The last time we visited Tobin James Cellars www.tobinjames.com was in 2012, when I had a great conversation with Toby that I wrote about here: http://evewine101.com/2012/07/07/michael-perlis-reports-tobin-james-cellars/
We’ve visited Paso Robles a few times since, but with so much going on there all the time, we had not stopped in to the always busy and fun Tobin James tasting room. In fact, when we visited Paso Robles last Fall, I remember passing Tobin James Cellars on the way out of town and thinking to myself: “Next time for sure”. Then, I thought: “Why not stay at Tobin James next time?”
Even though we have been members of Tobin James Cellars for a very long time, we have never stayed on the property. They do have a three-room guesthouse, but its availability is seemingly never publicized. So how do you get to stay there? Well, you need to be a club member and…you have to ask! And, while it does book up months in advance, staying there typically ends up costing you nothing. How does that work? Weekend rates (Friday and Saturday) are $300 per night, but your wine purchases are applied dollar-for-dollar against the cost of staying there. Since only club members stay in the guesthouse, and since club members are already fans of the Tobin James wines, it becomes a no-brainer to want to stay there. [After typing all of this, I am tempted to delete the entire paragraph, as I expect it will now be even harder to book a room!]
So, soon after getting back home from our last Paso Robles trip, I inquired about reserving a room for our next visit. It turns out that of the three rooms available, one of them is currently being renovated (look for a barnyard-chic theme coming soon). The other two rooms are the Sun Room and the Bordello Room. We made the reservation and counted the days.
Toby was out of town this time, but we weren’t left to fend for ourselves. This actually gave us a great opportunity to spend some time with Claire and Lance Silver, who have been Toby’s partners in Tobin James Cellars since 1996. So, we chatted with the Silvers while tasting room employee Kaye took great care of pouring our tasting selections.
As always, tasting wine at Tobin James is almost an embarrassment of riches. The first thing you see is a list of 11 wines for you to choose to taste, such as their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah Rose, Sangiovese, Merlot, Zinfandel [of course], Petite Sirah, among others. Only the Petite is $25, all the rest are $20 and under. They are solid wines that definitely over-deliver at their price points. (Claire told me that “exceeding expectations and being nice to people” is how Tobin James Cellars operates, and that sure seems to be the case. The tasting room is nearly always busy, and the staff clearly makes the effort to keep everyone happy.)
But by now, after so many years, I’ve become a little spoiled. (Lance actually expressed amazement that I’d been drinking Tobin James wines longer than he has, as I first discovered Toby’s wines in the late 80s at a long-gone tasting room called Templeton Corners.) So, I went straight for the “reserve list”. I am a huge fan of the higher end wines produced by Tobin James Cellars, especially the various Zinfandels (James Gang Reserve, Dusi Vineyard, Fatboy, and Blue Moon Reserve), as well as the Blue Moon Reserve Syrah. They also now have a Tempranillo/Syrah James Gang Reserve (a blend that works very well). In addition, I had the treat of tasting for the first time the Tobin James Blue Moon Reserve Merlot – possibly the best Merlot I have ever had. In fact, I think that these wines mentioned are as good as anything coming out of Paso Robles today. Bear in mind that not all these reserve wines are available for tasting all the time, especially not the Blue Moon wines, but you never know when you will get lucky.
One of the real hallmarks of the Tobin James wines is consistency. Lance attributes this to their vineyard sources. For example, Lance said that they have 48 different vineyards that provide them with Zinfandel. Then, Lance, Claire and Toby participate in the final blending to get the desired results. Maintaining these grower relationships is critical, and buying grapes by the acre instead of the ton helps to keep these connections solid.
And of course they seek out new vineyards as well. For example, Lance said the Blue Moon Reserve Syrah comes from a secret vineyard source on Paso’s west side.
Claire is very proud that Paso Robles was named wine region of the year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. And she should be. If it weren’t for pioneers like Toby, Lance and Claire, Paso Robles would not have developed into the wine region it is today. And, they are very proud of their longstanding partnership as well.
Production is around 60,000 cases annually. With about 27,000 club members, a lot of their production is already spoken for. And, as I’ve said, they have a very popular tasting room. Yet, they continue to not charge a tasting fee. Lance said: “If they don’t like our wines, why would I want their money?” I don’t think that happens very often.
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also Vice President of Eve’s Wine 101 Consulting (http://evewine101.com/eveswine101consulting/). Michael can be contacted at email@example.com.