Exploring East Union Road and Templeton
By Laura Ness
Publishers Note: Last Thursday, 4/15/14, we ran day one of this two-day trip through the east side of Paso Robles. If you haven’t read it yet, click here. We left off with day two’s breakfast at The WineMakers Porch. Read on for the rest of day two, which focuses primarily on Templeton.
Though it will be hard to tear yourself away from the comfy environs of The WineMakers Porch, push on, more mesmerizingly beautiful vineyards await.
Still Waters Vineyard: An Oasis for Whites, Reds and Beautiful Grounds
Take Linne out to Geneseo, take a right on Creston, and you’ll come to the outdoor wedding-perfect setting of Still Waters Vineyard, a water feature filled oasis that overlooks estate vineyards with a panoramic view to the west. It’s a good place to start winetasting because they specialize in as many whites as reds, and you can pick up fresh eggs here too.
Try their well-executed Cuvée Blanc, a tasty blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, the grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc and the delicate honeydew melon-laced Pinot Gris, all made with a light touch. The well-polished Cabernet Franc is wonderfully fragrant and don’t miss the mighty tasty Merlot. Everything is estate grown and reasonably priced. Taste estate olive oil from a grove that’s more than 100 years old. Blending parties with the winemaker are offered twice monthly.
Knockout Rosé, Zinfandel and Malbec at Victor Hugo
Next, it’s on to Victor Hugo, via Creston to South El Pomar, left, then turn right on El Pomar, passing Pomar Junction (also worth a visit: famous for their Rhones) and signs for Ambyth Estate (another gem, also by appointment). Victor Hugo is on your right, just opposite Lupine Lane.
This little gem is open by appointment only, so contact Vic and Leslie Roberts at least 48 hours in advance to plan your visit. Here, 80 acres of grapes on what Vic describes as the train wreck of a cattle ranch the couple purchased in 1984, provide fruit for many labels. All the fruit was sold until 1997, when they did their first crush.
The Viognier has a weighty texture and top notes of baking spice, while the barrel fermented Chard sees 100 percent new French. It’s rich with baked pear and honeysuckle.
The knockout is the Rosé of primarily Malbec, Zin, Merlot and Syrah, which he cleverly calls “Les Mis,” having some fun with a potentially bad pun. The 2011 Zin is gorgeous with blackberry patch aromatics, lively cranberry, red plum and pomegranate flavors, with ample acidity and a hint of bacon fat.
The 2011 Malbec is his current heartthrob, a variety they planted courtesy of their son wanting to go to Spain to meet a college language requirement. Discovering that Chile would be much more economical, he headed there for eight weeks, and when Vic and Leslie joined him, they discovered all this amazing Malbec growing in rocky soil. They were hooked. One sip of their 2011 will hook you, too.
The “bomb” for me has always been their “Opulence,” a big-boned Bordeaux blend that delivers long haul staying power.
Big Italian Varietals from Munchkin Vines at Bella Luna
Next it’s on to Bella Luna, (Lupine to Vineyard to Templeton Rd), where Vietnam fighter pilot, Sherm Smoot and his lifelong best friend, Kevin Healy, make some superb Sangiovese, Barbera and Super Tuscan blends from gnarly little dry-farmed vines, no more than a foot tall. They’re like munchkin vines, but oh, what powerful fruit they produce, at a measly one-ton per acre.
The 2011 estate Sangiovese is a food lovers dream with racy cherry, coffee, leather and lilac, and the 2010 “Estate Riserva” Super Tuscan (60 percent Cab, 40 percent Sangiovese) is packed with saddle leather, pipe tobacco, pine tar and dark cherry, and a most entrancing finish that layers on soft, satisfying tannins and brilliant acidity. The native yeast fermentations give the wines extra mid-palate complexity, and they’re all quite modest in alcohol.
I loved the stunning 2011 Bella Luna Barbera, which comes from a vineyard in San Benito. It’s a virtual rollercoaster ride in the mouth with its racy lavender, plum, boysenberry and cherry flavors, framed by well-tamed tannins and leading to a rush of coffee on the finish. A spectacular example of how Barbera can be made in California.
