On December 2-4, the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program sponsored a Winery and Vineyard tour to Paso Robles, California. The 24 participants in this year’s tour came from eleven states, some coming from as far away as Minnesota and Massachusetts – a testament to the expanding reach and reputation of the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program.
Paso Robles is a rapidly growing wine region located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Wineries in this area of California are known for producing wines similar to those found in the Rhone Valley of France – partly due to the limestone soils found in both regions – making this region unique in its home state. But there is also a connection to the northwest some might recognize upon visiting here, as was pointed out by Andy Perdue in a recent article in the Seattle Times PNW Magazine. He said, “A visit to Paso Robles is not unlike going to the Columbia Valley, particularly the climate and grape styles, so Washington visitors will feel right at home.’
And feel at home, we did! All of the winemakers and vineyard managers made everyone feel welcome, inviting the group into ‘behind the scenes’ areas of their operations and sharing innovative ideas and practices that have contributed to their successes, large and small.
Russell From, the owner and winemaker of Herman’s Story Winery in downtown Paso Robles was warm, funny, and candid. His small winery produces six thousand cases of wine per year and sells it mostly through his winery club, so he shared some of his unique marketing and selling ‘secrets’ with us.
Another winemaker, Eric Jensen of Booker Wines, sells his wine exclusively through his wine club. He uses the question, “If you want to sell wine at $100/bottle what are you going to do to make it stand out?” to focus his business plan. For him this means running extensive trials and testing to continually refine his winemaking process.
The largest operation we visited was the J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery, producing 1.5 million cases per year. To share some historical perspective the vineyard manager, Steve Carter, showed us the site of the first block of vines J. Lohr planted in 1986 and we were able to compare it to the recently planted vineyard next to it and see the management changes they have made over the years.
A common thread that seemed to weave through the Paso Robles tour was a strong respect and consideration for the environment. Niner Wines, for instance, has set up collection ponds for recycling water – no doubt serving them well in California’s drought conditions. At Tablas Creek Vineyards, the sheep, alpaca, and chickens are integrated into the vineyards to create a well-rounded, sustainable setting. And Morgan Fiorentini of Epoch Wines told us that their winery building site was planned so as to not remove any trees or affect the drip line of any of the majestic oaks that line the hills and valleys.
Touring California’s Paso Robles wine region left so many memorable impressions. Not only was everyone treated to two and a half days of tasting great wines in a variety of beautiful and innovative settings, most all participants remarked about the openness of the winemakers and managers who shared so much of themselves and their knowledge up front and behind the scenes. Experiencing this region first hand offers plenty of reason why, as Andy Perdue says, “wine lovers should think beyond Napa and Sonoma.”
VE Scholarship Fundraiser:
Tuscany – Nov. 12-19, 2016
A culinary and cultural delight, and VE Scholarship Fundraiser
Winery and Vineyard Tours:
Okanagan Valley – June, 2016
Sicily – March 15-25, 2017
For more information, or to be notified of upcoming trips and registration deadlines, contact Theresa Beaver at firstname.lastname@example.org