Day two of the CABs of Distinction event started with a winemaker panel discussion moderated by Steve Heimoff, California editor of Wine Enthusiast and a tasting of the panelists’ signature wines.
- Gary Eberle, owner/enologist of Eberle Winery
- Scott Shirley, winemaker for JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery
- Kevin Willenborg, winemaker for Vina Robles
- Steve Peck, red winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
- David Galzignatoi, winemaker for Jada Vineyard & Winery
- Daniel Daou, owner/winemaker of Daou Vineyards & Winery
“Something has turned here,” said Heimoff. “In my judgment, Paso Robles has fulfilled the expectation of a great wine region.” Heimoff’s opening remarks stated that there was a definite shift in Paso Robles. He asked each panelist to provide their perspective for the shift and dramatic quality of the wines in the region.
Gary Eberle, the “Godfather” of Paso Robles cabernet, recalls the first time he saw Paso back in 1962 while working on his master’s for viticulture at U.C. Berkeley and realized the region’s huge potential. In May 1973 he started planting 700 acres of grapes over the next five years. Like many vineyards in this region, most grapes produced were being sold to Napa Valley before eventually bringing the desire, technology and expertise to begin producing wine in Paso.
Kevin Willenborg for Vina Robles, has had an extensive winemaking career and is coming upon his 30th harvest. “What makes Paso unique? It’s very large and different terroir. What ties it together are three aspects; high diurnal temperature variance, a limited soil profile in terms of nutrients, calcareous, high alkaline, limiting stress on plants and very rich, expressive fruit characteristics, a ripeness. Skin tannin developing the color, plays a big part in the wine.”
Heimoff asks Willenborg, “You’ve worked all over the world, what is the difference here?
There are slight variances between Napa and Paso, more roundness of the tannins, easier fruit where we don’t have to fight the tannins in Paso,” said Willenborg.
“The reason we came to Paso was we felt we could achieve a ripeness from year to year for Cabernet Sauvignon,” said Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards and Winery. “I found that we could achieve ripe tannins and it’s approachable earlier. The second reason, you have these soils you can only find in very special regions in the world, calcareous, which gives you the minerality, the natural acidity flows very well into the wine.”
When asked about his approach to Justin’s flagship wine, Isosceles, winemaker Shirley said, “I look for tannins, fruit and acidity, like the three points of the Justin triangle. I strive to find the perfect balance or harmony of the three and to make a wine that is approachable upon release and also good over time.”
Paso, often treated like the red-headed step child to Napa Valley, was known previously for producing a good value cabernet, so grapes were planted for high production, not necessarily for quality. The shift to quality and newfound global recognition of Paso Robles cabernets and Bordeaux wines also bring with it a wave of acclaimed winemaking talent, which is testament to the region’s growing popularity and the potential they see here. Willenborg comes to Vina Robles with extensive winemaking experience from such wineries as Chateau Petrus, Louis M. Martini in St. Helena, CA, Cedar Creek Estate in Kelowna, Canada, and Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, CA. Scott Shirley joined JUSTIN in 2012 after 15 years with The Hess Collection and Opus One.
Heimoff in closing, “This is just the tipping point for Paso. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
As part of the panel discussion we got to taste of each panelist’s 2009 or 2010 signature cabernet or Bordeaux-style blends.
- 2009 Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($34) – good fruit and big tannins
- 2009 JUSTIN Isosceles ($62) – well balanced and creamy smooth finish (Showing well)
- 2009 Vina Robles Mountain Road Reserve ($45) – a lighter nose with hints of vanilla and caramel, dark color and coated the glass
- 2010 DAOU Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($56) – high acidity and lighter flavor
- 2010 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) – dark plum, higher acid, light tannins, fruit forward and smooth (Biggest Surprise)
- 2010 Jada Passing By ($46) – a red Bordeaux blend Peppery, light acid, light tannins, fruit back and smooth