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Pinot & Paella Cook-Off

The 4th Annual Pinot and Paella Cook-Off was held June 11 at the Templeton Community Park in Templeton, California (just south of Paso Robles). 17 Pinot Noir producers were pouring and 15 chefs were cooking with all of the proceeds going to the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.

Most people consider Paso Robles to be blessed with a warm climate conducive to growing Rhone varietals, particularly Syrah, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. That is because they associate Paso Robles with “Paso East,” the vast and arid growing area east of Hwy 101 which runs through the town of Paso Robles. Here, the temperature can be quite warm during the day (it was 96° F the day of the Pinot & Paella event), but the evenings are cool and it is this diurnal shift that allows warmclimate varietals to thrive. “Paso West,” the 30 mile stretch of land west of Hwy 101 is quite different. According to Matt Kramer in his book New California Wine (Kramer coined the terms “Paso East” and “Paso West”), Paso West is the recipient of maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean via the Templeton Gap, an opening in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Vineyards closer to this Gap and to the ocean are cooler. Also, the soils out west are quite different. Kramer notes that “It’s most extraordinary feature is soil. I’ve never seen, in California anyway, a wider swath of white calcareous soil than in Paso West.” The unique soil and cool ocean air act in tandem to provide a milieu conducive to growing Pinot Noir.

Paso West is part of San Luis Obispo County. In the 1880s, the first signs of large-scale viticulture were found near the town of San Luis Obispo and more south in Templeton. According to Charles L. Sullivan (A Companion to California Wine), there were nine small wineries at that time and by 1900, there were about 1,000 acres of wine grapes in the county. The Hoffman family planted vines on their 1,200-acre property west of Paso Robles in 1964 and began producing Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) wines, including Pinot Noir, in 1972. This coincided with the onset of the modern era of viticulture in Edna Valley, in the hills west of Paso Robles, and on the Estrella River Prairie to the east.

The Hoffman Mountain Ranch Vineyard is one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California. The vines are 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean at an elevation of 1,700 feet in the southern Santa Lucia Mountains. The award-winning Pinot Noirs made there during the 1970s involved legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff who consulted on the wines. In 1994, Adelaida Cellars purchased a 400- acre parcel of the vineyard, including 32 acres of Pinot Noir. Considerable capital was invested in resurrecting the old vineyard and recent Adelaida HMR Pinot Noirs have won praise.

A more recent Pinot pioneer in the Paso area is Windward Vineyard near Templeton. Owners Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia, who are both Pittsburgh natives, purchased 25 acres of rolling hills off Hwy 46 west of Hwy 101 near Templeton. The site’s rocky limestone, sloping welldrained soil, and location in the Templeton Gap seemed ideal for Pinot Noir. The site was previously a rhododendron farm chosen for its cool climate. They cleared the land and planted 10 acres of Pinot Noir in 1990. With the assistance of noted winemaker Kenneth Volk (previously Wild Horse Winery, now with his own label, Kenneth Volk Vineyards), four clonal selections were chosen: HMR, Adelsheimer (Oregon), Bien Nacido, and Sanford & Benedict (older articles on the vineyard indicate Calera was also planted). Goldberg’s reverence for Burgundy led him to style his wines in an Old World fashion and his label proudly displays the word monopole (monopole is a Burgundian concept which means the vineyard has one owner and both viticulture and vinification are handled under one roof). The first vintage of 320 cases was 1993 and Windward Vineyard Pinot Noirs have received many accolades since. Rene Chazottes, Master Sommelier at The Pacific Club in Newport Beach, noted, “My respect for Windward Pinot Noir was confirmed when I put a bottle in a blind tasting for our 15 member selection committee, and they chose it over a Nuits-St. George at twice the price.”

There has been a proliferation of Pinot Noir vineyards in the Paso West area, a more than tenfold increase since Windward’s first vintage in 1993. Credible Pinot Noirs have appeared from a number of wineries and the presence of 17 producers at this year’s Pinot & Paella event testifies to the potential for this varietal in this unique microclimate. I still find a number of Pinot Noirs from this region rather rustic and earthy, sometimes leaning toward stewed flavors. Although several miss the mark, I have had a few good ones that bode well for future success. One nice feature of Paso Pinots is that the prices are sensible enough that they can be drunk regularly.

