By: Laura Ness
It’s hard to fathom the extensive portfolio of holdings that belong to the family with more clout than any group in the country save the NRA. It’s much more subtle, but that’s the advantage of being involved in a vastly complex web of interests ranging from castles to railroads to media conglomerates. Add to that beef, wine and olive oil, and you’ve now got dinner, Hearst style. It’s good to be King, but it’s even better to be Hearst. They pretty much make the sphere of influence go round. From that vaulted eyrie in the sky, to the town of old San Simeon below, the views are not only breathtaking, they are regally inspiring. It’s no wonder they keep cranking out new business ventures like The Wine Group cranks out new brands. One of them, added just a few years ago, is the Hearst Ranch Winery. After all, the key to ultimate vertical integration as a company is to provide food, drink, furniture, a good newspaper and a place to hang out and enjoy it all. Such is the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room, located a stone’s throw from the ocean, with a distance view of their iconic castle on the hill.
Hearst Ranch Winery’s tasting room is in view of the iconic Hearst Castle. Photo courtesy of Hearst Ranch Winery.You might know that Hearst Ranch has cattle: an unconfirmed number of head, but I saw a few of what remained of some of them in the freezer in the old Sebastian’s General Store in Old San Simeon, very near the entrance to the main Hearst Castle road. It was tempting, but at north of $22 per pound, I had to decide between a bottle of Cabernet Franc and a small piece of sirloin, and frankly, the Franc had that one solved hands down. Not that a nice piece of grass fed, no hormones, no antibiotics, no nada beef wouldn’t be a grand thing, especially with the Hearst Ranch Winery Franc, Cabernet or Merlot. All the wines are very good, and all were medal winners at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle competition, a publication they own, but please make no untoward connections.
Hearst Ranch Winery, which sources most of their fruit from Paso Robles, took the coveted Golden Bear trophy at the California State Fair last year (2012) for their lovely, ever so enjoyable 2009 “Three Sisters” Rhone blend, a wine that makes you happy on every level, being only $20 per bottle. It’s outstanding. It tastes just as good on your back deck as it does right here in the humble tasting room. If you like a good GSM — Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre —“Three Sisters” is a great example of how well Paso Robles can execute on this Rhonely combo.
The wonderfully hospitable tasting room manager, Geraldine Honer-Hollstein, gestured towards a framed article from the Sacramento Bee that depicts young winemaker, Jeremy Leffert, and co-owners of the winery, Steve Hearst and James Saunders, clearly reveling in this coup. And, she said, with a wink, “We don’t even own that newspaper!” (By the by, you can get Hearst beef at Whole Foods in San Luis Obispo county and southern California.)
A visit to this quaintly appointed, laid-back, if somewhat chummy-small tasting room, which is right inside the old Sebastian store, built in 1852 at the height of the whaling era, is sure to deliver an experience fit for a king, or at least an archduke. You can sip your way through their plentiful lineup, most of which comes from their 90-acre vineyard in Paso Robles, near San Miguel, or from the Paso Robles candy land for grapes, Halter Ranch. The Tempranillo is fun and spicy, the Merlot as well built as a Mercedes Benz AMG, the Malbec as stout as a Hummer and the Chardonnay as sweet as a BMW 3-series cabriolet. Remarkably enjoyable and made with the right amount of acid and flavor, it thankfully had a short, sweet visit from “The Oak Fairy.”
This is a thoroughly enjoyable tasting experience: the wines are all solid, the staff fun, friendly and just the right amount of flip. And if you don’t behave, they’ll threaten you with a whaling harpoon, several of which are displayed above the tasting bar, adding authenticity and a flair for the historic that you just don’t get with those stone cold, fake Mediterranean Napa-esque wine tasting rooms that seem to be the current trend in Paso along highway 46.
The Julia Morgan Warehouse, complete with beautiful bronze mission bells, looks more like a church. Photo by Laura Ness.Here, with old floorboards creaking beneath your feet, you can order a sandwich, a burger, chili or whatever and sit outside with a glass of wine (or a beer), admiring the fabulous Julia Morgan-designed buildings that dot the street. You will see the “Beach House,” and a beautiful adobe warehouse. This warehouse, currently filled with mostly dust, houses some of the massive Hearst treasure trove that, complete with beautiful bronze mission bells, looks more like a church. Long and slender, like the ancient wooden structure parallel to it that runs nearly to the sea, these two buildings look like the outstretched paws of the Sphinx. The wooden structure is one of California’s original post office depots, built to transfer mail to and from the ships that carried it from coast to coast, the long way ‘round, before the Panama Canal. Walk out on the pier and admire the fabulous views of the point, or perhaps spot whales, dolphins, or even elephant seals. This is prime viewing for both tourists and the many sea creatures they are ogling. Then, invigorated, come back to the tasting room and order a glass of “The Point,” a cuvée of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot, 9 percent Cabernet Franc, 9 percent Petit Verdot, and 8 percent Petite Sirah that packs a pointed punch.
It will put you in just the right frame of mind, as you watch the sun beginning to get its affairs in order for another fiery evening dance over the vast ocean that takes up the entire available horizon. Yes, it’s good to be King, or, at least, to enjoy a king-sized view.
The Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room is open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon, CA 93452. Visit the website at www.hearstranchwinery.com for complete information and a listing of their specific holiday hours. Or call 805/927-4100.