Sip and Savor: Paso Robles Rhone Rangers celebrate 10 years
Paso Robles Chapter is part of national organization
–On a damp Sunday afternoon during the President’s Day weekend some 500 wine aficionados gathered at Broken Earth Winery to savor Paso Robles’ Rhone style wines. The event was to celebrate 10th anniversary of the Paso Robles chapter of the national Rhone Rangers organization.
Away from the noisy grand tasting and in the quiet of the barrel room, I met up with Jason Haas, general manager and partner at Tablas Creek Vineyards. Haas is credited for spearheading the Paso Robles chapter that he helped establish in 2007.
Haas who has served on the board of the Rhone Rangers national organization since 2004 realized that there wasn’t much representation of Paso Robles wineries in the organization.
“It struck me as an opportunity to have more presence of Paso Robles wines at the Rhone Rangers events,” said Haas of his concept of creating the Paso Robles chapter as he approached the national board.
The Paso Robles chapter was established with some 30 members now grown to 50. “We are growing steadily,” remarked Haas. The success of this chapter has led to the formation of three other chapters — in Santa Barbara County, El Dorado County and the North Coast.
This year was the first time the Paso Robles chapter invited wineries from Santa Barbara County to pour at the event, Haas noted. They were represented by Qupe, Beckmen and Tercero wineries.
The Paso Robles chapter stages one major event annually with additional smaller events such as varietal night series at different local wineries. The annual grand tasting event is held on a Sunday during the President’s Day holiday in February.
This year’s event chaired by Amy Butler, owner/winemaker of Ranchero Cellars began with a seminar kicking off with a flight of four white wines featuring Ranchero Cellars’ 2014 Viognier, Tablas Creek Vineyards’s 2014 Roussanne, J. Lohr’s 2015 white blend RVG and Shale Oaks’s 2015 Grenache/Syrah Rosé.
The red wine flight was represented by Niner Wine Estates’ 2014 Grenache, Brecon Estates’ 2014 ’42’ Rhone blend, Kukkula’ 2014 ‘Noir’ Syrah, Tooth & Nail’s 2014, “The Stand, Petite Sirah, and a Mourvedre from Vines on the Marycrest.
On my walk-around at the grand tasting, I was delighted to find several wineries producing single varietals of picpoul blanc (one of my favorite Rhone whites). While it’s used mostly as a blend, the refreshing wine with bracing acidity and a citrus quality is now being discovered by white wine aficionados.
“It sounds funny, its different and unusual,” said Glenn Mitton, Adelaida Vineyard and Winery’s wine ambassador, as he poured the 2015 Picpoul. The wine had an unusually delicious creaminess to it. Mitton explained that it was 100-percent barrel fermented, aged in neutral French oak and went through malo-lactic fermentation.
“This is a richer version of Picpoul,” he noted. Other wineries pouring impressive Picpoul Blanc included Derby Wine Estates, Halter Ranch and Lone Madrone.
In addition to single varietals of viognier, sarsanne and rousanne, there was a good selection of white blends. Among them, 2013 Crux, an aromatic viognier/ sauvignon blanc blend from ONX; Niner Estate’s Marsanne-driven wine blended with grenache blanc; Caliza’s Kissin’ Cousins; Summerwood’s Vin Blanc; and a refreshing blend of viognier, roussanne, grenache blanc with a touch of picpoul blanc from Hearst Ranch.
There was no shortage of rocking red Rhones, of course. Vintner Randy Phillips of Red Soles winery proudly announced that he’s pouring all Gold Medal winners.
Guyomar Wine Cellars’ owner Ishka Stanislaus offered his two powerful Rhone blends, the Syrah-driven 2012 Laity, and 2012 Monsignor, an inky Petite Sirah blended with Grenache and a smidgen of Zinfandel. Intense wines yet elegant and well balanced.
A good selection of distinctive Syrahs were found at Ecluse, Eberle, Brecon Estate, Anglim and Mitchella; and peppery/plumy mourvedre wines from Seven Oxen Estate and Clautiere.
Adelaida Cellars’ 2014 Anna’s Red, was a bold kaleidoscope of five varieties dominated by cinsault and blended with mourvedre, grenache, petite sirah and syrah. Pouring this intense wine, Mitton commented on winemaker Jeremy Weintraub’s thought process. “Jeremy is showing his wild avant-garde style.”
Kukkula proprietor Kevin Jussila was busy pouring powerful red blends, wine produced from his dry-farmed head-trained 49-acre vineyard.
“Our wines have distinctive flavors due to dry farming,” said Jussila. Some wines had Finnish names in honor of Jussila’s heritage. The deep lush grenache, mourvedre and ysrah blend SISU, is a word that defines Finnish people, Jussila noted. “It means patience, perseverance and tenacity,” said the vintner. “It also defines the wine business,” he added with a smile.
The tasting was accompanied by a silent auction that offered wine and travel packages. Proceeds benefit the Paso Robles chapter and provide the basis for an annual donation that the chapter makes to the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund, informed Haas.
An array of cheeses and sweet bites from the Chocolate Stache provided a welcome interlude to palate fatigue. Chocolatier Kellymarie Otto suggested pairing her raspberry/chipotle chocolate with a syrah from Cass winery. It was a perfect way to end the Rhone Rangers Sunday afternoon experience.