The wine that has really put this tiny place on the radar, though, is the “Fighter Pilot Red,” a Zinfandel from the dry-farmed Bailey Ranch. Smoot can’t make enough of this to satisfy the Air Force, along with fellow aviators. It’s like drinking blackberry and boysenberry pie with a finish of licorice. A portion of the sales goes to help the children of wounded and deceased veterans.
Wild Horse Winery has Paso Robles’ Unbridled Vibe
Just down Templeton Road, is Wild Horse Winery: it comes up pretty quickly on your left. The sign for the driveway is literally opposite on the right. Founded by local legend, Ken Volk, back in 1983, who first made wine in a plastic bin using a baseball bat for punchdown, the property was named for the herds of wild mustangs that roamed here, and the vibe of the place has always been a bit – well – unbridled.
Wild Horse (owned by Constellation) now makes more than 250,000 cases, most of which goes to lucky people all across the country who can find it in local grocery stores.
Volk left in 2003, but not before installing Floyd, the white llama who still greets visitors, looking for a slice of apple. You can feed Floyd, who is a sweetheart, and attempt to feed the new girl, Dahli, who just gave birth to her son, Salvador. The latter aren’t too friendly, yet, but Sal might learn a thing or two from Floyd. The tasting room sells adorable stuffed llamas to go. Don’t leave without a pair!
Winemaker Chrissy Wittman crafts some of the most consistently amazing Central Coast wines, including the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet you can find at your local Safeway. But she loves crafting wines for the tasting room, including the delicious and spritely Malvasia Bianca, refreshing and lime-minerally Verdelho, the inky and licorice-laden Négrette and the extremely popular and rare Blaufrankisch, a European black grape that is predominantly grown in Austria. It’s soft, easy to love and filled with pleasing cherry and nutmeg. Buy a couple of bottles to impress your friends.
But don’t miss the Unbridled series of wines, especially the Zin, Merlot and the Righetti Vineyard Pinot from Santa Maria, all pretty impressive. More impressive yet is the massive cellar Chrissy and her crew manage: it’s filled with thousands of barrels, aging fruit from everywhere including San Ardo, Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande Edna Valley and Santa Maria. Call ahead to arrange a vineyard or winery tour: most educational.
Olive Oil Tasting at Olea Olive Oil Farm
A couple of miles down Templeton Road is Olea Olive Oil Farm, where French expats, Yves and Clotilde Julien, will delight you with their excellent selection of estate grown olive oils, along with infused balsamics, culinary rubs and salts, plus soaps and body lotion.
Their blends and infusions are really noteworthy. The kumquat oil, lightly citrusy, is wildly popular with local restaurants, and their basil is delicate but potent. I particularly loved “Crescendo,” a blend of 80 percent Arbequina, a small Spanish variety that loves Paso’s Mediterranean climate, and 20 percent Late Harvest Tuscan olives, dark and richly fragrant. It starts out round and buttery up front, and then builds, crescendo-like, to a pungent climax of flavors that refuse to leave the back of your throat.
Available in 375 and 750ml bottles, as well as in magnums: the latter are priced at just $45, a great way to get the healthy benefits of a product we all know is good for you. They have an olive oil club, too, with fun club parties, and you’ll get invited to help with harvest if you sign up. Truly a charming couple!
Choices for Another Overnight: Bed & Breakfast Inns and Fine Dining
In downtown Paso Robles, choose from Artisan, Villa Creek or Bistro Laurent for an absolutely memorable and distinctive dining experience, but be sure to make reservations in advance. Artisan is modern world-influenced cuisine, while Bistro Laurent is classic French and Villa Creek is Catalan and Continental inspired with everything fresh from the farm. The starters will keep you busy for hours and the wine list is among the best in the region.
Still Waters Vineyards
2750 Old Grove Lane, Paso Robles
Tasting room open Thursday – Monday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Victor Hugo Winery
2850 El Pomar Drive, Templeton
Tasting by appointment only
Bella Luna Estate Winery
1850 Templeton Road, Templeton
Tasting room open Friday – Monday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards
1437 Wild Horse Winery Court, Templeton
Tasting room open daily, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Olea Olive Oil Farm
2985 Templeton Road, Templeton
Tasting Room open Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. or by appointment
Featured image above: (Left) The view looking west through the Vineyards at Still Waters. (Right) Plump grapes on the vine at Still Waters. Photos courtesy of Still Waters Vineyards.