Last week I participated in a webinar, discussion, and virtual tasting highlighting the Paso Robles AVA through the eyes of three prominent winery representatives: Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard; Jordan Fiorentini, vice president of winemaking and vineyards for Epoch Wine Estates; and Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, newly appointed executive vice president of Ancient Peaks Winery.
The main takeaway (at least to my eyes and ears): Paso rocks. I mean, yes, it rocks in the figurative sense as well. But I was really digging (pun sort of intended) all the geeky geological stuff these guys got into. The show-and-tell of vineyard rocks was one for the record books. Have you seen fossilized whale bone in your backyard? Thought not. And of course, how these soil types and topography of each vineyard’s location affects the wine style is a connection I love making.
So, I thought I’d take some time to talk a bit about each winery, why they “rock,” and of course include mini wine reviews for each. Please, enjoy.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
If you haven’t heard Jason Haas tell his family’s Paso Robles story, you must. (Here’s a podcast on GuildSomm I highly recommend.)
Located in the Adelaida District AVA, the vineyards lie in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains just west of Paso Robles. Soils here are composed of calcareous clay—a crumbly, rather dry clay that does create a bit of vine stress, but holds on to enough water from the rainy season for the water to utilize in times of extreme heat.
Being amongst the foothills, the diversity of slopes offer a variety of microclimates, soil depths and exposures; altitude varies between 1400′ and 1600.’ The vineyard’s proximity to the ocean provides extreme diurnal range—Haas often notes that their vineyard ripens significantly slower than their Rhone Valley counterpart, Château de Beaucastel. Thus the growing season is extended, and fruit is allowed to ripen slowly and fully vintage to vintage.
Here’s more detail on vineyard management specifics from the winery’s website:
“Stressed grapevines produce less fruit, but fruit that is intensely flavorful. We stress our vines in two ways. Most of our older plantings are close-spaced (1600 to 1800 per acre) to create competition, and trellised low to the ground to take advantage of the radiant heat from the rocky soil. Each vine is limited to 8-12 bunches each year. These sections received limited irrigation in early years to get them established, but have been entirely dry-farmed most recent vintages.
The majority of our newer plantings are planted entirely without irrigation infrastructure. We plant these blocks more widely spaced (350-600 vines per acre) so that the vines can survive even the early years without any additional water. Dry-farming forces the vines’ roots deep into the bedrock and makes sure that they pull the maximum character of place out of their environment.
Although each technique stresses the grapevines in different ways, both produce small clusters of grapes with thick skins.”
Tablas Creek is also certified Demeter Biodynamic—something they don’t tout or market, but I think should be noted.
2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
About the wine: 68% Roussanne 17% Grenache Blanc 7% Picpoul Blanc 4% Picardan 4% Clairette Blanche
2250 Cases Produced
Vinification Notes: Fruit is all estate grown. Grapes were whole cluster pressed, and fermented with native yeasts. The Roussanne was fermented in neutral oak of various sizes: 60-gallon oak barrels, 170-gallon demi-muids, and 1200-gallon foudres. The Grenache Blanc was fermented in stainless steel and also in one foudre, and the Picpoul Blanc, Clairette Blanche, and Picardan were fermented in stainless steel and some neutral wood.
All wines went through malolactic fermentation. The Esprit Blanc blend was creating using vintage’s best lots. The final blend returned to foudre in April 2018, aged an additional 8 months, and finally bottled in December 2018. The bottled wine rested an additional 9 months before release.
Appearance: medium lemon
Aromas: medium (+) intensity—super floral with notes of honeysuckle, lemon/lime, lemonade, lemon curd, cream, custard, pineapple, there are also hints of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and maybe even a hint of paprika
Palate: The palate is dry with medium (+) acid, medium alcohol, medium body, and medium (+) flavor intensity. Flavors do mimic those aromatic notes, but the florals are sent to the back of the palate, the fruits sit firmly in the center, while dancing all around them are those custardy notes as well as a bit of biscuit, and those spices are just dashed all about. If holding the wine in the mouth, there’s also a touch of nuttiness detected. The wine is noticeably more complex on the palate than on the nose. (At least when the bottle was first opened.)
The finish is medium (+) on the palate but long for the brain.
Conclusion: Because of the diversity of flavors and the fact that I got primary, secondary, and hints of tertiary flavors in the wine, I do believe this is a fairly complex white wine. There was an excellent balance of fruit intensity to acid level. The mouthfeel was rather round, smooth, silky in texture, lending to a perfectly medium body. Just shy of a long finish (although, as mentioned, I sure was thinking about it for a long time), I determined the Espirit de Tablas is a very good wine and, arguably because of the phenolic texture, higher acid, and depth of flavor, this could be an ageable white wine.