The Pinot & Paella Cook-Off is a very casual affair, with samples of paella served on picnic tables, vintners pouring their wines under tented covers shaded by massive trees, and many smiling people just hanging out on folding chairs enjoying the afternoon. The crowd was primarily locals and everyone seemed to know everyone else. Because of the heat and the ongoing celebratory mood, serious tasting of Pinot Noir was not a priority. The idea was not to sell wine, but rather to enjoy wine.

Paella is a good choice for a summer event for it shines best outdoors and practically everyone loves it. Although it is Spain’s most beloved dish, it can easily be adapted to California tastes by including local ingredients such as artichokes, fava beans, quail, sausage, cauliflower , and zucchini. Most Californians think seafood when the word paella is mentioned, but the original paella contained rabbit, snails, sometimes chicken, but never seafood. The word paella comes from the Latin patella, meaning shallow pan. The pan is critical, for it allows the dish to cook properly and it is perfectly suited to outdoor grills.

The classic wine match for paella is a dry Spanish or Cotes de Provence Rosé. Rioja works well with a meaty paella and a white Rioja with a shellfish paella. Pinot Noir is not a classic match but its versatility makes it right at home with paella, particularly those Pinot Noirs made in a lighter Beaujolais style.

The Celebrity Judges’ Award went to Chef Joe of Giaseppe’s in Pismo Beach, Most Creative Award to Chef Charlie of Catering by Chef Charlie, Chef’s Choice Award (tie) to chef Joe of Blue Moon Café and Chef Tom of Villa Creek, and the People’s Choice Award to Chef Dallas of 10th St Café.

My favorite wines and producers at the event are detailed below.

Asuncion Ridge Vineyard and Inn Philip Krumal and partner Michael Dilsaver own a unique vineyard and lodging high on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Atascadero. 300 acres and a residence were purchased a few years ago. The residence was converted into an Inn consisting of three elegant suites furnished in Spanish-themed furniture from Mexico. A gourmet breakfast is served in the large kitchen/dining room or on one of the patios overlooking both ocean and mountain views. The Inn is only a 20-minute drive from the town of Atascadero, but it is like another world with exceptional beauty and tranquility. A 7-acre Pinot Noir vineyard has been planted adjacent to the Inn on a welldrained hillside at 2,200 feet. Several clones are planted including Pommard 4 and 5, 2A, 23, 667, 777 and HMR. Philip learned his winegrowing and winemaking from Marc Goldberg of Windward Vineyard.

At the event, Philip (right) was pouring his:

2005 Asuncion Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

<100 cases, · Impressive for an inaugural effort with appealing elegance, racy red fruits, and supple tannins.

This wine should be released within weeks and will be available from the website at or phone 805-461-0675. The 2006 vintage is coming along in barrel and will provide 400 cases. Philip says “the 2007 crop looks stunning and with newer vines, we should produce about 700 cases, even with extensive shoot and cluster thinning.” Philip’s pouring crew is shown below.

Adelaida Cellars (see Hoffman Mountain Ranch, page 9).

2004 Adelaida Cellars HMR Estate Paso Robles Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., <900 cases, sold out. · This was really good and understandably sold out. An assertive Pinot nose of ripe fruit aromas was complimented by layers of fruit wrapped in mouth coating tannins.

The current winemaker, Terry Culton, learned his trade at Wild Horse, Edmeades and Calera, and has modernized this winery’s whole operation. The wines show it (there was also a very credible 2006 Vin Gris of HMR Estate Pinot Noir poured). The wines are sold on the website at 800-676-1232. 5805 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446.

Castoro Cellars A very large producer (60,000 cases of multiple varietals) that farms 600 acres of vineyards (the website says 20,000 cases and 400 acres but the higher figures were told to me by the pourer at the event). Despite the size, this remains a down-to-earth operation. At the event, a single pourer had a couple of bottles of Pinot and a few business cards atop a barrel and that was it.

