These winemakers are remaking their chosen region into a California powerhouse.
by Steve Heimoff
No region in California has come so far, so fast, as Paso Robles.
Four years ago, I called it, “a case study of a region that’s reinventing itself, looking for relevance, willing to take risks.”
In many respects, Paso Robles has now become the most exciting appellation in California. A young generation of winemakers—often having Napa Valley roots—is moving there, lured by a sense of freedom they didn’t find elsewhere.
“We don’t care about traditions,” says Matt Villard, owner/winemaker of MCV Wines. “We want to find our own style.”
Adds ONX winemaker Brian Brown: “It’s freeform here. We have no preconceived notions.”
That sense of individuality is what drew Amy Butler. The owner/winemaker of Ranchero Cellars had a good career going in Napa, where she’d worked at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Schramsberg. But it was to Paso Robles she came.
“I just fell in love with it,” Butler says.
The Paso Robles renaissance did not spring up overnight. An early generation, typified by wineries like Eberle and Wild Horse, sparked a small boom in the 1990s and early 2000s, when producers like L’Aventure, Linne Calodo, Saxum and Tablas Creek attracted acclaim. They were pioneers in a region long dominated by commodity wines.
The world took notice, and investor money followed. And, as Brown points out, “winemaking talent follows the money.” The tipping point arrived between 2007 and 2010, when most of these wineries started up.
At ONX, Brown crafts several fancifully named blends—Moxie and Red Crush,for example - from wildly unrelated grape varieties, like Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. There’s also a Sauvignon Blanc- Viognier dubbed Field Day.
“You’d never see these blends outside Paso,” says Brown, 34.
“It would be easy to put a varietal on a bottle, but you have all these other attributes from other varieties,” he says. “So it’s about creating the most complete wine possible.”
The grapes come from ONX’s large vineyard, on the western side of the appellation.
Brown literally grew up all around the world, as his father, a hospital administrator, moved frequently. He was introduced to wine in Australia and has fond memories of “the garden-to-table lifestyle” enjoyed Down Under.
“When it was time to decide what to study in college, I knew I wanted to make wine,” says Brown.
He previously worked in Napa at Trefethen and Napa Wine Co. (where he was exposed to the likes of Screaming Eagle and Bryant). Brown continues his association with Napa Valley as winemaker at Round Pond.
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