More Info: I received the 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc as a sample. (Cheers Jason and the Tablas Creek crew!) Price: $45. For more information about Tablas Creek Vineyard, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Tablas Creek Vineyard website.
Ancient Peaks’ terroir is defined by its pronounced marine influence. Located, 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it’s touted as one of Paso Robles’ coolest growing environments. As the winery so perfectly explains it: “Days heat up, air rises, creating a vacuum to pull in marine breezes through the vineyard.”
This is what causes those higher elevation vineyards to be “enshrouded” in coastal fog during the bulk of the growing season, thus slowing down ripening and allowing full fruit development, supple tannins, but noticeably maintaining an adequate level of acidity.
The entirety of the Ancient Peaks estate includes five different soil types amongst its 867 acres.
It is in the Oyster Ridge block of the Margarita Vineyard that one finds large white oyster fossils scattered throughout the acreage—a true testament to the land’s origin as an ancient sea bed.
2017 Oyster Ridge
Appearance: medium garnet
Aroma: medium (+) intensity; aromas include capsicum, mocha, toast/smoke, just-ripe black cherry and black currant, brown spices, and plushy black plum, blackberry, and boysenberry
Palate The palate is dry with high alcohol, high tannins, medium (+) acidity, and a full body. The flavor intensity is medium (+) and adds to the bouquet mentioned above the addition of violets and cherry cola and elevates those plushy purple fruit notes. There’s an afterbreath of mushroom, meet/smoke, and just general umami-deliciousness.
The finish is long
Conclusion: This is a wine that certainly needs to open up. And I’ll say straight away that this is a wine intended for aging for sure. The tannic structure is solid—but don’t let that intimidate you: it coats the tongue and slowly slowly slowly fades away and that lingering umami is what you’re left tasting and thinking about. Though the tannins are notably high, as mentioned before, there’s a solid dose of acidity that keeps the fresher fruits alive. I love that I can taste the primary notes just as intensely as those tertiary notes—depth, intrigue, complexity, and undeniable ageability. Outstanding wine.
More Info: I received the 2017 Oyster Ridge as a sample. (Cheer, Amanda and everyone at Ancient Peaks!) Price: $60. For more information about Ancient Peaks, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Ancient Peaks website.
Epoch Wine Estates
I’m focusing on the winery’s Paderewski estate vineyard, a vineyard the winery amusingly (to me) describes as “home to intense earth that bears little resemblance to typical California soils:” lean, rocky, and calcareous. And I’m doing so because that is the dominant vineyard source for the wine review below.
As is the theme with these Paso Robles vineyards, Paderewski is also a display show of hillsides with varying slope and aspects. The hillsides, it’s noted, are carefully paired with the idyllic wine grape variety. In total, the vineyard is planted with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc.
Of significant note is the fact that most vines are grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant Native American rootstock. A few blocks of Syrah and Grenache are own-rooted.
Going beyond varietal selection, clonal selection was a careful consideration when planting the vineyard.
Acreage: 95 under vine, 570 total
Soils: limestone, calcareous, rocky
pH: low to mid 8
AVA: Paso Robles
District: Willow Creek
About the Wine: 90% Paderewski and 10% Catapult Vineyards; Willow Creek AVA, Paso Robles
47% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 19% Syrah
870 Cases Produced
Vinification: Fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks; Aged 18 months: 36% in concrete tulip and the balance in French oak mid-sized barrels and puncheons (26% new)
Appearance: medium ruby
Aroma: medium (+) intensity; aromas include chocolate, black cherry, black pepper, blackberry, black plum, earth, mushroom, deep red florals; the fruit components are all notably plushy in their aromas
Palate: The palate is dry with high alcohol, high tannin, medium (+) acidity, full body, and medium (+) flavor intensity. Flavors, beyond what is mentioned above, also include cola, wood, toast/smoke, and an elevated sensation of spices including black and white pepper.
The finish is medium
Conclusion: I concluded that the 2017 Veracity is a good wine. I did find that it was the higher alcohol that seemed to mask the finish, as I was left with a bit of a burn more than any flavor or aromas. However, I found the intensity of the aromas and flavors quite well balanced—again it’s that higher level of acidity that does well to keep those fruits in the front and balance out the high level of tannins. This wine may benefit from additional age. There’s certainly enough structural components (acid, tannin, alcohol) to keep this wine alive. And I believe that those fruit flavors will persist, while tertiary flavors may actually help balance this wine even further.
More Info: I received the 2017 Veracity as a sample. (Cheers Jordan and all the cool kids at Epoch!) Price: $70. For more information about Epoch Winery, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Epoch Winery website.
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**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**