OCTOBER 2010: Paso Robles Harvest Festival
While there's almost no more scenic time in wine country than the fall with the vines bursting with fruit, we usually tend to avoid the festival weekends. Sure, they are usually crammed with amazing dinners, BBQs, parties, tours and special tastings; however, it's hard to find a moments peace. Of course, if you like to party, then this is the weekend for you...if you can find a hotel room. What I particularly like about Paso's Harvest Festival is there is no Grand Tasting. This allows you to choose which events you'd like to participate in and gives the wineries a chance to really shine. There's only so much wine one can/should drink and it's hard for most people to get their monies worth at large tastings. Plus, at this time a year, all hands are on deck with harvest activities and most of the smaller, family-run places just don't have the staff to handle a big event outside the winery. It was a crazy 36 hours, but we made the most of our time.
Our first stop this year was to Hope Family Wines. I follow them on Twitter and had never been to their facility before. That all changed when I saw their tweets about their 2nd Annual Bacon + Wine Tasting. Who could resist that? The Hope Family has been making wine in Paso since 1978 and currently produces five different labels: from the everyday Cabernet and Chardonnay of Liberty School and non-vintage lots of Candor and Westside Red to the more prestigious blends of Treana and the singular Rhone wines of company winemaker Austin Hope.
I was sure I would like the latter two labels bottlings (all were impressive), but what surprised me was the balance and drinkability of the former. Candor's rosé ($16) showed great fruit, balance and acidity for the price, but I really enjoyed the Candor Lot 2 Merlot ($20) and the Westside Red Troublemaker ($22), a GSM blend from the 07, 08 and 09 vintages. Austin Hope is definitely taking a chance trying to get consumers to accept/buy multi-vintage wines, but these tasted so good perhaps it won't be that big a challenge. The family clearly has plenty of experience, both growing and making wine and their staff was both friendly and very knowledgable about each of their brands. The event took place in their spacious tasting room that marries modern design with spectacular views of their vineyard. The only problem was we showed up too late to get the full bacon and wine experience. What we had was delicious, as only Bourbon-soaked bacon can be, and we will make sure to make them our first stop next year instead of almost the last. Twitter: @hopefamilywines
We made quick stops at Caliza Winery – the new vintage wines are just as impressive as last year, with their Rhone blends 08 Kissing Cousins (white) and 07 Azimuth (red) showing beautifully – and Brian Benson Cellars – his 07 Glenrose and Denner Syrahs just had to come home with me.
Then it was off to party with our old friends at Edward Sellers to celebrate the Grand Opening of their new tasting room, which moves them from their longtime downtown location to a beautiful new facility on 46 West smack dab in the middle of their vineyards. What's amazing is the moved the bar, which I can't believe actually fit in the old space. The party, which was free to club members, was first-rate with all sorts of food, including paella and oysters, and of course, plenty of wine. My favorites of the evening were the 08 Estate Blanc (56% Grenache Blanc, 28% Roussanne, 16% Marsanne), which is a new blend for them using grapes from their first harvest off the estate vineyard. It's everything I love in a white wine – aromatic, fruity, refreshing and elegant. Worth every penny. Other standouts were the 05 Le Thief (one of their signature blends, usually Syrah dominated), which was still going strong, and the 07 Saboteur, which brings 30% Tempranillo into the usual GSM mix. It was a bit cold out, but we were kept warm by ample amounts of wine and grub, along with great company. The westside wineries just got some stiff competition. Twitter: @EdwardSellers
On Sunday we headed out to the eastside for the Cass Winery Grape Stomp and BBQ. The Man had never stomped grapes and was really looking forward to getting down and dirty. The weather was wet and cold with intermittent showers, but that didn't stop the fun. It would take hurricane force winds to end a party at Cass. The afternoon also included a Dog Show (with contests and prizes), which allowed visitors to bring their pooches out to the vineyard for a day of romping about amongst the vines. All the proceeds of the event went to the Woods Humane Society, who also had a few dogs on hand that were available for adoption. Needless to say, it was a pretty crazy day. Have to give a big shoutout to the band, Dr. Danger. They were awesome and kept everyone's spirits up despite the soggy outbursts.
It took awhile for people to get over their inhibitions and jump into the circle of grapes, but eventually there was little room to move. The Man had a great time, crushing his favorite grape, Mourvedre, while trying to avoid the bees and not fall over into the juice. Grapes are harder to crush than one anticipates. He demanded a glass of the finished product to help keep his energy up.
Things got a bit out of hand when the crowd cleared out and the twenty-somethings decided to dive into the must headfirst. Not something I would do considering the number of feet that preceeded them, but they seemed to be having quite a time using the crushed grapes and resulting juices as a pool. God only knows how cold and sticky it was. I can't imagine how long it took to get all the stems and seeds out of their hair. Winery owner Steve Cass had a carboy filled with last year's "Toe Jam Red" but couldn't get anyone to taste it. After seeing what happened this year, I'm not surprised. Sure, fermentation kills any/all bacteria, but still. I'll happily stick to the good stuff that comes in their bottles. Their events are always a blast, which is why we keep going back. The food's pretty great, too. Current wine loves are their 09 Roussanne and 07 Syrah.
Much thanks also to Maggie and Bob at Alta Colina Winery for opening their tasting room early on Sunday so we could taste their 08 wines before heading to Cass. Their winery may be small, but their wines pack an intense flavor punch along with great balance. My favorite find of the past year and you couldn't meet two nicer people. I look forward to drinking their wines for years to come. Their 08 GSM we tasted last year in the barrel was just as amazing in the bottle, as was a pre-release taste of their upcoming 08 Toasted Slope Syrah and Club Only 08 Ann's Block Petite Sirah. A can't miss stop. You can find them on Twitter: @ACBob & @AltaColina