Talk about karma! The owners of Carmody McKnight knew this was the land to purchase even 50 years ago before any neighbors or wineries arrived because they crash landed on it. Gary Carmody Conway emerged from the helicopter wreck and announced to his real estate broker aboard “I’ll take it.” Since then, he sold part of the land to his neighbors Justin who wanted to grow grapes on its volcanic soils. Although the land was once covered by the ocean, it contains 3 dormant volcanoes, giving it the most nutrient soil for vines. When Gary tasted the delicious Justin wines, he planted his own grapes. Sometimes it is OK to covet your neighbor.
Their winemaking style is more than minimalistic. Gary is even known to say “this is like the wine Jesus served at the last supper” because they do not use additives. They are also one of the few wineries I’ve found that make a rose out of Merlot. Their Merlot Blanc is a big rose, even a little chewy but a great alternative to a red wine on a hot night. Serve it chilled with just about any food.
Some say you can’t grow Pinot Noir in these parts. But their vineyard is so far out (west, I mean) they get an ocean breeze. As the crow flies, I guess the ocean is only about 10 miles west of them but you’d have to drive down to Cambria to get to Highway 1 since there is no way through the mountains. But their Pinot is delightful with the cherry and strawberry you get from coastal Pinots yet a hint of plum. It also has great body with a hint of spice and even licorice.
They also have one of the few Petite Verdots that is not blended. Cult followers of this grape will love its ruby color and silky structure with a bit of pepper. Their Cadenza is a Bordeaux blend has majestic plump fruit with amazing balance.
Bodegas is doing something unlike all their neighbors. They are making wines out of Spanish and Portuguese grapes grown here in California. Some of these grapes are even rarely grown in the United States. This is the place for you to discover the crisp light delicious flavor of Albarino, which could steer you away from your standard Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. It has that wonderful citrus flavor with the creamy thickness of banana.
If you haven’t tried Graciano but love big bold reds, this is Spain’s answer to the king of grapes. Originally from Rioja, Graciano makes deep purple wines with berry and plum flavors, a bit of pepper, and a long finish. Sip on its own or alongside a rich paella, slow cooked ribs, or rich pasta.
You may have passed this cute shop on the corner of 13th and Pine in downtown Paso Robles and thought it just sold wine trinkets or funky collectibles. You’re probably right, they are full of wine gadgets. But who doesn’t need a Corkcicle?! It is a skinny frozen tube with a cork at the top to put in your white or chilled wines and keep them chilled from the inside out while preserving them.
Other than interesting tools, they also have everything you’d want for a picnic basket and some gourmet treats. They’ll even let you taste before you buy because they know all their stuff is delicious. But, my favorite part is they make their own wine and they’ll let you taste that too. Check out the cutest little pithy box served with your wine tasting:
Inside is something for each wine in the tasting flight. What’s interesting is how well crafted their wines are. A little pricey, but their Sangiovese has the beautifully complex tart cherry and plum with bright acidity but tremendous body. It is a powerful pairing for the rich cheeses offered in the pithy little snack box.
The tasting flight at Parrish Family Vineyard in downtown Paso Robles includes one hit after another. We were first impressed with the Sauvignon Blanc for its brilliant green apple flavor with a hint of banana without any harsh grapefruit or minerality. Then, the Pinot Noir blew us away with its bright Monterey fruit and just enough earth to balance it. Then, the Petite Sirah has the most succulent blueberry flavor with soft silky tannins. But the king of grapes rules here. Their Cabernet Sauvignon has such ripe plump black cherry and plum with a hint of spice and a long velvety finish. They blend it with Syrah and Petite Sirah for an aptly named Silken, which is a local favorite for its well-rounded silky texture.
What makes all these wines stand out, is David Parrish’s devotion to the vines and conscientiousness in the cellar. His many years of experience in Napa’s days of emerging growth certainly prepared him for his return to Paso Robles during its prime to launch his family vineyard. But it’s the way he babies the vines that makes a difference. He’s known for going through the vineyard more than once to remove grapes that are behind in ripening, pouring more flavor into the ones that remain. His team is known for their cleanliness in practicing barrel isolation. While it may be a bit of extra work to use different tools for each barrel, their barrels do not pick up imperfections from other barrels.