The owners are Niels and Bimmer Udsen. Niels’ nickname is “Beaver.” While working in Italy, his friends called him “ll Castoro,” or beaver in Italian. The name stuck and the Castoro label sports a beaver and the tagline, “Dam Fine Wine.” The winemaking team here has been together for over 20 years: owner Niels Udsen, head winemaker Tom Myers, and assistant winemaker Michel Olsten. The wines are very fairly priced.

2004 Castoro Cellars Blind Faith Vineyard Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., $20. The Udesen’s purchased a local vineyard and when the opportunity to buy it arose, they acted in “blind faith.” · This was a very credible Pinot sporting the finesse and quaffability to perfectly compliment paella. Light in body and alcohol, yet with nice red fruit, spice and tea notes, this could be a perfectly fine daily drinker.

Castoro Cellars winery is located at 6465 Von Dollen Road in San Miguel and is open to the public from 10-4 daily. 805-467-2002. The tasting room is at 1315 N Bethel Road in Templeton and is open from 11- 5:30 daily. 805-238-0725. The wines may be purchased on the website at A Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is also available.

Jack Creek Cellars Owners Doug and Sabrina Kruse are about as passionate about wine as anyone I know. A few years ago Doug sold his grain feed business in Southern California and bought the front 75 acres of the JRK Ranch in Templeton, 7 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The land is part of the York Mountain AVA and sits at the southern border of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. In 1997, Doug planted 20 acres to Pinot Noir (115, 2A, Pommard), 4 acres to Chardonnay, and a little to Syrah. Recently, he has planted more Pinot Noir (828, 943), Syrah and some Grenache. The Krause’s plantationstyled home sits on the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding Kruse Vineyard. The modern winery and adjacent storage barn are tastefully positioned among the vineyards as well. Projected production is 2,500 to 3,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. Doug is a burly, lumberjack-like figure and his wines reflect his appearance. He is the first to admit that he prefers a bigger style of Pinot Noir. (More information in PinotFile, Vol 6, Issue 5).

2005 Jack Creek Cellars Estate York Mountain Pinot Noir

$32. · Appealing aromatics of dark fruits, anise and clove. There is a substantial dark fruit core which is still overpowered by oak at this time.

2005 Jack Creek Cellars Reserve York Mountain Pinot Noir

Even more structure and power here, syrah-like. Despite the prodigious fruit, the texture is silky and comforting. Not for the faint of heart.

The wines may be purchased on the website at Tasting is by appointment (805-226-8283). The winery and vineyard are located at 5265 Jack Creek Road, Templeton, CA 93446.

Sylvester Vineyards & Winery This Paso Robles winery had its origins in the 1960s when Sylvester Feichtingel purchased the Rancho Robles which is now the current home of Sylvester Vineyards & Winery. The first grapes were planted in 1982 and the inaugural commercial wines appeared in 1990. This is a large operation with a modern winery capable of producing 50,000 cases of wine annually. The winemaker is Jec Jacobs.

2005 Kiara Private Reserve Paso Robles Pinot Noir

$25. · The winery’s reserve label is Kiara. This was one of my favorite wines of the event. The most striking features were spice, particularly cinnamon, flavors, and a creamy, velveteen palate.

Windward Vineyard

2005 Windward Vineyard Monopole Paso Robles Pinot Noir

2,000 cases, $36. · A nice young French girl was pouring and this was appropriate as this wine was the most “Burgundian,” and the least New World at the event. There was noteworthy earthiness, minerality, and fecundity complimenting the red fruits in this wine. It was not as showy as several other Pinot Noirs that were poured, but it is built more for the long haul. A connoisseur’s Pinot.

The vineyard is located at 1380 Live Oak Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. Tasting room open daily 10:30-5. 805-239- 2565. The wines may be ordered online at A second bottling, the Windward Vineyard Barrel Select Gold ($60), is culled from the best 10 barrels in the cellar. Some older vintages are still available.

Other producers at the event: Calcerous Winery, Carmody McKnight, Casa De Caballos, Cayucos Cellars, Hug Cellars, Pali and Loring Wine Co, Midnight Cellars, Opolo Vineyards, Red Head Ranch Winery, and Stephen’s Cellar. For more information on Paso Robles wineries on the internet: Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance,, and San Luis Obispo Vintner’s Association, For information on next year’s Pinot and Paella Cook-Off, consult the event website at

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