Until I moved to Paso Robles 3 years ago, I did not have the best opinion of this region. I know this sounds bad, but hear me out. The reality is that within the broader wine industry, professionals (many of whom have not actually visited Paso) have a preconceived notion that Paso wine is over-ripe, over-alcoholic, unbalanced and therefore, not worth their time. Not so for consumers, however--typical wine consumers just drink what they like and are less likely to be bogged down by current trends and/or winemaking dogma. Paso wine is delicious and equitably priced for the most part.
I am both a wine consumer and winemaker, so my opinion was formed by my experiences in the industry. Before I moved here, I had worked in Sonoma County, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, in Woodinville and Walla Walla, Washington, and I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on American wine culture. In my mind, Paso Robles was that region too hot and too far south to make great wine, and most of the wines I had from the early 2000’s confirmed my theory.
Oh, how wrong I was.
When I first moved to Paso in 2013 for an assistant winemaker job, I quickly realized that I had grossly oversimplified the region in my mind. Not only is Paso diversified in its soil types and microclimates, but there is also an array of varietals and winemaking styles. While I still don’t particularly like many "big" Paso wines from the past (just my personal taste), I was wrong to assume that the region could not evolve into a world-class wine region.
Now that I’ve worked here for 3 years, I feel that Paso Robles is a premier region in the U.S. to grow Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and several other varietals that are making an impressive mark in a highly competitive marketplace. Of course, not all wine in Paso is unicorns and rainbows (just like any wine region) but the potential here is certainly tangible. The interesting thing is that I doubt I would have discovered this potential without fully immersing myself here.
Paso Robles is a wine region that needs to be visited in order to be fully understood. You must drive through the back roads of the Paso foothills to find little morsels of tastiness. You have to experience the energy of the wine industry and the town itself in order to fully appreciate the wines—the atmosphere is something unlike anywhere else I’ve worked. As a winemaker, it is exciting to be part of a burgeoning and innovative wine culture that more and more people are experiencing for the first time.
Adelaida Springs Ranch is also a place that needs to be visited in order to truly understand Rangeland Wines and the land’s beauty. The dusty green canopy of vines and oak trees contrasted against the golden hills of oats is something to behold—especially while drinking a glass of rosé.
The Wine Whisperer
Spring is a magical time of year here on the ranch: green grass is in abundance, all the vines are pruned and looking dapper, 130 baby lambs are frolicking around like kids in a Chuck E. Cheese, and of course, budbreak is just starting in the vineyard.
During the (not so) long, (not so) cold winter in Paso Robles, the grape vines go into dormancy where they can store up their energy, uptake water and get ready for another year of producing delicious grapes. The vines aren’t “asleep” exactly, but taking a kind of “staycation” between the grueling previous harvest and the upcoming growing season. This dormant state is not unlike a troubled poet who holes up in a secluded cabin, waiting for inspiration to snap her out of her writer’s block blues. Budbreak—when leaves first sprout on the vines—is the humble beginnings of what eventually will be, to stay with the previous metaphor, bottled poetry.
2016 now has the earliest budbreak on record in Paso Robles, even though 2015 held the non-coveted title last year—an early budbreak can be bad news. For us at Rangeland, it means we have to pull the sheep from the vineyard for the season. We like grazing our sheep in the vineyard because it is an effective way of mowing the grass and spreading nutrient-rich manure into the soil; but after budbreak we don’t want them eating the new leaves off the vines. In terms of vineyard health, early budbreak means the vines may not have had sufficient time in their dormant state and therefore might not have stored up enough energy for the upcoming season. This can put extra stress on the vines—unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about it except to delay pruning until the last moment, which we did. Early budbreak also creates a higher chance of frost damage since the weather can turn freezing in March and April. Fortunately for Rangeland, frost risk is low in our vineyard since it is located on a high hillside, allowing cold air to sink down into the Jack Creek drainage below, leaving our vines unharmed.
This intricate dance with Mother Nature is part of what it means to be a grape grower. Just like writing a good poem requires both structure and spontaneity, growing excellent grapes requires sound vineyard practices while staying flexible through Mother Nature’s whims.
To close, I’ll paraphrase 18th-century British poet, Samuel Johnson: wine “puts in motion what had been locked up in frost.
Until Next time, Cheers!
Paul, the Wine Whisperer
If you are interested in watching videos of lambs and/or a very cool video on vine pruning made by our ranch manager, Nathan Stuart, please check us out on Facebook.
One of the many reasons I love my job is that I rarely have to do the same thing two days in a row. Whether I’m in the cellar, filing government paperwork, or herding sheep--most days I don't know what excitement awaits me. My official title at Rangeland is Winemaker. For some, this might conjure up an image of me swirling a glass of cabernet all day and mumbling pompous comments about the wine’s nuances of purple petunias and tiger sweat. Others might think that I just sit in my office and write work-orders for my inferiors to complete. In reality, because we are a small winery, I am also the assistant winemaker, cellar worker, and intern/peon. I wash the barrels, clean the drains and I even harvest my own tiger sweat. On top of my cellar duties, I also help out on the ranch with cows, sheep, vineyard projects and basically whatever Laird or Nathan tell me to do. So although my task list may not seem as glamorous as most people’s expectations, I prefer to have some grit in my job description--even if that means shoveling sheep excrement.
This week, Ranch Manager Nathan, Eddie ("retired" and does everything) and I have been building fence around the barn in preparation for lambing season. Constructing livestock fencing is so much harder and more precise than I would have ever imagined. Fortunately, Nathan and Eddie have been extremely patient with me while I am learning the rudiments of fencing--they give me the easy jobs so I can feel good about myself. It is times like these that I feel truly humbled as a weakling winemaker since I can’t seem to keep up with Eddie, who I’d wager is twice my age.
I don’t really know exactly what ‘lambing’ is going to entail just yet, but we are expecting to have 250 baby lambs born within the next few weeks! I can’t wait to be surrounded by so much cuteness. I have this bucolic image of myself dressed in shepherd garb cradling a newborn lamb and keeping it warm while I sing it to sleep with a soft lullaby. Then doing it 249 more times. However, I’m pretty confident that won’t actually happen. I may just end up covered in feces, cursing a lot, with my dignity shattered. But that’s what makes a better story, right? Stay tuned on that one.
So this is my first blog, and I’m not exactly sure where I want to go with it just yet. I’m not confident that anyone other my mom will even read it. Nonetheless, I plan on writing about wine-oriented topics such as the soil’s effects on wine, Paso Robles’s place in the wine world, and the relationship between wine scores, popularity, and price. Ideally, I would love it if our club members would ask wine questions of me in an “Ask Amy” sort of way. I could be your own personal wine butler, who answers to your every question. I shall call myself… the Wine Whisperer. (Apparently, there is already a trademarked ‘Wine Whisperer’ but I thought of the name idependently.)
For questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Until next time, Cheers!
Paul, The Wine Whisperer
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