How the Silken gets so silky is probably due to the fact that each wine ages in separate barrels and additional aging occurs after it is blended. Finally, they do extensive bottle aging on all their reds. But what they pour tells the story much better than I can.
I know I’m supposed to be ramblin through new undiscovered country. But there’s just so much to cover here! I think El Paso De Robles has more wineries than Napa. Also, I just love how the food landscape of downtown of Paso Robles has changed even since my last stay here back in October. You gotta return when you get a SWEET deal on such a cute cottage like this:
So, I’m back for a few weeks and to celebrate our independence.
A taste of Windwalker‘s first ever rose is worth the trip to Somerset in El Dorado County. Got the inside scoop that they did extensive research on other rose wines (white style wines made out of red grapes) to determine what they wanted theirs to taste like. A wide continuum exists on rose style wines because they range from sweet, dry, acidic, fruity, creamy and the always popular term: “poolside sipper.”
Windwalker Vineyard’s Grenache Dry Rose is the best of all worlds with bright balance and luscious texture. It has great fruit flavor of strawberry and even some watermelon that make it a crisp start to any meal. But then it finishes long with a creamy texture. This makes it stand up to spicy sausage and grilled vegetables as well as any rich cheeses in your picnic.
Fiddletown California remains as a reminder of what the gold rush was like. On the main highway, you pass several vintage structures that looked like they could have been used as a schoolhouse, church, or post office. I think I even saw hitching posts in front of these buildings. When it was a thriving mining camp, this town probably became home to the mavericks of other societies in search of gold dust and a dream.
Now, Fiddletown is home to several winemakers also in search of a dream and the same bootstrapping gusto. Scott Mahon at Legendre Cellars is a one-man show, running a small operation with bold ideas and big results. He set out to simply make wines he enjoys drinking. I know; sounds simple yet it only yields results if you are a master of flavors and have a highly developed palate. It also doesn’t hurt if you know how to make wine and are gutsy enough to cultivate different varietals than your neighbors.
His wines are designed to pair with food so their acids need to be high yet he gets fruit with such complex structure that his wines don’t taste acidic. He is also producing Rhone varietal blends, which is refreshing in a region filled with Zinfandel and Barbera. His wines are the ones you’ll remember long after you’ve left Fiddletown.
Once in a while, offer to shadow someone at work who simply loves what they do. Having a job that makes you feel like you’re living the dream is really what life’s all about. People who have mastered this take their craft to another level. By nature, these people can be meek so you may have to be attentive or look differently in the most seemingly ordinary places. But super heroes like them live amongst us and their stories are always inspiring.
Ann Kraemer from Yorba is a vineyard super hero. What she knows about viticulture is astounding. Known as “The Vine Tender” of Shake Ridge, she took her extensive experience in Napa to Sutter Creek where her sustainable farming practices yield delicious fruit and vivacious wines. She is so attentive to her vines that she even has a strategy to make sure the grapes don’t sunburn. No, it doesn’t include SPF. She plants them in the appropriate direction for the appropriate amount of sunlight year round. The end result is her wines are all so succulent you may have trouble deciding which ones to buy. She ensures they have crisp acidity yet ripe fruit for balanced and complex structure.
The winery destination for cool concerts in Amador is going to be Helwig. Their newly renovated tasting room has an amphitheater! I hear they also plan to do wine cave tours and Friday nights they stay open late and serve wines by the glass in their outdoor pavilion.
But the wines are the real reason to go. Their sparkling pink Syrah is the refreshing start to any tasting. It’s got that tart cran, raspberry, strawberry flavor with a hint of creamy body to balance its structure. Also, make sure you try their Barbera because that’s what really thrives in Amador County. Theirs has great structure and balance.
One of the smallest and newest wineries you may miss because it is literally not on the map is Youngs Vineyard. But it is worth trying just for its wonderfully smooth yet supple Chardonnay with tart green apple that wakes up your taste buds and a creamy texture it received by just a bit of oak at the very end.