Bauhaus's Wine Director Alan Koller takes a trip through the history of Paso Robles and explore the Wild West attitude towards winemaking.
I want to begin by expressing my thoughts and prayers for everyone in Napa and Sonoma right now. We experienced our own brutal forest fires in BC this year, and unfortunately Napa and Sonoma currently find themselves in the middle of a collection of horrible fire storms. Hopefully Mother Nature will be kind and allow for the fire fighters to gain control over these fires.
Now, this blog is going to focus on a region south of Napa and Sonoma, called Paso Robles. When it comes to the history of a wine region, Paso Robles has an interesting history. Paso Robles has been growing grapes since 1797. At that point it was the Spanish Conquistadors and Franciscan Monks that were the first to plant grapes in this region. Again, like many regions we have to thank religion for establishing an industry, but maybe that will be its own blog post one day. So the monks were making wine, but there was a fun twist to the story that set up the commercial history of the area. Frank and Jesse James’s uncle, Drury James, was the man behind the foundation of the town of Paso Robles. The driving reason behind the town was the abundance of hot springs. Those hot springs were the key. Travellers on the El Camino Real trail would stop there to refresh in the mineral springs before head north to San Francisco. Of course, when you have a place that attracts people, some don’t leave. People began to recognize opportunity, and they took advantage. Paso Robles slowly became a productive agricultural area, with apple orchards, olive trees, and almonds being planted alongside the grapes.
Despite the monks were growing grapes for almost 100 years, it was in the 1880s that commercial wine production began. The York family created the Ascension winery, but like the rest of the US, Prohibition came and stalled the wine business. However, during Prohibition, a man named Ignace Paderewski came to the famed hot springs and loved the region so much that he bought 2000 acres of land. He planted Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. Of course, because of Prohibition he could not make wine, but he could grow grapes. As a result, he had a head start when Prohibition finally ended. Working together with York Mountain Winery, named Ascension, Paderewski started producing wine, and it was these wines that put Paso Robles on the map. Because of his fame as a composer, he had an in with the elite of the eastern United States. It is similar to an infamous film director opening up a restaurant – there is a lot of power in cross over marketing. For some reason, Paderewski never established a winery, he just kept producing under York Mountain. Of course, with 2000 acres they had a lot of grapes available, so they started selling to other wineries. In 2004, York Mountain Vineyards was re-established under the name Epoch. In the end, the original Paderewski vineyards are still active and continue to provide grapes for some of the best wineries in the region.
The history is important for another reason in Paso Robles. The history sets the tone for the attitude of the wine makers. There were no rules, they played with lots of grape varietals and were not afraid to blend them. What were they growing? Well there are your classic Bordeaux blending grapes, they grow all of them. Of course, they grew Zinfandel. Oh, and a bunch of Italian showed up and planted, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. They also grow the main Rhone blending grapes, Syrah, Mouverdre, Grenache, and Viognier. Other winemakers got bored and started growing some of the popular grapes from Spain and Portugal. Paso Robles has been considered the Wild West of wines, and it’s easy to see why. Syrah/Zinfandel blends, Zinfandel/Cabernet blends, Cabernet/Petite Syrah blends, and Zinfandel/Petit Syrah blends. Basically, wine makers would blend pretty much anything just to create something unique. It has been argued that Paso Robles is the wild west of wine. And who am I to argue with that!
If you think that all of this history would create market demand, you would be mistaken. Paso Robles wines have more of a cult following than mainstream success. In Vancouver, access is limited, and while there are a few cheaper ones around, the quality wines from Epoch, Saxum, and L’Aventure are very hard to find. But if you do, they are worth the money.
But here is the good news: we have one at Bauhaus! Yes, of course we do, there wouldn’t be much point to this blog if we didn’t. We have the L’Aventure Optimus red blend. The 2013 Optimus is a blend of 48% Syrah, 30% Cab and 22% Petit Verdot. The wine starts off with a rush of dark ripe fruit and as the wine sits on your palate, the wonderful chocolate, tobacco and baking spices create a beautiful complexity, and finally the firm acidity with gentle tannins finish the wine perfectly. A beautiful wine with a long palate. Any time you have a wine with the richness of the fruit, lingering tannins with a long complex finish, you need a dish that will be big and bold. That is where our new 30 day dry aged Cache Creek striploin comes in. Not much of a stretch to pair it with a steak but it is the sides that make the wine perfect. Brussel sprouts roasted and puréed, piave of potato with Roquefort cheese and a green peppercorn sauce. All these rich bold flavours need a wine that can show off its own collection of complex flavours. The Optimus does not disappoint! Come by and try this unique wine and let me know if you think Paso Robles is the Wild West of wines.