced by the Benedictine Monks who owned the vineyard at that time.

These same clever and enterprising monks produced an almost clear white wine that they marketed as “mineral water” to sell in places that prohibited or heavily taxed alcohol. The story goes that a Turkish prince at the time said, “I don’t know why the French bother making wine when their mineral water tastes so good.”

We visited Château Troplong Mondot in the Saint-Émilion appellation.

Chateau Troplong Mondot

And traveled by ferry across the Gironde to visit Château Lynch-Bages where we had the opportunity to see the team at work.

Chateau Lynch Bages

We took a tour of the wine cellars at the Château de La Rivière at which we were staying.

Château de La Rivière wine cellar

There are over 7 acres of cellars under the Château. During World War II, Jewish families and members of the French Resistance hid in these cellars while Germans lived in the chateau above, oblivious to the existence of the caves below.

We toured the picturesque town of Saint-Émilion, including the world’s largest monolithic church, a gigantic structure “built” by digging out the side of a cliff.

Saint-Émilion

View from above Saint-Émilion

After our time in Bordeaux, GG and JP drove us to Lugo, Spain where the Bordeaux 7 would meet up with the rest of the Camino group.

Along the way to Lugo we stopped at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes where we attended Mass (in French), collected holy water and lit candles.

Basilica at Lourdes

close up view of Basilica at Lourdes

inside the Basilica at Lourdes

candle lighting at Lourdes

The next day, we stopped at the Sanctuary of Loyola in Spain, the home of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We visited the gorgeous Basilica, attended Mass (in Spanish) in the Conversion Chapel and toured exhibits chronicling the life of St. Ignatius and the history of the Jesuits.

Basilica at Loyola Sanctuary

Inside of Basilica at Loyola Santuary

Loyola Sanctuary Conversion Chapel

Finally, we were on the road to Lugo and saw the first sign of next part of our adventure: The Camino de Santiago. Stay tuned for that story…

First sign of the Camino

I have to be honest, I had a tough time writing this post. It has taken me weeks and weeks to get it done.

Not only was the volume of photos to show and stories to tell overwhelming, but, more importantly, I had no idea how to put into words the sheer magic of this part of our trip. It’s impossible.

And it was all thanks to JP, Claude and GG.

JP is a Frenchman right out of central casting. Handsome, charming and a bit mischievous. He kept us in stitches the whole time, even though he doesn’t speak a bit of English. As a lifelong resident of Bordeaux, JP knew all the shortcuts, history and secrets of the place. As a former vineyard owner, he knew everything about wine making in the region. He even gave us a couple of bottles of his wine from his personal cellar. We will never forget him!

One of the truly unexpected treats of our time in Bordeaux was when we stopped for a short visit with Claude as he recuperated from surgery. We were thrilled by the opportunity to meet him in person.

And then there’s Ghislaine, GG.

This amazing gal took such exceptional care of us. She made sure we got the most out of every single experience and every single moment.

GG indulged our collective sweet tooth with frequent stops at boulangeries along the way, brought us to the most fabulous French wine shops, kept us well supplied with treats, showed us places that only the locals know about and made sure that we immersed ourselves in the food and wine of her beloved homeland. She is an angel, for sure.

Absolutely nothing was impossible for this team.

And they blessed our group with memories that will last a lifetime.

Bordeaux 7 with GG and JP

Merci beaucoup!

 

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My Favorite Wine Tasting Event

Recently, Peter and I traveled to southern California to visit family and to attend our favorite annual wine tasting event.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event brochure

Sponsored by The Family Winemakers of California, this fabulous event showcases small, family owned wineries from throughout California.

Often, the people pouring the wine are the owners and their family members.

Peter and I have spoken so highly of this event from our past visits that we were able to rally a group of about a dozen family members and friends (mostly California folks) to join us at the tasting.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Let me share three tips for those attending the Family Winemakers of California event.

Buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale and spend the extra dollars to snag one of the limited number of “For the Trade” passes that are offered to consumers.

