Wine Getaway – Paso Robles – Winery Cats

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As always, the time between my Paso Robles wine country trips seem too long, and this time it truly was.  The only way to make it happen was to do a day trip.  Thankfully my boyfriend was game and were up and at ‘em early on a Saturday morning and hit the road before the sun came up.  We had no traffic—which is amazing for Southern California—and we were door-to-door in four hours flat.  This was a great start to what turned out to be a fantastic day!  Over the course of the day we explored four wineries and concluded the day at Sensorio for a field of lights.  All the wineries we visited on that day had winery cats.  While not everyone is fond of felines like am, these cats serve a purpose above being cute and sweet—they help with the sustainability for the winery.  The cats naturally provide rodent control, eliminating the need for poisons and traps to protect the vineyard from destruction.  Many wineries in Paso practice sustainability in this way, more than anyone could possibly visit in one day, so I’ll share where we had time to stop this trip.

Epoch

 

There’s nothing quite like starting your day off wine tasting.  Usually first thing in the morning the wineries are quiet and, frankly, very relaxing.  We pulled up to Epoch at 10:00 a.m. and started on our wine adventure for the day.  As we walked up the steps to the tasting room, we were greeted by this gorgeous grey and white cat, Levi.  Levi is a big boy, and looking at his paws, he gets the job done in the field!  He kindly let me pet him and take his photo, although he seemed a little shy.  Abbey greeted us outside the front door with a glass of their 2018 White to start off our tasting.  Epoch’s tasting room is, well, epoch.  Abbey gave us the history on the building we were tasting in, as well as the winery.  Bill and Liz Armstrong’s goal was to not only make amazing wine, but share and showcase the amazing history they have with their property.

First, let’s talk about the vineyards.  The Paderewski vineyard was originally owned by Ignacy Jan Paderewski in the early 1900s.  He was a world-renowned pianist, Polish diplomat and vintner, who created award-winning wines with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.  He grew the grapes on his land and then brought them to York Mountain Winery, where they were made into highly coveted bottles of wine.  In 2010, Bill and Liz revived this vineyard and have been growing Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, like Paderewski, along with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Viognier and Carignan.  Their two other vineyards, Catapult and York Mountain, have completely different soil types, soil pH, and mesoclimates, which helps them produce more complex and intense-flavor wines.  Jordan, their winemaker, does a great job of letting the varietals shine with each bottle, whether it be a blend or single varietal.

The building that houses the tasting room is also rich with history.  In 1882, Andrew York purchased 120 acres in Templeton, California, to start his winemaking venture, Ascension Winery.  Several years later, in 1895, York and his three sons began building their wine cellar.  Ascension led the way and was the first bonded winery on the central coast.  Over the next 80 years, the winemaking venture continued to grow and thrive, even through Prohibition, despite a few name changes as it changed hands throughout the family.  By 1970, the winery was purchased by the Goldman family and continued to operate with success until the late 1990s when it was forced to close due to retrofit requirements.  York Mountain Winery, as it was called, was the longest continuously run winery in the U.S.  Sadly, in 2003 when the San Simeon earthquake hit, the winery suffered extensive damage and was officially condemned.  York Mountain Winery continued to sell wine out of a nearby trailer, but was forced to close in 2009 due to foreclosure.  Not too long after that, the Armstrongs purchased the property and started bringing history back to life.  In their beginning, they operated their tasting room out of a “tricked-out single-wide.”  They did this for seven years while they worked on acquiring the proper permits to rebuild the earthquake-damaged winery.  In 2013, construction began and the process was tedious.  The Armstrongs wanted to preserve the integrity of the original building as much as possible, so they developed a labeling system for every brick and stone that was removed so it could be replaced back in its original position.  Talk about dedication!  After four years, in December 2016, they opened their doors to their new tasting room and the repurposed winery.  The bricks in the winery were fired on property in 1906, and the redwood beams and stones are from the original cellar.  Upstairs you can see a basket press that was once used by the York brothers.  Its placement mimics where it would have been originally positioned to allow gravity to bring the juice down from the crushed grapes to the main floor.  Epoch takes pride in bringing everything historically full circle with their wines – grapes being harvested from Paderewski Vineyard and then sent to York Mountain to be made into amazing wine.

