Revolution on the Central Coast
Going down Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles – one of the longer roads in the area – rounding its crazy curves, it’s normal to run into a gaggle of wild turkeys. Vineyard managers have to worry about wild pigs eating the grapes, so owning a winery also means owning a shotgun. And winemaker Hilary Graves, one of my favorites in the region, regularly has to bring in a falconer to rid her vineyards of rampant starlings.
But, even so, if I had the money, I’d be buying a vineyard here right now.
That’s because, after straying north from Santa Barbara County and pounding the dirt roads around Paso, I started to see a pattern. I’ve been heading up from my home in Los Angeles every week or two this summer, hanging out with winemakers and vineyard managers, and tasting as much as I could get my hands on. Though, sure, some tasting rooms do have bruisers that are high on alcohol but low on quality, many passionate winemakers are creating big, opulent wines with a regional hallmark of incredible purity. And it’s that purity that’s made me realize, after tasting enough of these distinct wines, that there’s a revolution happening here. This is a region on the verge of international breakthrough.
About a decade ago, there was a strange blip: A Paso Robles wine made it into the top ten of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. Robert Parker started going crazy for Saxum, L’Aventure and Linne Calado, which quickly became the region’s most recognizable names. And then, one of Saxum’s was dubbed the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year for 2010. While this is obviously a nice thing for the region, it’s good for wine drinkers too – there are plenty of wines to back it up.
Paso has also had three vintages in a row, 2009, 2010, and 2011, with really small yields. This isn’t false scarcity. Top tier wineries can’t make enough to satisfy demand, and some have so little wine that they’ve had to close their tasting rooms. That’s why I was so thrilled to score my pick for our members.
My featured pick:
When I first met winemaker and vineyard manager Hilary Graves, I had never even heard of her, and I admit I was a little skeptical. She had no heavy hitting scores or national press, yet she told me she was selling her wines by allocation only. But after tasting how incredible these wines are, I understood why demand is so high.
Follow me on Twitter @ELB411