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Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Move over Napa--Paso Robles viticulture is making strides with some splendid cabernet sauvignon
BY WENDY THIES SELL
We are witnessing an evolution in Paso Robles.
Efforts to improve the region’s wines—and to get noticed for those efforts—are coming to fruition.
In January, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) its 2013 Wine Region of the Year, recognizing “not only excellence in wine quality, but also innovation and excitement.”
Wine writers are taking notice; wine ratings are on the rise, and word is getting out.
Why now? Paso Robles’s first vineyards were planted in the late 1800s. Some of the first cabernet sauvignon grapes in Paso were planted in the early 1970s.
Today, there are more than 200 wineries and 26,000 vineyard acres in the Paso Robles area. Vineyards grow 40 different grape varietals including zinfandel, syrah, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon; about 55 percent of the grapes planted in Paso are cabernet and Bordeaux varietals.
In the words of Creston cabernet sauvignon producer Michael Mooney, “This is not the good ol’ boy days where we just grew as much as we could—we’re trying to focus on quality.”
For example, Paso Robles wine grape growers originally planted more utilitarian clones; today, there are different, more drought-tolerant rootstocks from which to choose.
“That means less water, smaller berries, better quality, different clones,” Mooney explained.
“In cabernet, there’s Clone 6, Clone 4, Clone 15, Clone 337, Clone 191—all these different clones you can get in cabernet, and they all are distinctly different. Some have higher quality, some have higher yields.”
There are also so many unique microclimates and terroir that Paso Robles is in the process of becoming 11 distinct AVAs within Paso Robles.
There are dozens of soil series in Paso Robles, from sedimentary rock to volcanic rock to calcareous shales.
“There are so many different variables in the soils, elevations, [and] heat indexes,” Mooney said.
And then throw in the mix all the highly skilled, passionate winemakers working now in Paso, employing advanced viticulture and enology techniques.
“So when we say, ‘Paso Robles cab,’ you can’t say it tastes a certain way,” Mooney said.
Last month, I had the opportunity to taste and compare 26 Paso Robles cabs and Bordeaux blends at a media luncheon held by the grassroots nonprofit Paso Robles CAB (cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective.
I was extremely impressed by the quality and variety of styles, each one unique. I especially liked the luscious 2010 Halter Ranch Ancestor ($50), a blend of cabernet, petit verdot, and malbec; the big and balanced Vina Robles Suendero ($49), a meritage of cabernet and petit verdot; the 2010 Oyster Ridge cuvee by Ancient Peaks ($50); J. Lohr’s 2010 merlot-based Cuvee POM ($50); the heavily concentrated 2010 Lloyd of Calcareous blend ($49); and my favorite of the day—the gorgeous 2005 Chateau Margene Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Formed in 2012, the collective is an independent collaborative effort of more than two-dozen leading Paso Robles growers and producers of cabernet and Bordeaux varietals.
“The bar is being raised,” said Mooney, who is on the collective’s board of directors. “This CAB Collective is about sharing with people what we’re doing.”
Its big event of the year is coming up April 22 through 26: Called CABs of Distinction, it will have tastings and tours for sommeliers, the media, and consumers.
On Friday, April 25, member wineries will be host to various events and winemaker dinners for consumers.
On Saturday, April 26, the public is welcome at the CABs of Distinction Gala held at River Oaks Hot Springs in Paso Robles.
“We’re setting the stage for something that hasn’t been done in Paso,” said Linda Sanpei, of Parker Sanpei & Associates. “It’s going to be a cabernet village. There will be cabanas and food stations. Three restaurants will be serving full-plated meals. The VIP lounge will include music, coffee, and desserts throughout the afternoon.”
All collective members will pour their wines, paired with artisanal cheese and charcuterie.
Attendees can watch a barrel-making demonstration and listen to live music in the amphitheatre by the lake.
Luxury VIP ticket holders will attend an exclusive panel discussion and tasting, and enjoy a multi-course gourmet lunch prepared by Thomas Hill Organics.
Also that afternoon, Sanpei said, “Our member wineries are going to be pouring their rare and reserve wines, so you’ll really be able to see the ageability of the wines from our vintners.
“We’re really looking to take the whole event up to a level that we haven’t done here yet in Paso,” she said. “I think the CAB Collective is a perfect outlet to express ourselves, so we’re really looking to knock it out of the park.”
Even if you can’t make it to CABs of Distinction, plan a daytrip to Paso Robles to experience the distinctively delicious wines for yourself.
“We’re just saying, ‘Come to Paso. See what we’re doing. Taste some wine,’” Mooney said. “I think you’ll like what we’re doing!’”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at email@example.com.