We loved learning about the history of the property while we enjoyed the rest of our tasting flight of all 2015 vintages.  We had three red blends (Veracity, Estate Blend, and Ingenuity) as well as their Tempranillo.  Abbey also gave us a bonus pour of their 2016 Possibility, which is their dessert wine.  Each wine was delicious and unique in its own way.  Ingenuity was my favorite—they didn’t’ make it easy, it was a tough pick—and was the bottle we decided to take home.  Other fun facts about Epoch:  They are biodynamic, have lawn games to play, a picnic area outside for your own snack or lunch, and leashed dogs are allowed outside.  Their tasting fee is $20 and can be waived with a $50 bottle purchase.  They also offer a History Tour and Tasting for $30/person, which can be waived with each $100 wine purchase.  This is offered on the first Sunday of the month and is by appointment only.  They are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with minimal hours on New Year’s Eve.  They are closed Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas day.  Reservations are required for both tastings.

https://epochwines.com/the-tasting-room/

Pelletiere

Our next winery was Pelletiere, which is about a 10-minute drive up the 46 West from Epoch.  This was my first time visiting this winery and I was excited to do so after hearing great things about this Italian varietal powerhouse.  Janis, the owner, greeted us and took us through our flight.  We were their first guests of the day and, in essence, had a private tasting.  We loved that!  Janis told us about the history of the winery as she poured us our flight.

Janis Pelletiere grew up in an Italian household in Cicero, Illinois, where she was immersed in ample delicious food and wine.  At the age of 21, she moved from her hometown and eventually founded and grew a national market and research company in San Francisco.  After 30 years in the business, Janis sold her company and headed south to the San Luis Obispo area to be closer to her kids.  This is where she began the next chapter in her life:  the wine industry.

Janis was adamant about finding the perfect property in the Willow Creek district of Paso, and in 2014, she found it.  She knew this property was meant to be as the vineyards were already planted for Italian varietals.  It was important for Janis to stay true to her Italian roots, and as an homage to her father, she chose his name, Pelletiere, for her winery.  After a few short months of owning the property and a lot of hard work getting the property ready in every aspect, Janis, with the help of her winemaker Amy Butler, were able to pull it all together and officially opened in January 2015.  Amy continues as their winemaker today and has a style of wines with a smooth finish and silky tannins.  She accomplishes this by using a lot of neutral oak, newer oak puncheons and clay terracotta amphoras.

As mentioned, Pelletiere is a smaller production specializing in Italian varietals, as well as organic, single varietal wines that are all estate grown.  Janis explained how the single varietal wines are a lost art in Paso.  She noted they do make one blend, but the rest of her wines are single varietal.  As she put it, single varietal wines allow for the varietal to truly shine, rather than be overshadowed by other varietals in a blend.  On our tasting flight, we enjoyed the Viognier, Tievoli, Sangiovese Riserva, Lagrein, Syrah, finished by a bonus pour of their Zinfandel.  Their tasting sheet had a handy guide with recommendations for food pairings, as well as activity pairings.  The Lagrein and Zinfandel tied for my favorite.

After our tasting, Janis took us on a tour of the two B&Bs they have on property.  Both were very welcoming and well decorated, and, of course, had vineyard views.  I could have rolled my suitcase right in and made myself at home.  We also got to see some of the property’s live-in gardeners:  sheep.  They help with sustainability practices by providing pruning and fertilizing.  Other fun facts about Pelletiere:  They are pet friendly and ask that your pet stay on a leash.  There’s a picnic area for you to enjoy some food.  However, you’ll need to bring your own, as they do not offer food for purchase.

We took advantage of the picnic area to eat some lunch after our tasting.  Here we were greeted by the very sweet and soft “Grey Kitty,” who was not shy about joining us for a snack after roaming around the vineyards.  She was nice company.  Their B&B, The Farmhouse, offers onsite lodging and can be booked through their website.  I know I’d love to wake up in the middle of wine country any day of the week!  If you just want to visit and do a tasting, the tasting typically consists of five wines and is $20, which can be waived with a two bottle purchase.  They also offer a Vintner and Vines Tour on the first Saturday of the month at 11:00 a.m., with reservations appreciated; and a Vertical Tasting on the third Saturday of the month at 12:00 p.m., with reservations required.  The tasting room is normally open Thursday through Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment only.  They are closed Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day; with minimal hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  For groups of six, reservations are encouraged; seven or more, reservations are required.

https://www.pelletiere.com/visit/

Law

En route to our next stop took us through some beautiful views of wine country.  We enjoyed the scenic and curvy Peachy Canyon Road as we made our way up to Law.  If you’re looking for a winery with a modern vibe, organic wines, an informative winery tour and spectacular views, this is the place.  Evan greeted us as we exited our car, and we were excited to go through our tasting with him as he had hosted us before.

