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Profile: Dunning Vineyards Estate Winery 

Bob Dunning believes in traditional winemaking process – using small lot fermentation, gentle hand punching of the “must” and barrel fermentation of both red and white wines.

Bob Dunning believes in traditional winemaking process – using small lot fermentation, gentle hand punching of the “must” and barrel fermentation of both red and white wines.

Dunning Family realizes dream of producing & sharing award-winning wines

Paso Robles is noted for its family owned wineries. Yet these days it’s sometimes rare to find family members in the tasting room. However, at Dunning Estate Vineyards Winery, you will find owners Bob and Jo-Ann Dunning on the property daily, pouring their Private Reserve Estate wines in the tasting room and occasionally taking visitors on a tour of the rustic property.

A visit to Dunning Estate in Paso’s Willow Creek area is an adventure – the winding drive along back-country roads and woodsy landscape brings visitors to the 40-acre secluded hillside estate.

Realizing the dream

Bob Dunning’s love for wine began with his travels through California’s wine country. The family purchased the Paso Robles property in the 1980s and their vision of wine production was realized in 1991. Dunning started at the top, purchasing Chardonnay grapes from James Berry in 1986.

“I was impressed by the quality,” said Dunning. “I learned to farm grapes from Berry, so I took his cuttings and planted on my soil.”

The Dunnings bought the property to produce estate-grown and bottled wine. Soon Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were added to the vineyards to produce single varietals and Bordeaux-style blends. This being Paso Robles, naturally Zinfandel and Rhône blends produced from sourced fruit were added to the portfolio.

Ideal planting conditions

Perched at an elevation of 1,400 feet, the 12-acre hillside vineyard is planted on lean calcareous soil, which creates ideal conditions for producing low-yield vines. The vineyard is dry-farmed and Dunning follows sustainable practices in the vineyard.

“As a winemaker I want to do something different,” said Dunning. So he’s added Pinot Noir planting on a hilltop just below the family residence.

Due to the diversity of Paso Robles and its multiple microclimates, Dunning is confident that he can grow Pinot Noir and Bordeaux varietals on the same property. Current annual production is between 2,600-3,000 cases, which will likely increase with the addition of Pinot Noir bottlings.

Dunning Estate wines are concentrated and elegant. Dunning believes in traditional winemaking process – using small lot fermentation, gentle hand punching of the “must” and barrel fermentation of both red and white wines. Since winning the first Gold Medal at the Orange County Wine Competition in 1996 Dunning has added many accolades.

Tasting menu

The tasting menu ranges from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel and blends. Barrel fermented in new and neutral barrels, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay is laced with pear notes and shows a roundness of oak. Dunning’s popular Estate Vin de Casa is the classic Paso blend of Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Syrah. Bursting with currants and cherries, the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is balanced with integrated tannins and its follow up the 2010 Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; a delicious and cellar-worthy wine.

A mouthful of raspberries and spice, the 2011 Private Reserve Estate Zinfandel is not as high in alcohol as most Paso wines. The latest addition, and in its second vintage, the 2011 inky Petite Sirah is lush with black cherries and smooth well-rounded tannins.

Guest Villa

There’s more to this rustic ranch than just the wine tasting experience. The Dunning Guest Villa is popular with visitors seeking a serene getaway. This one-bedroom Bed & Breakfast private suite, perched on a hilltop, boasts a panoramic coastal view and scenic vineyards. The intimate candle-lit terrace is an ideal place to take in Paso’s bucolic landscape with a glass of Dunning wine in hand.

Dunning Vineyards Estate Winery, located at 1953 Niderer Road in Paso Robles, is open Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and by advanced appointment. For more information, visit dunningvineyards.com or call (805) 238-4763.

 

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About the author: Columnist Mira Honeycutt

Honeycutt has more than 20 years of experience as a wine consultant and wine journalist. Currently, she is the California contributor to Sommelier India Wine Magazine. Her wine and food coverage has been published in the Harper’s Bazar India, the Asian Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong Tatler, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times and www.zesterdaily.com. She was a contributing wine blogger on the highly popular Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Good Food blog. Honeycutt is also the author of “California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles,” as well as the curator of the soon to be published book, The Winemakers of Paso Robles.