This review is a long time coming—for many reasons. I met Lori Budd, co-owner of Dracaena Wines about three years ago. She’s a fellow blogger, a major social media presence, and, as it turns out when I finally met her in real life during the 2017 Bloggers Conference, one of the nicest people.
The Merrill family have been in the Californian agricultural realm for 8 generations. It was seventh generation Dana Merrill who began raising wine grapes in 1981 and founded the family’s vineyard management group, Mesa Vineyard Management, in 1989. From then until now, the Merrills have worked with some prestigious vineyards and big-name winemakers. It wasn’t until 2002 that Dana purchased Pomar Junction Vineyard on Templeton’s South El Pomar Road in Paso Robles. The family spent six years transitioning the 40-acre vineyard to SIP Certified standards and renovating the property’s lone building into the current tasting room. While the family continues to source grapes from other regions, their estate line — which celebrated a premier vintage in 2011 — is solely focused on what their piece of Paso does best: Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.
I met Jason DiFrancesco almost three years ago at the SF Rhone Rangers event. I met him, quite frankly, how I meet many winemakers at these kinds of grand tastings — his table was, at the time, the lease crowded. At an event filled with Rhone varietals and Rhone blends, it can be really hard to stand out — especially among big name brands from Paso Robles, where Jason sources his grapes. But alas, his wines did stand out and because of his wines and our lively conversation, he and I became friends. So, I am pleased to present to you the latest Leverage Wines release…
I’m not going to lie — I’ve heard mixed reviews about Justin Winery. It seems my fellow wine enthusiasts either absolutely love or will have nothing to do with this big name winery. But when I decided to do this week-long series dedicated to Rhone, I couldn’t ignore this Paso Robles icon.
When Justin Baldwin first purchased his piece of Paso in 1981 he — like so many others back then — orginally intended to work exclusively with the classic Bordeaux varieties and craft Bordeaux-style blends. Of course, as we all know, Paso Robles is kind of California’s mini-slice of the Rhone Valley and vintners there can’t help but at least have one or two Rhone-inspired wines in their portfolio.
Interesting enough, when I was studying for my recent Rhone article (Read Where We Rhone), I found out that, as odd as it sounds, blending Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon is not that uncommon — in the New World or the Old. And so it is that I decided to include Justin’s Savant red blend in this series.
I came across Barton Family Wines during my most recent Paso Robles visit. It’s absolutely one of my top recommended wine stops when visiting the area. Winemaker and proprietor, Joe Barton, took me through a full line up of his current releases (including those in his Grey and Grey Wolf line). I loved that his Chenin Blanc had actual body and substance; appreciated that his rosé still had a bit of tannic red wine quality; and was impressed by his confidence to bottle a single-varietal (face-puckering) Tannat. But what truly turned me on, the wine I walked away with, was the Barton Family Wines Hot Blooded — a single-varietal bottling of 100% Counoise.