Before I dive into our tasting, let me share with you a little background about Law.  Don and Susie Law purchased the property in 2006 after an extensive search looking for the perfect place to start their passion project encompassing their favorite styles of wine from different regions in Europe, such as Rhône, Priorat and Rioja. They aspire to create world-class wines that are not only well extracted and beautifully integrated, but are also made organically and sustainably.  They utilize a gravity-fed system which helps keep their wines smooth.  Additionally, they do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers in the vineyard, nor any fining agents, filters, coloring agents or anything to manipulate the natural quality of the wines.  No yeast is introduced to facilitate the fermentation process; only native yeast found on the fruit is incorporated.  Their 22 concrete fermentation vessels are temperature controlled with glycol for radiant heating and cooling.  This allows them to do a cool extended fermentation.  This is a long process, but worth the wait, as it allows for more flavors and aromatics to be present in the wine.  Once fermentation is done, they gently move the wine downstairs via gravity.  This mode of transfer minimizes oxygen exposure and bruising of the juice, which will start aging the wine too rapidly.  Burgundian style French oak is used across the board at Law for their large format puncheons, standard size barrels and barriques—which are half the size of a standard 60-gallon barrel.  The different sizes are intended for how much oak expression they want introduced to the particular wine.  The toasting on the barrels also varies depending on what they want to accomplish with the wine.  After 22-24 months of aging, the blending process begins to find that seamless integration of tannins, fruit and acids.  Once achieved, the wine is bottled and kept for an additional year and a half before releasing.

Law kept in mind sustainability when developing their property, while keeping with their clean and contemporary style.  Their crush pad and fermentation room has ample natural light to decrease their energy needs, and where they do require electricity, solar panels provide the energy to fulfill their electricity use.  Their subterranean concrete building, used for processing and barrel storage, also keeps energy use down. Being subterranean helps facilitate natural climate control, so excessive energy is not needed to keep things cool.  As for being water wise, they have a butterfly design on their rooftop which collects rainwater, and a bio-reactor recycles production waste water.  The byproduct of both systems are used to irrigate the vineyards.  Last, but not least, they have two winery cats, Monkster and Camo.  These furry “employees” help with sustainability by providing a natural form of rodent control.  Their property consists of 318 acres:  200 acres are dedicated for wildlife preserve, 81 acres are for their vineyards, and the remaining acres are for the estate and three homes on the property, belonging to Don and Susie, the vineyard manager, and the winemaker.  They are finalizing construction on a new building that will be used for a member’s B&B starting in summer 2020.

Now, to our tasting.  Law’s wine flight is always done in a left-to-right flight format style so you can enjoy the wines as they change and develop in the glass.  The left side of the flight had brighter red fruits, while the right side had deeper and more complex dark fruits.  Our flight for the day showcased the 2016 vintage of the Beguiling, Sagacious, Beyond Category, and Aspire, all of which are red blends.  Beguiling and Sagacious, among a couple other wines we didn’t get to try that day, are personifications which are attributed to people who helped Don and Susie get to where they are in life.  Beyond Category and others not on the flight, are a tribute to Don and Susie’s love of cycling and their inspiration from cycling in Rioja.  Aspire is named after the new winemaker, Phil, and his aspirations of becoming head winemaker.  Phil joined Law’s team in 2016 while working under Scott, the head winemaker at the time.  Phil officially took over as head winemaker in 2019.  Evan surprised us by opening a bottle of their 2013 First Tracks for us to try.  I always seem to have a hard time picking a favorite wine when I’m at Law, but on this day, the 2013 First Tracks took a slight lead over the 2016 bottles.  This was the bottle we took home!  We also got a surprise visit from Michelle, of @enjoySLO, who sat and visited with us for the final portion of our tasting.  Knowing each other only via Instagram, it was such a fun time getting to meet and visit with her.  The flight we tried today is their Estate Flight Format Tasting and is $30.  Law is open 6 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., by appointment only.  They are closed on Wednesdays, major holidays, as well as some other scattered days throughout the year, so be sure to check their website for their schedule.

https://www.lawestatewines.com/Come-Visit/Our-Tasting-Room

DAOU

For our final winery of the day, we headed back out onto the winding wine country roads and up to DAOU.  I have been a member at DAOU since 2013 and always love stopping by to take in the gorgeous views and delicious wine.  This time I had the added bonus of meeting another wine Instagram friend, Danielle of @thesouthernvino.  What are the odds that by chance I got to meet two wine Instagram friends on the same day!  If you haven’t already read my blog post on their Vintage Retrospective Experience, you may not know that DAOU is the highest elevation winery in Paso, sitting atop DAOU Mountain at 2,200 feet.  The DAOU brothers, Georges and Daniel, were not always involved in making wine. Originally from Lebanon, the brothers were forced to relocate to Paris during the Lebanese civil war, and later moved to Southern France.  Being amidst the vineyards in France sparked their interest in wine, as it reminded them of the rural life they had in Lebanon.  With not much money in their pockets, Georges and Daniel traveled to the United States to study engineering at the University of California San Diego.  They worked hard in their studies, and after graduating, they created a successful networking technology company specializing in healthcare.  After selling the company, they found themselves wanting to rekindle their Lebanese roots and pursue viticulture.  Together, once again, they found success.  In 2007, they purchased the property on DAOU mountain and opened their doors in 2010.  They have flourished ever since, with a property of 212 acres, of which 120 acres are planted under vine.  They have an additional 90 acres elsewhere in the Adelaida district.

