Paso Robles wineries featured at Beverly Hills tasting
By Mira Advani Honeycutt
–Stephan Asseo, owner of L’Aventure winery in Paso Robles, was featured as one the three “Legends of California” at the Stars of California wine event held in the Veranda Room of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills on May 25.
“I’m a city boy from Paris, didn’t want to be a farmer,” said Asseo to an intimate group of wine aficionados gathered for the VIP tasting on the hotel’s terrace. But his wine career began in 1966 as an intern in France’s Loire Valley he noted. “Then I schooled in Burgundy, made friends in Bordeaux and ended up in Paso.”
Asseo was joined by Santa Barbara County legends Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa winery and Dick Doré of Foxen winery. The one-day event hosted by Los Angeles-based WineLA, explored the diversity of the state’s wine region, bringing together over 50 wineries from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mendocino and Central Coast.
While pinot-noir purists Sanford and Doré waxed lyrical about this varietal from Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills appellations, Asseo commented that he moved to Paso for the freedom.
“I followed my nose,” he mused. “Coming from France, I was used to appellation but moved to California for more freedom.” Of his Optimus Estate wine, he commented, “I make a crazy blend, syrah, cabernet and petit verdot, I thinks it’s not bad.” Asseo, accompanied by his daughter Chloe poured his signature Optimus as well as Côtes à Côte and Estate Cuvée.
Asseo who doesn’t make many appearances outside of Paso Robles to pour wines at tasting events, commented that this was his second attendance at Stars of California. “I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Ian, so I do this,” said Asseo of Ian Blackburn, founder of WineLA, a wine education/culture enterprise.
The one-day event began at 2 p.m. for some 50 members of trade and media connecting with winery representative and owners. The 6 p.m. intimate VIP tasting for some 25 guests included a brief panel presentation by Asseo, Sanford and Doré followed by a 7 to 9.30 p.m. soiree for 100-plus attendees enjoying wine tasting and an opportunity to bid for wine and vacation packages at the silent auction. Both afternoon and evening tastings were highlighted by Peninsula Hotel’s delectable buffet of assorted pastas, salads and breads.
Proceeds from the auction benefit he T.J. Martel Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization supporting research on cancer, AIDS and leukemia. “We have raised over $350,00 in the last six years for this foundation,” said Blackburn.
From the Paso region there was an extensive selection of wines from Pomar Junction and Ancient Peaks. Paso’s CAB Collective was represented by a group of 11 wineries, among them, Sextant, Daou, The Farm, Chateau Margene, Cass, Calcareous and Vina Robles.
The CAB Collective table was well positioned at the entrance of the room. Ashlie Leslie, portfolio director of Sextant and on the marketing committee of CAB Collective, noted that members of the trade stopping by at their table were familiar with cabernet sauvignon wines from Paso Robles region. “We’ve had so many Somm camps that they are connecting to wineries and wines from Paso.”
As for the attendance at Stars of California, Mark Plasch, Southern California sales manager for Vina Robles winery, noted that compared to other shows, this tasting has been quieter. “But we’ve made more connections.”
It was the first attendance at this event for Jon Margene, assistant winemaker of Chateau Margene. “We are showing diversity of Paso cabs from Adelaida to Creston,” he said. ”They are being well received because they are well balanced.”
What began as Learn About Wine, launched by Blackburn in 1995, has morphed into WineLA, promoting wine culture and education through wine tastings and tours to wine regions in California and Europe. WineLA hosts several events such as Stars of Cabernet Sauvignon and Stars of Napa, through the year. The Stars of California tasting is the third such event over the past five years and offers winemakers’ opportunities to showcase their wines.
“A lot of Paso wines are direct to consumers and not trade,” said Blackburn whose focus is to collectively bring consumers as well as trade to such events.