One of the best parts about living in this part of the world is that we get warm afternoons and cool mornings with a nice breeze and a little bit of sunshine sprinkled in with some clouds. Central Texas is a ‘Mecca’ for tourists, winter Texans, students, families and anyone looking to find a beautiful place with great resources, beautiful trees and a great bottle of wine. While, wines from Texas are really beginning to make names for themselves, we are still very partial to wines from California.
Speaking of which, do you remember when the movie, ‘Sideways’ with Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsden and Thomas Haden Church? You know, the guy is getting married so he and is best buddy go on a ‘wine tasting’ trip through the heart of Pinot Noir country in central/northern California. The story line of the movie kind of stunk, but the appetite for wine became overwhelming after watching the film. While we are NOT die-hard Pinot Noir fans; preferring the bigger, bolder reds, we have learned – key word, learned – to appreciate better wines. One of the reasons we made a return trip to Paso Robles was not only to try new wines and varietals, but also revisit old friends and reconnect with tastes we’d learn to love five years ago.
We mentioned during our trip – reference the blog about Barr Estate Winery – that we had the opportunity to stay in the home of the vintners – on their land, in their fields of grapes was their beautiful three bedroom, three bath home with a terrific kitchen, living area, patio with pool and hot tub – and rows and rows and rows of vines loaded with fruit. Who would have known that so many vines could produce so many grapes and that so many grapes could produce so much juice! As previously mentioned, the process is fascinating; clearly, hard work, intense and totally dependent on the weather and available labor. Now, please understand, we have very little knowledge of how wine is made, but thanks to the Barr Family, Greg and Tealy especially, we had a terrific, albeit short, education on wine making. The sun shines A LOT in this part of the state and with the area being so close to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, each hilly area becomes its’ own micro-climate and the grapes ripen differently from hillside to hillside. Their flavors are each affected differently by the soil conditions, the air temperatures, the sunlight, so many factors for a single fruit with its’ ultimate destiny to end up in a bottle as wine. We don’t know about you, but to us – it’s awesome!
Thanks to the Barr Family, tonight we’re enjoying their 2008 Barr Estate Wines Malbec. We just want you to know – it’s not available everywhere, but you’d better call these folks and get some of this Malbec. It ROCKS! From the minute Tealy opened the first bottle in their tasting room, we were seduced by the oakiness of this wine. It had matured a little longer in the oak barrels than most Malbecs would, but it had benefited greatly from extra time in the barrel and then extra time in the bottle. To be enjoying a 2008 Malbec in 2012 is kind of unusual . . . most Malbecs are vinted with the intent of bring it out early and letting the fruit do all the work. This Barr Estate wine is clearly designed for a discriminating palate that appreciates a deep, dark purple color with amazing notes of earth, oak and tobacco, and the tasting yields an amazing conglomeration of black cherries, currants, raspberries and a hint of green pepper. The wine is so smooth – when you take your first sip, you’ll be mesmerized by its’ sultry taste – both at the front end, but especially at the finish. This is a beautiful, hand-crafted wine. It’s not easy to find in Texas, but we know from talking with Tealy, that it is available in the Houston area; however, we’re still trying to find someone locally who is selling it. We’ll be doing our homework in the days, weeks and months ahead to find locations for this wine’s availability in our state.
We also mentioned previously, while in Paso Robles, that the Barr’s gave us the opportunity to help sort Malbec grapes – a fairly menial task for most, but intensified by the rush of being in the middle of a process that will ultimately culminate in those folks making wine. It’s one of those ‘can’t miss’ opportunities for wine lovers to try something uncommercialized, unadvertised, and truly hand-crafted.
We hope you’ll have the chance to get a hold of this wine and when you do, please enjoy it responsibly, and recycle whenever possible.
