Monday, April 28, 2014

Cab Proclaimed King in Paso Robles

There is a new wine movement taking place in Central California.  The movement is to designate Paso Robles, California as the most promising region in the world for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. 

It is a rather bold initiative that was founded in the last two years leading to the formation of the Cab Collective,  a group of Paso Robles wineries that is focusing on small production, elite Cabernets. 

Paso Robles is located almost midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

The Cabs of Distinction four-day event invited media, sommeliers, and consumers to Paso Robles April 23-26 for several days of tastings, winery visits, and discussion about why Paso Robles should be recognized as one of the leading terroirs for Bordeaux style wines.
The Paso Robles Inn hosted several wine tastings

The Paso Robles AVA (Agriculture Viticulture Area) is 617,000 acres, which is larger than Napa and Sonoma County combined.   26,000 vineyard acres are planted so there is room for major expansion as long as it rains every couple years.  Winemakers are hoping that the forecast for El Nino rains will hold true in 2015 following a well documented drought. 

Wineries took their first steps into Cabernet in the 1960s and 1970s in Paso Robles.  Cabernet Sauvignon remains the leading variety for the Paso Robles appellation, accounting for 38 percent of the regions planted wine grape acreage.  Wineries from Temecula, California to Texas continue to source the region for grapes and juice to produce their own wines. 

However, the Cab Collective members are changing the focus from crop farming of vineyards to more controlled viticulture practices.  “We discovered through sampling over several years we could control quality,” says Michael Mooney, owner and winemaker at Chateau Margene.  As a fifth generation Californian, Mooney settled on his vineyard property in 1997 and is continuing to discover the potential of the region for higher-end Cab production.  “We are hyper vigilant in our process,” said Mooney.

Barrel, New Release & Library tastings were offered to guests

David Parish, owner and winemaker at Parrish Family Vineyardsin Paso Robles worked for 20 years with Robert Mondavi  planting vineyards in Napa Valley.  He chose to establish his own winery in Paso Robles based upon the conditions he feels are most important for growing wine grapes.  Parish says the region offers an ideal climate.  “I feel Paso Robles is like the Goldilocks area.  It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold,” says Parish.    He also sights other contributing factors that are highly favorable to growing Cabernet Sauvignon related to water, soil, and the abundance of south/southwest facing slopes.


At the forefront of this movement is Daniel Daou, proprietor and winemaker at the relatively new DAOU Vineyards & Winery.  He came to Paso Robles with a colorful life history.  He carries a scar of from a war injury in his youth in Lebanon.  He and his brother, Georges grew up in France.  They came to San Diego for their college education.  As an engineer he and his brother founded a successful high tech company that went public.  This business success staked him to pursue a lifelong dream, to become a farmer and winemaker.  Daou Winery was founded on the highest elevation in the region (2200 feet) and the beautifully designed tasting room has quickly become well known for its magnificent vistas of the Paso Robles wine region. 
Daniel Daou, of DAOU Vineyards and Winery

The brothers were looking for a vineyard location that was reminiscent of where they grew up in France.  They also came in search of the right kind of soils for producing high end wine.  When they came to Paso Robles they found a new home.  “It was love at first sight,” said Daou.

Daou feels Paso Robles began a transformation 7 years ago that was similar to a great revolution that occurred in Napa in the 1990’s.  Like Napa, Paso winemakers began to transition to a Bordeaux style planting.  They also began to source higher end clones. 

“What we are doing now in Paso is we are starting to tap into the potential of what this terroir can do,” said Daou.  He says that Paso Robles is just beginning to recognize that it is a wine region where great things can happen.  “It’s like we had a Ferrari that we were driving at 50 miles per hour.  Today, we are actually thinking it can go 200 miles per hour,” he said.   With a greater focus on quality he feels that winemakers in the region are starting to “put the pedal to the metal” with high performance results from many wineries.

Paso Robles Cabs also have a characteristic which is not found in some of the old world wine regions.  The wines are accessible to the marketplace at a young age.   Consumers don’t have to wait 10-15 years for the wines to offer splendid results.   Daou is now producing Cabs that are aged 24 months in French Oak barrels.  His two-year old Cabs were sold out in two weeks for $100 per bottle directly through the tasting room, without the exercise of garnering high wine scores. 

“Paso is able to achieve the correct ripeness almost year to year.  So what you are tasting in Paso as a ripe wine is more reminiscent of a 1982 Bordeaux,” says Daou.

Paso Robles has long been recognized as an excellent point of origin for wines from California.   Winemakers such as Jerry Lohr at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wine, Gary Eberle at Eberle Wineryand Doug Beckett at Peachy Canyon have had their hands in the dirt in Paso Robles for several decades before the Cab Collective was declared a legitimate designation.   All three of these heritage wineries from the region have signed on as members of the Cab Collective.

Cynthia Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wine spoke to invited guests at the VIP BBQ

As the wine industry has flourished in Paso Robles in the past ten years, emerging winemakers are hoping to elevate the region’s reputation when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.  “In the past, Paso Robles wineries were shy about selling a higher end bottle of cabernet,” said Daou.  Cab Collective members believe their wines can stand up with other regions that have a larger and more long-standing reputation. 


Bottles showcased at the Cabs of Distinction event included the 2012 Cask 4 from Chateau Margene ($75), 2010 Cab from Parrish Family Vineyards ($50), 2010 Ancestor from Halter Ranch Vineyard($50), and 2010 Soul of a Lion from DAOU ($100).


Most of what you find in Paso Robles is small, family owned wineries.  These are boutique wineries are successful in their own right.  J. Lohr is the biggest brand with distribution throughout North America and globally.  Without a major city nearby, the fan base for Paso Robles is primarily in Central California.   The Cab Collective hopes to expand its visibility and popularity through the massive southern California markets of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.  The town offers visitors a quiet, rural, farm-to-table culture that is showing signs of growth with new and expanding hotel options. 
The newly renovated Justin Vineyards hosted VIP guests


Cabernet Sauvignon is now the most popular red wine varietal in America, slightly ahead of Merlot.  Members of the Cab Collective such as Daniel Parrish hope that consumers will focus their attention on Cabs from Paso Robles regardless of the price point.  “Taste the wines.  Evaluate for yourself,” said Parrish. 






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