Pair this!: William James Cellars' Robin Bogue is all about flavor spelunking

When it came down to figuring out which wines paired best with this year’s lineup of Girl Scout cookie flavors, William James Cellars owner and winemaker Robin Bogue espoused one golden rule. And that is, besides being obvious, “Try not to eat all the cookies in one sitting.”

“When we decided to do this pairing for our customers, everyone in the judging group had to agree on the flavor combination before we moved on,” Bogue said. “The decision had to be unanimous, and everyone had to be 100 percent honest about each cookie and each wine together.”’

The off-the-wall idea, thought up by William James team member and friend Jeannie Alvarez, came by way of random, LOL-inducing text.

click to enlarge Pair this!: William James Cellars' Robin Bogue is all about flavor spelunking
WILD WINEMAKER: William James Cellars owner and winemaker Robin Bogue believes in making wine that she’d like to drink—and creating fun pairings that buck the status quo.

“Jeannie was at home and just so happened to have a box of Coconut Delight Girl Scout cookies open. She was teasing me, texting, ‘I’m drinking a glass of cabernet franc, and these cookies do not go well together,’” Bogue said. “I laughed about it, and then, two days later, we pulled together our first Girl Scout cookie pairing group.”

Thanks to cookies provided by Santa Maria troop 50072 and Arroyo Grande troop 40426, a string of impassioned flavor discussions came next. The result: A detailed pairing list (printed on fancy gold paper) with the power to stop even the snootiest wine skeptics in their tracks. Oh, and lots of crumbs.

Note: Let the record show that I have been telling everyone to eat more Girl Scout cookies and to drink more wine for years. I was not surprised that the two entities made a powerful, addictive combo.

If you’re like my friends, you are probably dying to know how these flavors panned out. My favorite chocolaty Thin Mints? Phenomenal when paired with William James Cellars’ not-too-sweet 2011 California sangiovese port.

Looking for something on the lighter side? Try Bogue’s slightly fizzy 2011 Santa Barbara County chardonnay with zesty Lemonade cookies.

Really, it’s like summer exploding in your mouth.

“People were shocked that we were able to do this,” Bogue said. “The Peanut Butter Patties were the hardest cookie to pair, but at the end, we were able to pair it quite nicely with our 2009 Sisters at Heart Syrah, a big fruit-forward, luscious wine.”

Peanut butter and jam anyone?

Personally, all of this cookie decadence—as incredible as it was—had me dreaming of a fresh, virtuous salad. Not surprisingly, razor-sharp Bogue is always one step ahead of the curve.

This April, William James Cellars will roll out wine pairings that include such fresh nibbles as: grenache with grape tomatoes, sauvignon blanc with celery, chardonnay with green onions, pinot noir with toasted almonds, and sangiovese with cranberries, among others.

Because, really: Why should cheese have all the fun?

This new salad-topper lineup will come only about two months after the tasting room’s grand opening in Old Town Orcutt. The bright, lively space features cozy nooks for hanging with friends, a Pinterest-worthy table covered in old pennies, wine bottles dangling in the windows, and a sandwich board that assures passersby, “Yoga pants and dogs welcome!”

click to enlarge Pair this!: William James Cellars' Robin Bogue is all about flavor spelunking
GIRL SCOUT SUCCESS: Known for pairing fearless flavors (like the Girl Scout cookie plate shown here), the folks at Old Orcutt-based William James Cellars aren’t afraid to mix things up.

Bogue joked that she and her staff want to emulate the “Coyote Ugly” bar dance routine, but it’s too much of a liability.

As much as the winemaker likes to have fun, there is true substance—and a rich wine industry legacy—found behind her bubbly persona. A proud fifth-generation Santa Maria local, Bogue named the winery after her father, a longtime vineyard irrigation consultant.

Since her first efforts with chardonnay and syrah, the winemaker has added a dozen more varieties to her winemaking portfolio, experimenting with stainless steel, oak, and neutral oak, as well as blends. With the exception of one cabernet franc offering grown in Paso Robles by Bogue’s uncle, the winery, established in 2003, exclusively sources grapes from Santa Barbara County. Bogue and her dedicated team put out 1,500 cases each year.

“We offer so much more than just chardonnay and pinot noir; we really strive to provide a diverse lineup,” Bogue said, adding that she’s found a solid community to help promote her unique offerings. The winemaker said she loves “the hometown, small-town, neighbor-helping-neighbor” vibe of the area.

Nearby Old Orcutt tasting rooms like Core, CNagy, and Ca’Del Grevino Wine Bar frequently cross-promote in an effort to bring more light onto the burgeoning wine destination. From blowing up social media to racking and cleaning the slime off wine barrels, the winemaker is truly dedicated to pushing William James Cellars to success.

“The best part of my job is making great wine and actually showing people what it takes to make it,” Bogue said.

Pair this!: William James Cellars' Robin Bogue is all about flavor spelunking
JOIN THE PAIRING PARTY: Check out William James Cellar’s new spring salad-topper pairings available this April. Visit the tasting room at 130 North Broadway, suite A, in Old Town Orcutt; call 478-9412; or email for more information.

Whether it’s educating her wine club members on the difference between three chardonnays each featuring three different yeasts, bringing fresh-picked grape clusters to the tasting room during harvest, or challenging herself to pair her wines with something as difficult as salsa, Bogue will not stop till she hits the mark.

It only took one conversation with Bogue to know that her “mark” is not dictated by the wine world status quo. It is instead an inner-validation that cannot be shaken nor denied. Recently, the winemaker’s 2013 Santa Ynez Valley sangiovese rose was disqualification from the San Francisco Wine Competition due to the fact that it was found to be “too bold.”

This is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that the deep pinky-hued wine is incredibly delicious.

“If we stopped making wine today, and we had a barn full—I want that wine to reflect my passion,” Bogue said. “Some people make wines for the masses. I make wines that I want to drink.”


Hayley Thomas is feeling adventurous at [email protected].

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