Day three started and we were heading for Halter Ranch Vineyard. They warned us ahead of time we were in for a hike, and sure enough it was!
Halter Ranch is the largest vineyard in Paso’s western hills with 281 acres planted on 2,000 total acres where the soil is high in calcium with an elevation of 1,750 feet. The vineyard next to the tasting room is dry farmed (see Part 2 for an explanation) being head trained. We received a water bottle (thank you!) along with a taste of 2016 Rosé (69% Grenache, 16% Mourvèdre, 15% Picpoul Blanc). It was a great start to what was going to be a warm day.
Vineyard manager Lucas Pope explained how the vineyard changes the orientation of their vines to avoid sunburn. They use no herbicides and are a sustainable vineyard for which they have won awards.
Next was a little trip through the vineyard where we learned the vineyard grows 13 types of grapes. They try to find the best plane to grow Rhône varietals. Since there are a lot of hills on the vineyard, they also hand harvest. Halter Ranch Vineyard produces around 24,000 cases a year.
We arrived at the bottom of a hill and were told if we wanted to taste some wine, we needed to make the trek up the hill on the path between the vineyards. I set off to make the climb and as expected with the others, by the time we got to the top, there was some huffing and puffing going on, but we all survived nicely. A journey down the road at the top and we arrived at a nice shade tree where Jordan Lonborg, viticulturist, from Tablas Creek Vineyard and Jason Joyce, winemaker, from Calcareous Vineyard were waiting for us with a cooler of wines to taste. I was wondering with the climb we had taken, how had they gotten that cooler up the hill filled with wines?
Like previous events, the other wineries in addition to Halter Ranch, had the chance to speak about their winery. Jordan Lonborg went first and explained that in 1993, Tablas Creek planted their first vines. They have been certified organic since 2006 and are going after a full biodynamic certification this year, so they have a herd of 160 sheep that will be run all winter long to help with a fertilization certification. They are looking to bringing the herd to 300 sheep in the coming years. They also have a beekeeping program at the vineyard. The wines Jordan brought were:
- 2016 Patelin de Tablas Rose (73% Grenache, 17% Mourvèdre, 6% Counoise, 4% Syrah)
- 2016 Vermentino
- 2014 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvèdre, 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Counoise)
Jason Joyce from Calcareous Vineyard was next and he said, which we had already learned, that all Paso wineries are open to each other and helping each other. He said that Roussanne doesn’t do well in Paso because of viruses, but they sometimes use it in blends. He explained it is a very tricky variety. He made the comment that people expect the Paso wines to be different per vintage. Hmm, Texas wine consumers should consider this. The wines he brought were:
- 2016 Vin Rose (64% Pinot Noir, 36% Grenache)
- 2016 Lily Blanc (Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc)
- 2014 Moose (Syrah, Petite Verdot). It will be going to the wine club two weeks after our visit so we were the first to taste it besides the winery.
Lucas Pope was next and explained the Halter Ranch Vineyard. They try to get 2.5 to 3 tons an acre at harvest. The wines they had were:
- 2015 Grenache Blanc (80% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Roussanne, 2% Viognier)
- 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot)
- 2014 Syrah (89% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Tannat)
Knowing that Tannat does well in Texas, I asked about the Tannat in the Syrah. Lucas said they used to have a viticulturist advisor that eventually went back to Texas. Ding-ding-ding. It turned out to be Fritz Westover of Westover Vineyard Advising. There was another Texas connection and it turned out to be a good friend in the Texas wine industry. Small world, huh?
We finished our tasting of the wines on the hill and made our climb down the hill (it was a lot easier!). We boarded the bus and headed to our next destination, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery. When we arrived at the winery, we met Scott Shirley who is the winemaker. We were treated with a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and Scott showed us around the outside of the tasting room. Scott has been harvesting 21 years in California but only the 6th year in Paso.
The herbs planted around the tasting room are used in their restaurant and that is where we were headed next and we had a 2016 Rosé from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2013, Paso Robles AVA was awarded Appellation of the year by Wine Enthusiast. In 2015, JUSTIN Winery was recognized as winery of the year by Wine Enthusiast.
During a fantastic lunch where we selected our entrees, we had the following wines:
- 2014 Justification (55% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot)
- 2014 Savant (62% Syrah, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Grenache)
- 2014 Reserve Tempranillo (just for the wine club)
- 2014 Isosceles (73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot). This is their flagship wine and why JUSTIN started the winery. It retails for $72 a bottle and Scott Shirley said he loved the 2014.
The winery had originally planted 70 acres, but while the wine club grew, JUSTIN purchased another 19 acres in 2011 over the hill. Since JUSTIN is at the furthest western edge of Paso, they provide a restaurant and three guest rooms, appropriately called the JUST Inn Suites.
