“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” – Paulo Coelho
After tasting wine around the Paso Robles area for over nine or ten years, I have come to realize that the wines (and wineries) I am most intrigued with are from the west side of Highway 101.
Situated between the Pacific Coast and the city of Paso Robles is one of the most picturesque areas of the Central California Coast. The flat plains east of town give way to the Santa Lucia mountain range and offer a multitude of scenic roads that wind through ancient oaks and rolling hills. The fog and Pacific breezes that flow through the Templeton Gap (a series of mountain passes) moderate the daily temperatures and increase the amount of time that it takes for grapes to ripen. This is one of the important factors that give the wines a cool-climate freshness and acidity.
Wineries dot the hills along Adelaida Road and Vineyard Drive west of Paso. This is where several of my favorites can be found. I have already spoken of Law Estates and Thacher. The wineries that follow are simply in the order in which I discovered them – they all produce stellar wines.
The architecture of this winery is simply stunning and the views are breathtaking.
The patios overlook the vineyards and have a relaxed and casual ambiance .
We often bring picnic lunches to enjoy on the patio and, of course, we inevitably share a slightly chilled bottle of Theresa – a white Rhone-style blend. It is a consummate picnic wine – fresh and fruity but rich enough to hold its own with charcuterie meats and stinky cheeses.
Ron Denner is the owner and founder. Until recently, he owned the Ditch Witch (earth handling equipment) dealerships for Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho. He purchased the winery property in 1998 and began planting the first few acres in 1999 releasing his first vintage in 2002. He now owns 180 acres with 110 acres under cultivation including over 19 varietals. While the bulk of the wines are of a Rhone-style, his largest crop is actually cabernet sauvignon.
Anthony Yount is the winemaker. According to some of the people at Denner, Anthony wanted to be a cattle rustler or a river pirate when he grew up. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), neither of those professions were hiring when he graduated from Cal Poly. So, Anthony “cut his teeth” in the wine industry at Denner working as a cellar rat for two vintages. In 2009 (at 24 years old) he became the winemaker of this major wine business and six years later was described by Wine Spectator as the epicenter of the West Paso wine scene.
A few years ago, we were invited to a demonstration of springtime vine trimming (and a great lunch afterward). I was told to wear old shoes since we would be traipsing through the muddy earth between rows of grapevines. I took their instructions seriously and dutifully donned my oldest sneakers. We were almost finished when I stepped out of one shoe – no really, the sole separated from the shoe and I suddenly found myself walking on cold, wet dirt with the upper part of the shoe still laced and clinging to my foot! Luckily I had a change of shoes in the car.
On a more recent stop, we were able to sample six or seven of their latest releases starting with a nice “foot stomped” (literally) 2018 Rosé. This example of the genre was blended from Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Carignan. Fruity and light, it was a good way to begin a day of tasting. OK, I admit I am changing my ideas about certain rosés.
The other wines were equally rewarding:
2017 Theresa. Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul and Vermentino. As described above, tropical, citrus notes along with the Rhone varietal’s richness and all balanced by acid from the Picpoul.
2013 Ditch Digger. The name of this wine along with the Dirt Worshipper is a nod to Ron Denner’s previous profession. Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, and Counoise. Rich with dark fruit that burst from the bottle while still showing a refined long, smooth finish.
2016 Mother of Exiles. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet. A Bordeaux style in contrast to other Denner wines. Complex and floral with dark stone fruits and a bit of spice.
2016 Syrah. Syrah, Carignan, and Roussanne. Rich, powerful and thick. A perfect foil for rare, juicy, red meat or grilled game. It needs to breathe for a good hour before drinking.
2014 Dirt Worshipper. Syrah, Roussanne, and Viognier. Another complex gentle giant was reminiscent of a Côte Rôtie. Dark plums and berries with savory overtones. I featured the 2013 Dirt Worshipper in my Thanksgiving post (click here).
Denner has traditionally produced wines that are powerful and full of intensity. I have noticed that over the last few years they have become distinctly more elegant with assertive, complex bouquets and harmonious tannins.
Stay tuned for Part 3 with my notes on a few more Paso wineries.