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Sip and Savor: Paso celebrates Vintage 2017 harvest wine weekend 

Neeta and Kunal Mittal, proprietors of LXV Wine brought a touch of the exotic to harvest wine weekend with a celebration of ‘Mela” Indian street fair to downtown Paso
Photographs by Mira Honeycutt

Over 100 activities packed into three days

-From grape stomping and pumpkin carving to a pet costume contest to yoga and wine, harvest 2017 kicked off with great fanfare over the weekend of Oct. 20-22.

Delicious aromas of food wafted from wineries and tasting rooms of Paso Robles. BBQ grills sizzled with tri-tip meat, tacos cradled spicy carnitas, pizzas were tossed and weiners tucked in buns. The weekend was loaded with barrel and new release tastings, educational seminars, vineyard tours and, yes, grape stomping.

This year the weekend also resonated a global spirit. There was an Indian ‘mela’ (street fair) complete with a camel and Bollywood dancers staged in the parking lot at 13th Street and Pine, hosted by Neeta and Kunal Mittal, founders of LXV Wine; New Zealand’s native ‘Haka’ dance was performed at Croad Vineyards plus guests got to try their hand at Didgeridoo; Rotta Winery served Argentinian Tomahawk steak winemaker dinner; and traditional Swiss dishes were paired with wines at Vina Robles Winery.

And how was harvest 2017? The answers I got varied just like the weather, from great to strange. Joe Barton called it a challenging harvest. The fruit quality was good, he noted, but this was no rock-star vintage.

At Ambyth Estate, Phillip Hart flanked by Mary Hart and Robyn Swoish

“Weather was all over the place, a little hot and a little cold,” commented the proprietor of Grey Wolf and Barton Family Wines. “It was a good crop but not gigantic,” he said, dressed as a hillbilly in coveralls for his hoedown-themed party that had guests enjoying blue-grass country music performed by Mother Corn Shuckers and zinfandel-braised beef and pork chili along with mac & cheese by chef Jeffry Wiesinger.

“It was weird,” said Janell Dusi, owner/winemaker of J. Dusi. “Sugar was across the board, but the flavors were there,” she added, obviously pleased with the fruit of 2017. In the busy tasting room and on the patio, visitors washed down Korean tacos with J. Dusi’s spicy zinfandels and crisp pinot grigio.

For Phillip Hart, founder of Ambyth Estate and Paso’s biodynamic pioneer, this was a much better vintage than 2016 and 2015. “We picked nine tons compared to one and half tons last two years.” The family adheres to biodynamic farming which means no irrigation.

“The draught was severe and we lost a lot of plants. Most came back but we had a solid 20 percent loss,” added Hart, who started his production with Rhône varieties, tempranillo and sangiovese and now has added cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel from sourced fruit. “It’s been a tough few years but onward and upward,” he said with a smile.

At Ambyth’s bucolic hilltop estate the Hart family combined the harvest festivities with their pick-up party serving delicious organic salads and gluten-free baked goods catered by Good Tides in San Luis Obispo.

Carol Hoyt

Steve Cass of Cass Winery was also content with this vintage, but found it unusual due to the hot spell in August. But a brief rainfall was a respite. ”Size-wise we’ll have the largest crop, about five tons per acre,” he noted as we stood near the grape filled bins ready for eager visitors to start stomping. “Overall, we are very happy with the quality, it’s going to be great.”

I discovered a few new wines. At Turley known as a Zinfandel house, I savored a special wine, Tecolote, a Rhône blend of grenche and carignane from its Pesenti vineyard and at Changala the late harvest viognier called Basque Honey, a Sherry-like dessert wine with a nutty flavor. While most tasting rooms offer current vintages from 2014 and 2015, I found at Croad the tasting menu listed vintages from 2011. Producing mostly blends of estate grown zinfandel and Rhône varieties, the wines are barrel aged for three years and bottle aged.

“Our wines don’t start awakening for four years,” remarked Martin Croad.“It’s the combination of dry farming, calcareous soil and barrel aging,” said Croad of these wines that are elegantly knit and balanced with acidity and fruit.

Jenny and Joe Barton

There were some celebrations this year, Red Soles marking its 10th anniversary, Turley its 25th and Hoyt Family Vineyards its very first harvest winemaker celebration dinner at the family’s westside 140-acre ranch.
Former actress turned vintner, Carol Hoyt hosted the intimate Long Table dinner for 20 guests. The Hoyt family began producing chardonnay and pinot noir in Malibu, but now has branched out to Paso with 30 acres planted to cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, tempranillo, zinfandel and syrah. A Malibu beach-style tasting room tasting will soon open in downtown, said Hoyt.

The evening started with a glass of Hoyt bubbly savored atop the hill where a telescope was ready for guests to do star gazing. We were then transported back to the winery/tasting room for the family-style dinner on a long table. Heaters kept us warm on a chilly night and the abundance of food that included salmon, tri-tip, vegetarian lasagna in gorgonzola cream sauce and mashed parsnips in truffle butter. The feast was savored with a selection of Hoyt 2012 cabernet sauvignon and a lovely dry muscat as well as the Malibu chardonnay.

“That’s what put us on the map,” remarked Hoyt about the latter wine. The dinner ended with chocolate soufflé paired with the decadent 2013 petite sirah, a wine Hoyt referred to as “sex in a bottle.”

Other Friday night dinners ranged from Eberle’s Rib Line dinner and dancing under the stars; a dinner and movie with a screening of “Bottle Shock” at Rio Seco; the Bourbon Street sounds of Crawdaddy Stepp and barbecue at Derby Wine Estate; a French-themed gourmet dinner at Bistro Laurent enjoyed with wines from Bodegas Paso Robles; and a Gatsby-inspired garden party evoking the roaring ’20s era at Cass Winery.

Saturday evening soirees included J. Lohr’s popular lobster feed, salt lick barbecue at Robert Hall, an elegant four-course dinner at Justin and an upscale barn dinner at Thatcher. Red Soles known for its distilled spirits kicked off its cocktail weekend featuring a new cocktail each month with October’s drink of cinnamon hooch blended with cold brewed coffee syrup.

On Sunday, the activities were toned down, although several wineries were offering wine tastings, with music and small bites. But at LXV lounge, there was no sign of winding down. Besides a good harvest, the Mittals had reason to celebrate, recently LXV wines received a 90 plus points from noted wine crtici Jeb Dunnuck. So, the Indian party was going full throttle with tastings of LXV cabernet franc, merlot and a cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend along with pizzas from tandoori oven (on wheels), henna art, flame-tossing dancers and the token camel, who from her groans sounded like she was ready to call it a day.

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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 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.