Our visit to JUSTIN was over and it was time to meet Leslie again, who was our bus driver from Breakaway Tours for the week. Next up was something a little different, no wine, but the Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch. To be honest, we have an olive oil ranch in Texas that I have been hoping to visit for a tour, so visiting this one was a treat. We received a little tour of the production facility which included of course, pressing olives, just like pressing grapes for wine. They have 45 acres of olive trees growing 11 varieties. It usually takes 2-5 years to get olives and they usually harvest in late November. One ton of olives equals about 38 gallons of olive oil.
Eating an olive off the tree is usually bitter, so it is best to wait until it is processed into some form. It is primarily Tuscan olives that are used to produce the olive oil. Pressing the olives one time gives Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Virgin Olive Oil means it has been pressed more than once. The juice sits in stainless steel tanks for 2½ months and then they rack it just like wine.
Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch makes blends of the different olive oils along with different spices. I am glad I waited to taste olive oil from this number of varieties, especially including the different ways to try it with spices.
Our last night in Paso Robles was spent at Hope Family Wines located in the Templeton Gap District. We first had a little tour of the vineyard outside the winery and an introduction about the winery by Mike Giese, Brand Ambassador, for Hope Family Wines. Of course, we were sipping on some wine and the first one we tasted was a 2014 Treana Blanc (45% Viognier, 45% Marsanne, 10% Roussanne).
After a short while, Austin Hope, President, arrived and continued discussing the winery and wines. At one point, they were the largest Cabernet Sauvignon growers in the area. They decided in 1996 to start making wine and the first brand they created was Treana. Today they have four other labels: Liberty School, Austin Hope, Candor, and Troublemaker. Interestingly, there is no brand for the wines saying Hope Family Wines.
While standing alongside the vineyard at the winery, we could see the tight vineyard spacing which was head trained Grenache growing at 4 by 6, but they also have some 4 by 5 elsewhere too. Roussanne grows very well though at the Hope Family vineyards.
The two words that Austin Hope wanted us to come away with after visiting Paso Robles are hospitality and diversity. Hospitality was obvious as everyone had been very hospitable during our stay. The word diversity is because they can grow wines that taste like Left Bank Bordeaux and also Right Bank. And then make wine in the style of Burgundy.
Austin led us to the nearby building to see a tank room. These were large wooden tanks that they had cut in half. This was the first and only winery production area we had seen as a group, so it felt nice being among the early stage wines in the chilled temperature.
We then went next door to the tasting room where we would have dinner. Dinner was pizza being cooked in an outside oven and then served buffet style for all to enjoy. While we were waiting for dinner, we were greeted by the other winery guests for the evening. First was Opolo Vineyards with Cary Thrasher, National Sales Director. Opolo Vineyards is owned by Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols. The winery started out being just growers for their first 13 years and then they became a winery. They are trying to get back into Texas with a distributor. Opolo is most known for their Zinfandel and the winery has 8000-9000 wine club members. The wines we tasted were:
- 2016 Roussanne
- 2016 Rosé (57% Grenache, 38% Syrah, 5% Viognier). This was the first time the winery had made a rosé.
- 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Also joining us was Soren Christensen, winemaker, of Hearst Ranch Winery. Soren had actually started working at Hope Family Wines. Hearst Ranch produces about 20,000 cases of wine a year which is from their estate and other vineyards. The wines Soren brought were:
- 2014 Chardonnay Proprietor Reserve (100% Chardonnay (Central Coast AVA))
- 2016 Rosé “Julia” (42% Petit Verdot, 24% Petite Sirah, 23% Syrah, 11% Tempranillo)
- 2014 Petite Sirah, “The Pergola”
The other wines we tasted from Hope Family Wines were:
- 2015 Treana Chardonnay
- 2015 Love & Hope Rosé (47% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache Blanc, 3% Counoise, 2% Carignan)
- 2014 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Treana Red (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah)
- 2013 Austin Hope Grenache
- 2014 Austin Hope Syrah. Austin stated he really likes tannins.
The last winery to join the fun was ONX Wines with Jeff Strekas, Associate Winemaker. The last Texas connection was when Jeff said that ONX does the custom crush for Heath Vineyards, which is the Paso Robles vineyard that Grape Creek Vineyards owns. The wines brought from ONX Wines were:
- 2014 Mad Crush (45% Grenache, 19% Tempranillo, 18% Malbec, 9% Mourvèdre, 9% Zinfandel)
- 2014 Crux (41% Syrah, 32% Mourvèdre, 27% Grenache)
- 2014 Brash (47% Zinfandel, 19% Malbec, 17% Petite Sirah, 17% Syrah)
The evening unfortunately had to come to an end along with our trip to Paso Robles. One comment made was about the difference between Napa and Paso, where you can talk about 15 different Cab varieties versus really different varieties.
So, what did I think about the Paso Robles area and the wines? I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I know I will be taking my significant other with me someday back to Paso. Until then, I will definitely be looking for Paso wines in my local stores. Cheers!