Good evening, wine lovers! After spending the past five days in the beautiful Central Coast wine country of California, we have arrived back home. Soledad, Paso Robles, Cambria, Big Sur and Monterrey . . . amazing places to visit and a great way to spend a vacation. But, there is no place like home – we have really enjoyed writing about the experiences of the past few days but relish the opportunity to write about WINES going forward. It was a beautiful morning in San Francisco . . . cool, sunny with almost no breeze. Our day started with breakfast – thank goodness for Denny’s coffee and a trip to the airport. You can really tell that San Francisco has planned their airport for LOTS of traffic. We were dropped off at our airline by Ellie Mae and Jethro who had a later flight – we proceeded to the ‘dreaded security area’. Actually, the wait was much less than anticipated and we made it through scanning without much to talk about. (We did get full body scanned – quite a treat to start the day) It was almost amusing when we got to our gate and our flight was non-stop to Austin and in the gate immediately to our left was a non-stop flight to San Antonio that got in a half hour earlier! Mr. Drysdale and Ms. Jane joined us on the flight – so it was eventful! After a delay on pushing away from the gate, we were in line for take off – seven, count them seven planes ahead of us! We ended up taking off a half hour AFTER departure time, but miraculously, we arrived ON TIME in Austin at 4:15. Man, it always feels good to take a trip but it ALWAYS feels good to get home.
After a quick stop for a sandwich, it was on to the house and a chance to visit the ‘family’! Our four-legged children were very excited to see us after being cared for by our special pet sitter, Mitsie Benton with Happy Paws Pet Service. As usual, she did a great job of taking care of them, so we could keep them at home as opposed to taking them to a kennel. There is a magic with vacations that you know you’re ready to get home when you realize there is work to do and you can’t wait to get home to do it! On top of that, the break was just long enough for us to enjoy some great wines, some delicious food and our great friends.
Coming home tonight, we decided to forgo our Paso Robles wines (no worries, you’ll be hearing ALOT about them in the days ahead!) and instead opted for a Sonoma County Zinfandel given to us by Jean’s Dad, Bill. The wine is a 2007 Carol Shelton Rocky Reserve Zinfandel, and it is a great way to come back home! Of course, you’ve come to expect us to talk about zinfandel, and this wine kicks some butt . . . thank you very much! A great nose of pepper and spice with lots of fruit greeted us when we pulled the cork, and then the first sip – WOW, it was smooth, tasty, fruity and oh, what a nice velvety finish. We couldn’t have picked a better way to wrap up our vacation and usher in the next several months of wine blogging.
For those of you who have recently signed on to follow us, thank you. We have learned that not only do we appreciate good wine, but we appreciate the process of making wine, the concept of marketing wine and the fun that comes from sampling and tasting wine. Even though we are now home, we’ve learned and continue to learn about the stories of wine makers that are inspirational, family-oriented and have a cool under current. We visited with Don Brady at Robert Hall Vineyards who has ties to Texas and man, he is a great guy who really knows how to make delicious wines; we visited with Greg and Tealy at Barr Estates Winery who showed us that it takes hard work to make a quality product. We can’t wait to talk about some of the amazing wines that we tasted during our trip. One of the great things about visiting wine country is ordering some wines and counting the days until their arrival – kind of like Christmas!
Tonight, we relax and enjoy our final hours of vacation with a renewed sense of energy and focus – good wine is not just a hobby – it’s a passion and much like the makers and sellers of wine that we met over the past several days, we hope that you’ll continue to enjoy good wine as well, but please remember to enjoy your wine responsibly and recycle whenever possible.
We had an amazing day today – it was our final day in beautiful Paso Robles. After terrific stops at a variety of places, the one place we hadn’t spent any time at was our host vineyard . . . Barr Estate Vineyard. This place was the epitome of class – we stayed in Tealy & Greg’s home and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. A great kitchen, patio with a pool and hot tub and all surrounded by grape vines was hard to pass up! We used their house as our base for touring the Paso Robles area and it was, for all three nights, the perfect place to retreat to for an evening of food and relaxation. With today being our last day in Paso, we decided to start it with the Barr Family. You see, they are in the middle of harvesting and processing their grapes. Their winery is the consummate family-run business. Father, mother, son and daughter – they all have a role in this operation, but at picking and production time, we learned that more hands are better than fewer!