For the extra money, you get two additional hours of tasting for a much more leisurely pace. You are allowed in at the very start of the event when it is less crowded and you have greater opportunity to chat with the winemakers. And, the pass gives you access to the “iSip Lounge” where wineries pour their very best selections (minimum $75 per bottle) giving attendees the chance to try wines they might not otherwise have access to.

The full access pass is well worth every extra penny.

While the point of this event is tasting wine and not consuming all you can in 4 hours, no one who was drinking should drive home from this event.

There are several solutions to this.

Bring along a designated driver. The event allows designated drivers in for free. They will be given a special wristband and, understandably, kicked out if they are seen drinking any wine.

Hire a car, taxi or Uber to take you to and from the event.

Or, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of the event. We stayed at the Hilton Del Mar directly across the street from the Del Mar Fairgrounds at which the tasting took place. It was perfect.

Do not drink and drive!

Plan your strategy wisely.

Over 90 wineries were offering tastes of their wines. There is no way, in 4 hours, to responsibly make even a dent in that wide of a selection.

The entire list of participating wineries is available on the website of the Family Winemakers of California. Do a little homework. Find some wineries that look interesting to you, perhaps some you have heard of or some from a region you love.

We came armed with a list of “must try” wineries leaving room to discover some new favorites.

 

These wineries poured my favorite wines of the day:

The Farm Winery

Mocadeaux - The Farm Winery at Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Peter and I discovered this fabulous gem the first time we attended the Family Winemakers of California event.

The Farm Winery is located in Paso Robles where they make red wines from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Big, beautiful, bold and monumentally awesome red wines.

Fun fact: The Farm is owned by Jim and Azmina Madsen and Mercedes and Santiago Achaval who became friends while attending MBA school at Stanford. Santiago Achaval is a world renowned winemaker and producer of Malbec in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

The Farm’s 2012 Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon was our group’s unanimous choice for Best Wine Of The Day.

Showing the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of The Farm’s wine, Jim was up at 3am to decant The Cardinal so it would have time to open up before being served.

Yeah…that’s how they roll at The Farm.

Oakville Cross

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Oakville Cross

This tiny Napa Valley winery makes just one wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. And a delicious Cabernet it is!

Oakville Cross holds their wine back for longer aging which is why they were pouring a 2010 vintage while most everyone else was serving their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another fun fact about Oakville Cross wines is that, because they find the 3% failure rate of corks unacceptable, their bottles are sealed with glass stoppers. Interesting, eh?

Vineyard 511

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Vineyard 511

I was drawn to this wine because I LOVE Cabernet Sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

Owned by Ed and Irene Ojdana, Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is all that Vineyard 511 produces.

Fun fact (at least for me): Ed Ojdana is a graduate of Notre Dame. Go Irish!

Vineyard 511 poured their older vintages in the iSip Lounge, but it was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon shared with all attendees that I liked best.

Mira

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event 2016 - Mira

Also located in Napa Valley, Mira is on the opposite end of the spectrum making a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and both a Rosé of Syrah and a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Fun fact: Mira operates the Napa Valley Education and Tasting Center in Charleston, South Carolina, where they offer wine tasting, seminars, speakers and other activities. The Center was built as an homage to the colonists who brought grape vines to the Charleston area around 1669. The climate made their winemaking attempts fail but kudos to those intrepid colonists for trying.

Peter put Mira on our list because they source grapes for some of their wines from the legendary Hyde Vineyard.

Other fabulous winemakers who create great wines from Hyde Vineyard grapes: Paul Hobbs, Kistler, Ramey, Miner and, of course…

Hyde Wines

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event - Hyde Wines

Larry Hyde has been farming his vineyards in the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley since 1979.

For decades, he and his family focused on the farming, selling grapes to a couple dozen premier winemakers. Many of these relationships continue to this day, secured by a handshake.

Eventually, Larry and his sons decided to make some of their own wine, a tiny, tiny bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Delicious!

Fun fact: Well, not so much a fun fact as a piece of advice. If you ever see a wine noting that the grapes came from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa, give it a try. I’m quite sure that you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers!

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