By Beth Fletcher
The Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County is a big surprise in a little valley. We visited late in the summer when the vines were heavy with almost-ready-for-harvest grapes in reds and whites. The hills had browned with the hot summer weather and the vines were starting to turn, leaving splashes of red and yellow mixed in with the still green vines – the vineyards looked like a Monet painting.
We stayed two nights at the Suite Edna Guest House, located in the historic Old Edna townsite. This historic home is located on two private, secluded acres in the heart of San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley Wine Country. This quiet location was a welcomed change of pace. Life actually slowed down, and what a dream come true to find that the Sextant Tasting room was literally at the end of our house’s front walk.
The tasting at Sextant is leisurely with plenty of time to savor the wine as it glides across your tongue. Six wines are featured, and for a small extra charge you can enhance your tasting with a cheese pairing from the in-house deli called The Pairing Knife.
The Sextant 2010 Caverio GSM, Paso Robles is a stand-out red with a 91 point rating by Robert Parker. Grenache, the backbone, brings you right to the south of France in the nose and first burst of flavor. Syrah brings on the spice and Mourvedre adds the depth and color. Using these three main varietals of the Old World brings depth to the New World Central Coast. It is balanced in structure with a flourish of pronounced fruit – raspberries, strawberries and cassis – and a finish of satisfying plum skins, Asian spices and piquant herbs.
The Sextant 2010 Wheelhouse Zinfandel, Paso Robles, is a continuing vintage success. This is a strong Zinfandel. Cherries flow freely on the mid palate and plums, blackberries and cranberries float through the back-palate. It is bold and keen with flavors of smoky cedar, black olives and spicy sage. The acidity is poised and the tannins are finely integrated giving way to a lasting finish. This will hold for three to four years.
The rest of the tastings were well planned in choice and succession. After choosing our favorite for the day we purchased a bottle (along with filling out a case), then made a stop at The Pairing Knife and picked up lunch to take outside and enjoy at one of the several delightful dining or picnic spots, or, for us who were fortunate to be staying in the ranch house, walk back up the walk to the high backed southern rockers on the porch and enjoy lunch paired with our new favorite wine.
Note that Sextant has tasting rooms in both Paso Robles and Old Edna. For more information on the tasting room and The Pairing knife visit their website, www.sextantwines.com.
Our three-day stay allowed for more exploration so we headed off the property and made several more unrushed stops along the Edna Valley Wine Road.
The next stop was Steven Ross, which has a very different setting, housed in a semi industrial but well appointed facility.
Their Edna Valley estate vineyard, the Stone Corral Vineyard, is 27.45 acres of 100 percent Pinot Noir. Planted in 2001 with uniquely well-drained, sandy loam soil, it lies four miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Protected from the coastal breezes, the environment is cool maritime with Southern California sunshine. The Pinot Noir grown here has whispers of plums, spice, dried tea leaves and robust tannins. The Edna Valley Chardonnay is full and rich with a fruit forward taste, toasty hazelnut and brioche.
Stephen Ross Wine Cellars wines are made using traditional Burgandian methods. The high quality farm practices with open canopies produce wines which are expressive with balance and finesse.
Our next stop was Clesi, another winemaker with European tendencies that focuses on Italian varietals and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Their Malvasia Bianca is from an ancient family of grapes that includes a diverse collection of noble varieties. Believed to be of Greek origin, the Malvasia family has been commercially important to the Mediterranean for more than 2,000 years.
The Convivio with it’s blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese has Tuscan overtones.
And the star of the show at Clesi is Aglianico. Humanity has enjoyed no wine grape more than Aglianico. This grape of southern Italy is going through a great revival as it becomes more known once more. It has a long history going back to the Phoenicians, exported by the Greeks, and consumed by the Romans, Aglianico is probably the grape with the longest consumer history of all. The wine made from this grape is structured, with rich depth. It has a capacity for long cellar aging and is often referred to as the Barolo of the South. Clesi is featuring this wine with great success.
Their tasting room’s focal point is an amazingly huge, redwood slab table. This rustic 3,000-pound slab of ancient redwood was harvested from a downed tree in the forest of Northern California. It stretches forever and is a perfect place to take your sample and sip slowly.
Our final stop was Edna Valley Vineyard (www.ednavalleyvineyard.com). The Edna Valley Vineyard area had the first known grapes growing during the time of the California missions. In the 1800s, it was believed that the grapes in this region were of the highest quality. By the 1970s, however, grapevines in the area had all but disappeared until pioneering vineyard developer, Jack Niven got word of the coveted fruit that once thrived here and began to plant his own grapes on what is now known as Edna Valley Vineyard. This area of the central coast has the longest growing season in the state. The Edna Valley Vineyard is a beautiful facility providing small intimate table areas and large picnic or gathering rooms.
Tasting their reds is a delight. The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is medium bodied with ripe, dark fruit flavors and a fine, firm tannin finish.
The 2011 Merlot is rich and balanced with aromas of cocoa, anise and black cherry. And my favorite, the 2011 Pinot Noir, is a medium bodied Pinot with nuances of rose petal, cola, earth and black cherry with an added touch of Zinfandel to support the bright red fruit. Being a Zin lover is probably what put this wine in my favorite column.
The Edna Valley is a wonderful area to visit. There are many unique places to stay, from the Madonna Inn on the northern border of San Luis Obispo to the Old Edna townsite in the Edna Valley. The photo shown above shows only a portion of the wineries in this area, there are many more along the roads that wind down through Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Santa Inez and on to Santa Barbara. You can taste your heart out.
For more information on visiting the Edna Valley Wine Road visit www.classiccalifornia.com/edna-wine-map.htm