So, when Greg’s son told us that they could use volunteer help starting at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, we figured, why not! Up before the dawn this morning and dressed and ready to go, our party of six was ready to donate an hour or two to their cause. After meeting John and Jimmy and a couple of other guys, we were told what we needed to do – help pick out leaves, stems, bugs, worms, lizards or any other foreign object from the harvested grapes so they could be further refined and ready for juicing. We had NO idea how much work went into this process. Yes, we’d previously been through numerous tours of wine making facilities and knew about the grapes coming in and the juice getting squeezed, BUT we never knew how much work was needed to get the grapes ready TO BE SQUEEZED! Each of the tubs that Greg dropped had a half ton of grapes in them. These were Malbec grapes that Jean and Elle Mae had kinda sorta helped pick yesterday – and with three people on the primary sorter and five people on the secondary sorter, the idea was to eliminate as many non-essential elements as possible. One hour disappeared in what seemed like 20 minutes and before long we were at two hours and there was still 5 or 6 tubs left to be sorted; however, with a check out time approaching and a lot of driving to be done, we bid adieu after two and a half hours. What an amazing experience to be able to help someone in their endeavor, but at the same time learn to appreciate one of the many aspects of wine making.
After getting cleaned up and packed we stopped at the wine making process to offer our thanks for the accommodations and the opportunity to volunteer and help them. We also asked if we could taste and buy some of their wines which Tealy was happy to oblige. When she opened the doors to their tasting room, we could tell that this was going to be a place to be reckoned with in the months and years ahead. Our first sample was their Albarino white wine and, while we will talk about this wine separately in a future blog, we want you to get a bottle of this wine and sample it. WOW, it was delicious, fruity, crisp and ready to drink. This wine was followed up by their 2008 Malbec which was absolutely magnificent. We can’t wait to share more about this delicious, structured, full-bodied wine in future blogs. The malbec was followed by their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and their special dessert wine. Each of these had their own special characteristics and traits that produced great noses and tastes and finishes.
We thoroughly enjoyed this part of our trip to Paso Robles. It wasn’t expected, but we both feel like we’d like to do this “volunteer” work again. There is something so amazing about the wine making process. It doesn’t just “HAPPEN” and as Jimmy, one of the great volunteers we met today confirmed to us, there is a lot of truth to the bumper sticker that says, “Will Work For Wine”! While we don’t think we’d ever go to that extreme, we do understand the passion that people have for making this product. For us, it’s an opportunity to learn and appreciate something we’ve come to enjoy. For you, two things: if you can’t get a hold of Barr Estate wines – GRAB THEM.
We made one final stop to visit an old friend before head north to San Francisco via Highway 1 – Cypher Winery. When we came this way years ago our first stop was Four Vines and we fell in love with their wines, especially their “Naked Chardonny – made in stainless steel tanks, this wine became, and still is just about the only white wine we enjoy. Not being fans of creamy, buttery Chards, this crisp alternative really grew on us. Anyway, long story short – the owners of Four Vines opted to go two different directions and hence Cypher was born. Cypher Wines are a little bit more edgy than Four Vines and host a crop that include names such as Heretic, Loco, Left Wing, Right Wing and the one we had with lunch today 0 Peasant. We enjoyed this wine along with a wonderful fresh sandwhich from Hwy 46 Farmers Market. While not carrying the same label as Four Vines – the wine was definitely a close member of the family. The was 48% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache and 24% Syrah. This wine had a great nose – full of flavor. Our glasses contained spicy black cherry fruit brought to life by a vibrant acidity that keeps this wine alive and makes the fruit dance with long, graceful mouth feel and a long finish of cedar, nutmeg, and caramel. We picked up one to bring home to enjoy with some ribs off the smoker or just about anything else. We miss our friends at Four Vines, but know where to find them – in the meantime, will make a visit to Cypher every now and then and stop in and catch up with Britta.
Heading north we stopped and said hello to the herds of Sea Elephants lounging in the sun, the beautiful CA coastline, Big Sur Park (Yes, Jean got to sing the “Big Sur Park for Me” song and relive a childhood memory) and finally San Francisco – all packed and ready to head home in the morning. We will miss CA and our new friends, but somehow are confident we will be back!
And finally, when you find the wine that you like or love, enjoy it responsibly (with friends or family) and please remember to recycle whenever possible!
Brian sorting grapes at Barr Winery
Jethro and Elle Mae working hard at the stem sorter