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Paul Lato Wines: So Much with So Little

On my way back from the World of Pinot Noir in March, 2009, I stopped by Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria to visit Paul Lato and taste his 2008 Pinot Noirs out of barrel. Paul is a Polish-born professionally trained and educated sommelier. In 2002, he decided to follow his dream to make his own wine and arrived in California’s Central Coast. That first year he made six barrels of wine and developed his skills while being mentored by Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist at Qupe. He has closely studied the winemaking of the late Henri Jayer of Burgundy, while his stateside admiration is reserved for the older style of Williams Selyem wines. He has tasted wines from those producers and carefully studied their approach reaching the conclusion that “true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity and passion.”

It is astonishing to visit and see Paul’s working space - a 20’ by 30’ cage containing maybe 20 barrels of wine, a table that serves as a chemical lab, a small desk and a few boxes of bottled wine on a single pallet. It seems to fit Paul well, however, because he purposely intends to remain small. He is passionate about quality, often declassifying up to half of his production that fails to meet his high expectations. He has grown slowly and methodically, limited by his own resources (he spurns investors) and by his insistence on doing every step of the winemaking process himself. Chardonnay was added to the mix of Pinot Noir (80% of production) and Syrah in 2007. Total output varies depending on the vintage but does not exceed 500 cases.

Paul only works with special vineyards that have a strong personality. Almost all contracts are per acre so he can work intimately with the vineyard managers to achieve his goals. Paul employs long cold soaks, quite warm fermentations, gravity racking only when necessary, and gentle fining with no filtration. He makes it clear that he has no recipe, varying his punch downs, new oak regimen and aging period (generally 14 to 18 months) depending on the vintage on the vineyard source of the wine. His goal is the perfect balance between elegance and intensity. His wines have always been admirable for their purity and refinement, finesse and balance but also for their distinctive reflection of each vineyard’s terroir.

My previous comments about Paul are poignant. “Paul Lato bleeds Pinot Noir. He is a rare individual of great passion who is humble, yet aristocratic, both humorous and charming, and with a smile that shows a zest for wine and the good life.”

My tasting notes of the 2008 Paul Lato Pinot Noirs from barrel and the 2007 Paul Lato Pinot Noirs from bottle follow.

2008 Paul Lato "Lancelot" Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

15.1% alc.. Sourced from the original plantings that are 20 years old. · Full-bodied, intensely fruited, with an appealing earthiness and hints of anise and tar. Despite its heft, the wine retains a lively acidity, moderated tannins and complete integration of the alcohol.

2008 Paul Lato “Duende” Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

Martini clone which performs well at this site. · A real charmer showing tasty strawberry and Asian spice flavors. A delicate minerality roams the background.

2008 Paul Lato “Sine Cera” Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

“Sine Cera” is a Latin idiom meaning “without wax.” Wax was used historically to cover imperfections in statues. One new barrel of clone 113. · Lovely aromas of dark cherries and berries with a touch of chocolate and violets. Smoothly textured with supple tannins and a soft and scented exit.

2008 Paul Lato “Suerte” Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

From a block at the top of the vineyard planted to clones 115 and 667. Solomon Hills is the most westerly vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley and is clearly visible to travelers on Highway 101. “Suerte” means luck and Paul chose this name because he had suffered a string of accidents and survived without significant injury. This wine seemed to bring him luck. · Darker fruited, nicely spiced with plenty of structural power, noticeable oak, soft tannins and a tangy finish that lasts and lasts.

2007 Paul Lato “Duende” Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc.,100 cases, $63. · Really lovely nose touting Bing cherries, forest floor, sandalwood and baking spices. Delicious midweighted cherry fruit with oak playing a supportive role in the background. Silky, vibrant and perfectly harmonious.

2007 Paul Lato “Suerte” Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 150 cases, $68. · Sensual perfume of fresh crushed raspberries and blackberries with the slightest hint of oak. Gorgeous fruit accented with musk and cola and framed harmoniously by soft tannins and a spark of acidity. Pinot my paramour.

2007 Paul Lato “Sine Cera” Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.7% alc.,125 cases, $73. · Deep, dark brooding nose showing aromas of black cherries, raspberries and white pepper. A distinctive wine with woodsy and earthy dark stone fruits that are both lush and mysterious. Deft touch of oak and admirable corralling of tannins. A hint of citrus shows up in the finish which is unbelievably persistent. This is a wine that comes at you, grabs hold and demands your attention. Screams for duck.

Paul Lato Wines are sold through a mailing list at There is very limited retail and restaurant distribution. Check for internet availability from several sources. Paul is not the best businessperson and a number of followers have not received offerings despite joining the mailing list. If you want the wines, and you do, either call Paul (805-260-3210) or visit him in Santa Maria (by appointment). Paul’s Chardonnay is outrageously good and I will report on this and other California Chardonnays in a future issue.

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