Research Trip: The Young Minds of Paso Robles

Today there are so many beautiful wineries dotting the hills of Paso Robles, it’s getting increasingly difficult to decide where to take the Stolpman staff on Central Coast research trips. So in between visiting Saxum and Epoch, we lunched with three young winemakers to learn about the new generation set to take over Paso.

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Aaron Jackson – Aaron Wines
Aaron built his brand on Petite Sirah, but when he got the opportunity to buy Pinot Noir from Derby West Vineyard, he couldn’t help but go for it. The lifelong surfer from Cayucos now makes Pinot Noir sprayed by the roaring pacific, just south of Hearst Castle. The cold, windy, and salty conditions combine to drive yields down to average 1/3 ton per acre. Tom Stolpman shook his head in disbelief upon hearing this. He thought we had it bad on dry-farmed Limestone in Ballard Canyon.

Because the berries are so small – half of them don’t even have seeds – Aaron’s Pinot Noir appears very dark. Alongside this concentration, a noticeable saline quality gives the wine another layer of complexity. Aaron produced a whopping 70 cases in 2013. He pays by the ton not by the acre, smart guy.
Aaron’s trademark, the 2012 Petite Sirah, delivered as always with lush cedar. Even for black Petite Sirah, the wine was restrained enough to compliment rotisserie chicken.

Guillaume Fabre- Close Solene
Guillaume makes his wine alongside Aaron in Tin City, Paso Robles’ version of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Born and educated in France, Guillaume learned Paso Robles terroir at L’Aventure before striking out to focus entirely on Clos Solene.
Guillaume searches out Roussanne farmed only on Limestone for his Hommage Blanc. Smart guy.

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Blended with Viognier, Guillaume inhibits malolactic fermentation. The wine only hints at Paso Robles opulence but instead maintains high-strung austerity and sophistication. On the red side, there is no hiding Paso Robles in Guillaume’s Harmonie, a Grenache based blend bursting with intense red fruit.

Bret Urness – Levo Wine
We snuck Bret into Lunch as although he makes his wine in Paso Robles, he chooses to source all of his fruit from Santa Barbara County. In particular, he buys from Stolpman Vineyards and other properties farmed by Ruben Solorzano – smart guy. Bret’s new brand, Levo, has been getting quite a bit of attention. read more
Bret’s White Lightning combines Stolpman Roussanne with Viognier. Like, Guillaume, Bret inhibits malolactic fermentation, but in this case, the wine shows off a rich body and seductive ripe fruit. Bret also brought a barrel sample of the still tightly wound 2014 Stolpman Petite Sirah. The tannic monster will take years to unfurl. The wine served to reinforce our decision to push back the release of our own 2012 Stolpman Vineyards Petite Sirah by another 6 months.

Epoch
After spending the morning with Justin Smith, we were all excited to see his only consulting project. Even down in Ballard Canyon, word spread about the aggressive moves Epoch recently made. 3 incredible vineyard sites now acquired, we pulled up to the newly constructed winery atop York Mountain. Very impressive.

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The young, passionate Epoch team warmly welcomed us and we immediately felt at home. Led by charming Jordan Fiorentini, the team ushered us from the state-of-the-art crush-pad down to the subterranean cellar.
We jumped headlong into barrel tasting. Assistant winemaker Pete Turrone thieved samples of experiments from all over the large complex. Perhaps most interesting, we compared one Syrah block aged in French Oak versus small Italian Amphora. The French oak imparted melted, sweeter tannin and mocha. The Amphora vessel gave off an earthiness mid-palate and a coarser tannic finish and showed brighter, meatier, and more savory.

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Along with trying several clones of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre – Stolpman Assistant winemaker John Faulkner got to geek out about the gradual ease of fermenting in Concrete. Both teams are entirely sold on the equipment and technique. Smart guys.

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Paso’s Future
The young guys building brands from the ground up followed by the well-financed yet empowered team at Epoch, combined to leave the Stolpman crew excited about the future. Before jumping in the car south, Pete Turrone divulged his involvement in planning this year’s A7 summit, an exciting industry event to study Rhone varietal production. Hopefully this event will one day rival the prestige of Paso’s former tradition, Hospice du Rhone. Big plans are afoot!