As for sustainable practices, DAOU takes pride in what all they do to help the environment throughout their property.  They maintain beehives onsite to help keep up pollination, as well white bird boxes for owls, which help with rodent management in the vineyards.  They hope to have sheep and goats on the property in the future.  Their newest addition, Belle, the winery cat, can be seen roaming around the tasting room area.  She is not only a friendly, furry greeter of guests, she does her due diligence in the vineyard to help keep pests away.

During our visit, I loved getting to meet Danielle, a fellow wine blogger from Mississippi, who was on vacation in Paso.  We shared wine stories while we enjoyed our wine flight.  Kevin took us through our flight of the 2018 Chemin de Fleurs, 2018 Reserve Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2017 Reserve Seventeen Forty, 2016 Estate Cuvée Lizzy, 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a surprise pour of the 2017 Estate Cabernet Franc.  Since we had a busy day, we took advantage of their food and wine pairing menu.  We enjoyed the Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with the Pinot and Seventeen Forty as our wines.  As we finished our final sips, we took our glasses outside to grass to take in the views.  We enjoyed the beautiful evening that was starting to settle in as the sun descended.  The sky had a light layer of scattered clouds, which promised for a fabulous sunset as we headed to Sensorio.

When you plan to visit DAOU, keep in mind that they are pet friendly.  They have food for sale, but kindly ask that outside food not be brought in.  If you’re looking to hang out for a little while and enjoy the view, you can purchase a glass or bottle of wine to drink, as well as order off their menu.  If you’re looking to do their tasting flight, it is $40 and can be waived with a three bottle purchase, or have two tastings waived upon joining membership.  For a more intimate experience, they offer the Vintage Retrospective Experience (as previously mentioned) as well as the Cabernet Comprehensive tasting.  Reservations are required for a specialized tasting and will cost an additional fee.  Group tastings of 9-12 people are $50 per person and include a Mezze plate.  Reservations are required for this as well.  They are open 7 days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and are closed for major holidays.  For a regular tasting, reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends, as they are usually booked and availability for walk-ins is slim.

https://www.daouvineyards.com/Visit

Sensorio

As the sun was starting to set, we headed back down the mountain toward the east side of the 46 highway to experience Bruce Munro’s Field of Light at Sensorio.  I had heard so many great things about this exhibit and seen photos, so I was excited to see it for myself in person.  Our timing was perfect, as we got to enjoy a stunning Paso sunset once we entered the grounds.  The clouds in the sky now had fluorescent pink accents and delivered a beautiful backdrop for the oak trees along the hill.  For those who know me, I am a sucker for sunsets like this, so my heart was full at this moment to have had such a wonderful day and Mother Nature be so kind to us by holding off rain, having the temperature be warmer than usual for the time of year, and gracing us with this striking sunset.

We purchased a glass of wine to sip on, and before we knew it, thousands of tiny light bulbs began to come to life as the sky gradually darkened.  Seriously, no photo will do this exhibit justice.  With 15 acres to walk through and 58,800 solar-powered stemmed spheres lit by fiber-optics, the magnitude of this exhibit is beyond words.  I found myself continuously saying, “Wow!” and “This is so beautiful!” as we walked along the property.  It was a very calming and magical experience, visually and audibly.  If you’re looking to enjoy this experience, book your wine getaway soon as the exhibit is set to close June 30, 2020.  New plans are under way for 2021 with future attractions including a hotel and conference center.  Food and beverages are for sale inside the exhibit.  They do not allow any outside food or beverages.  Only sealed water bottles or empty personal water containers are permitted.  Pets are not allowed; however, service dogs are granted access.  Adult tickets range from $30-$40, depending on if you pre-purchase or buy at the door and time of exhibit entrance.  VIP tickets are $79-85; child tickets are $9.50-$22.  If you live locally you can buy a season pass for $119.  Hours vary, so be sure to the check website before you schedule your visit.

https://www.sensoriopaso.com/

After Sensorio, we got in a little family time with my aunts who live in town as we grabbed a bite to eat for dinner.  It was a cram-packed, fun-filled 20-hour day and I loved every minute of it.  I slept like a baby that night.  Many, many other wineries along the central coast have winery cats on their property and practice other sustainability measures.  Be sure to let me know of where you visit that has furry “employees” and I’ll try to check them out on one of my next wine getaways.

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