“I will drink milk when cows eat grapes.” – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French painter, 1864 – 1901.
To most Californians, Paso Robles has a reputation as a wild west town. Three of the original settlers were the stuff Western movies were made of – a vigilante leader, a cattleman (and the uncle of Jesse James), and a rancher capitalist with several business irons in the fire. They were “49ers” – men who came to California in 1849 looking for gold.
The ranches surrounding Paso (as it is often affectionately called) had large herds of cattle and horses, grain crops, garden produce, and almond orchards. Some of the orchards can still be seen today although many of the ranch lands have been planted with grapes.
Up until around twenty years ago, while driving up or down the California central coast, I stayed right on Highway 101, passed by Paso or (sometimes) stopped for gas and a taco before hitting the road again. No more! Paso is one of my favorite wine destinations. Several times a year, Karel and I make special trips down for a nice weekend getaway.
With a greater day-to-night temperature swing than any other appellation in California, distinct microclimates, diverse soils and a long growing season, the Paso Robles AVA is a unique wine region blessed with favorable growing conditions.
It is still acknowledged for its heritage grape, Zinfandel, but has gained recognition from a wider range of grape varietals as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, growers began to plant Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Starting in the 1980s, there were increased plantings of many Rhône varieties, including the first Syrah planted in California, as well as Viognier and Roussane.
Today Paso is home to more than 200 wineries, including Law Estates – home of the blending party I told you about in the last post (click here). Some of my other favorites are Denner, Halter Ranch, Jada, and Thacher.
Our friends (who invited us to the Law party) are often in the area scouting out new wineries and restaurants so it is not unusual for us to receive a phone call telling us that we have to come down to try some new hot spot. What can we do? We are off and running!
After the Law Blending Party, we were introduced to a new (to us) winery, Thacher Winery and Vineyard.
Thacher is the quintessential Paso Robles family-owned boutique winery. After searching for a winery location for several years, Sherman and Michelle Thacher discovered the Kentucky Ranch, in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles. They were captivated and purchased the property in 2004.
The Kentucky Ranch was part of a 4,000 acre Spanish Land Grant until 1869 after which it became a horse breeding operation.
The winery and ranch total about fifty-two acres which include the old KR barn – an amazing structure that reminded me of a huge upside-down ark. I was told that it was the work of a Norwegian builder back in the 1920s. The winery and tasting room officially opened in 2008.
In 2007 the estate vineyard was planted to Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. Viognier, Cabernet, Syrah and Alicante have since been added. Although the 2008 harvest produced about 33 tons of premium wine grapes, a good portion of their fruit is still purchased from other trusted vineyards in Paso Robles as well as Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. Today the winery’s total production is approximately 4,500 cases.
The tasting room is fairly modest — a small gable-roofed building that reminded me of Roy Rogers’ ranch house (kind of appropriate, right?) – rustic modern – with a brass-topped, light wooden bar.
Patios meander about here and there, moving from awning to sycamore shade with views of nearby Petite Syrah vines. On the afternoon that we were there, Michelle and Sherman both stopped in to say hello.
We tasted a number of outstanding wines beginning with a glass of lightly chilled 2017 Cinsaut Rosé and then for a side-by-side comparison, the 2018 release. The 2018 came through with a lot more fruit and had a really nice color. I am not normally a Rosé fan but this one impressed me. OK, so we bought a couple of bottles.
The 2015 Constant Variable (there is another of those funky names that Paso Robles winemakers are so fond of) is a Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Counoise. The 2016 Tierra Alta Vineyard Syrah, from Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County, was quite nice with rich tannins that needed a few more years of bottle aging. The hit of the day for me was the 2016 Triumvirate which was 100% Reserve Zinfandel from Paso Robles – rich and peppery – delicious!
Getting back to that Rosé…
Our neighbor went fishing last week in the Pacific out of Bodega Bay. The Chinook salmon (also known as King salmon) were running and she caught a couple of beauties. That night she invited us over for a dinner of a huge side of salmon grilled a la plancha. Fish that was in the ocean a few hours before and lightly grilled made for a pretty amazing treat!
And to top it off, she sent us home with a big hunk of the salmon and a loaf of her homemade bread.
The next night, I looked in the refrigerator for something that might go with the salmon. We had some fresh eggs and a couple of bags of fresh yellow wax beans and Roma green beans from our friend Christian’s garden. We had some Sun Gold tomatoes and Purple Viking potatoes from our garden. We had the salmon and bread. And, of course, we had a bottle of that marvelous Thacher 2018 Cinsault Rosé.
This was a no-brainer – obviously a variation on Salad Niçoise (salmon instead of tuna) with a delightful Rosé. It all came together with a minimum of fuss and tasted incredible.