MARCH 2010: A Working Wine Weekend
It's been a little over four years since I first met Ted Plemons, one of the owners of Cass Winery. It didn't take long for us to become fast friends, partly because their wine is so good, but mostly because his passion for what he does is infectious. Once you meet him, he's impossible to forget. They (co-owner Steve Cass, winemaker Lood Kotze and Ted) are very serious about wine when it comes to what goes in their bottles, but once the cork comes out all bets are off. For the staff at Cass, they want you to remember your time spent at the winery as much as you enjoy their vino. We have so much fun visiting them, we've become part of the family, which is why they've begun putting us to work.
For the second year in a row we've gone up to help them for the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival. With the influx of visitors to the city – all the hotels were fully-booked in December – the weekend is an all-hands-on-deck affair. So what do you do to get wine lovers to your winery when you don't make a Zin? Well, if you're Ted and Steve, you build an outdoor tasting bar and sell tacos – 2 for 5 dollars, first come, first serve. No one can resist carne asada, especially when you're wine tasting.
With the Grand Tasting now in the evening, wine lovers have ample time to hit the trail and make new friends. We know because the patio was full from noon to 5pm. While it certainly helps the bottom line for the wineries (more traffic = more sales), it also gives festival goers a lot of time to drink before the big tasting, which is probably not a good thing considering the a.b.v. of most zinfandels. Since we weren't straying from the property, the only drunks we'd likely encounter were ourselves. It's taken me years to realize that wine tasting before a wine tasting is a recipe for one major hangover. Maturity has its' advantages.
This year we got a bit lucky with the weather and enjoyed a lovely mid-70s, sunny day. Important, since we were going to be outside working the inaugural debut of Ted's Taco Bar. Tables were set up under the giant oak, the grill station was fired up and the outdoor tasting bar was ready for business. There's just something about drinking wine outdoors on the edge of the vineyard that helps the stress of life melt away. While it was a crazy seven hours, we met a bunch of new people, encountered more than a few old friends and drank our share of great wine. (When you're behind the bar it's called quality control.) It was so popular, we even ran out of tacos.
There is a lot of high quality wine being made in California, which you'll discover if you head out on the trails and start drinking; however, the tasting room experience varies greatly and, in my opinion, is what ultimately makes or breaks a winery. Will you buy a wine you love even if the person behind the bar is indifferent or rude? If the price is right, sure. Will you go back again, join their club or recommend friends stop there on their next trip? Probably not. What's great about Paso Robles is the people. Most winery owners from this region take real pride in their product and are excited to share it with you. Almost anybody can make a delicious $30-$40 dollar wine, but whether you'd want to drink it with them is a different story. Trying to make the experience about more than what's in the bottle is no easy feat, yet it's what brings people back for more. We're living proof. We don't have to work for wine, Cass just makes it too much fun to resist.
Much thanks to Steve, Ted, Lisa, Alice, Lindsay, Erin, Jacob, Adam and the rest of the Cass crew for making us feel so welcome... time after time after time.
Expect us next year...
For more information: Cass Winery
Photos taken by Tom Lake, another sucker i.e. volunteer.