San Luis Obispo County winemakers showcase top-notch wines

Santa Barbara’s scenic Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort and Spa transformed itself into Pinot-ville as the heady World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) unfolded on March 2 and 3. Over 3,000 pinot aficionados descended on this beachfront resort for a total indulgence in world-class pinots.

Sip & Savor LogoThe two-day event offered six dinners, two lunches and four seminars plus a silent auction and two grand tastings featuring more than 250 wineries.

It was clearly a case of too much pinot and too little time. The grand tastings featured pinots from Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Italy, Austria and France, but very limited offerings. The majority of the wines came from California with a good representation from Oregon; in fact, this year there were over 70 wineries from the Central Coast of which 11 were from Paso Robles, a region not known for pinot noir.

Among the few that grow pinot in Paso are Adelaida Vineyards and Winery, Jack Creek Cellars, Tablas Creek, Asuncion Ridge, and Windward Vineyards. Other local wineries wanting a shift from bold Paso reds are now hopping on the pinot band wagon, sourcing fruit from nearby cooler pinot regions such as Edna Valley, Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

Scott and Viquel Hawley. Photo by Mira Honeycutt

“I’ve been making big brutal Paso wines, so it’s nice to make something feminine,” said Scott Hawley of Torrin, noted for Rhône style wines. Now he’s making Lagom pinot and offered two wines from the 2014 vintage, the textural and fleshier style from Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and a bright red fruit-driven wine from Santa Rita Hills. The wines rest in barrels for 16 months and are then bottle-aged for one year.

“We don’t rush them,” Hawley noted.

Jennifer Hogue, co-proprietor of TH Estates, has also added the Decroux pinot noir, a small 650- case production of site-specific terroir-driven wines sourced from Santa Rita Hills and from Talley’s noted Rosemary Vineyard in Edna Valley.

Jennifer Hogue. Photo by Mira Honeycutt

Other Paso producers incorporating pinot in their portfolio include Thatcher Winery and Cordant Winery, both sourcing fruit from Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills. “We want to diversify our customer variety and make some wine for pinot people,” declared Tyler Russell, Cordant’s owner winemaker.

And Cordant’s pinot reflects the Paso style. “We are making a bigger pinot,” Russell admitted of a wine that is usually known for its delicacy. “We are blessed with a long growing season so we take advantage of that.”

Tyler Russel and Amber Bierwith. Photo by Mira Honeycutt

Cambria-based Stolo’s winemaker Nicole Bertotti Pope, on the other hand, prides herself in crafting Old-World style wines. “We are so close to the coast that our style is delicate and aromatic,” she said, pouring elegant 2015 and 2016 vintages that showed bright fruit and aromatics.

Nicole Bertotti Pope. Photo by Mira Honeycutt

Similarly, Mike Sinor’s Avila Beach Sinor-Lavallee vineyard and winery is one mile from the ocean. “We have a unique soil, beach sand on top and rock underneath,” Sinor explained. While his white label pinot shows a lighter texture, the black label flexes a masculine style, hovering at 16.2 percent alcohol. The veteran winemaker admits that he is getting acquainted with his beach-adjacent vineyard. ”There’s still more to discover.”

RN Estate owner/winemaker and Frenchman Roger Nicols claims he’s really a pinot guy who happens to make cabernets in Paso. To indulge in his passion for pinot, he sources fruit from Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley and elegantly crafts wines in the French style, not so fruit driven and more balanced.

Adealida, among the few Paso vineyards planted to pinot is noted for this distinctive variety. Located on the cooler westside, Adelaida is perched high at 2,320 feet elevation, its vineyards taking advantage of the cool breeze flowing in from the east-west corridor of the Templeton Gap.

Known for their exclusively pinot noir winery, Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia, proprietors of Windward, planted their vineyard in 1989 along 46 West. The passionate pinot-producing duo has attended WOPN from its inception in 2001. “There were two tents at The Cliffs Resort and about 50 wineries,” D’Ambrosia recalled, as she poured her 2014 Monopole Gold pinot.

The popular event was co-founded by vintner Brian Talley, president of Edna Valley’s Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, and Archie McLaren, producer of Central Coast Wine Classic. “The initial impetus was to bring attention to Central Coast as a world class pinot noir region,” said Talley. The event brought aboard such noted Santa Barbara wine country names as Foxen, Au Bon Climat, Fiddlestix and Byron.

“As evidenced by the level of participation and quality of event we’ve achieved that,” Talley commented with great satisfaction.

No other grape expresses a sense of place as much as pinot noir and it’s evident that WOPN is one arena where you can really savor the diversity of this fickle variety. As vintner Brian Waits commented on the hundreds of pinots offered: “It’s all over the place,” he mused and then poured a silky Waits Mast pinot sourced from Mendocino’s cool Anderson Valley to prove his point.