During the first day of Paso Robles Cab Collective Cabs of Distinction event I was happy with many wines from wineries I already knew or at least knew of. As I was strolling past one table I was immediately charmed by the gentleman pouring for guests in front of the table and excitedly describing the wines. This was my first encounter with Jeff Branco, the winemaker and Director of Operations for Rotta Winery.
Within minutes I fell in love with Branco’s 2013 Rotta SBR blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I also learned that Branco had been the winemaker for Justin – and the incredibly popular Isosceles blend had originated under his tenure.
As this was the Cab Collective and all we were tasting were Bordeaux style blends or Cabs I asked Branco if he made other wines. He quickly invited me and my pals to a luncheon and wine tasting at his winery on Winery Road, just past Turley in Templeton, the next day.
Fast forward and we’re in the Rotta tasting room happily sampling a Rotta 2013 Pinot Gris from San Simeon that received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine. From there we had a Rotta 2013 Rosé, and then the rest of the 2013 tasting line up was from Paso Robles and included a Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Zinfandel – all yummy.
Then we were driven up to the top of the property where a total of 19 guests huddled under pop up tents, happily sipping wine and taking photographs of the vineyards surrounding us. Once the courses began (see photos of the menu and pairings here) the conversation never ceased – along with the praise for Branco’s exquisite wines and Chef Brooke Stockwell’s imaginative pairings.
Several times the charming Branco would tap his water glass with a knife to get our attention and comment on the joy he found in his work. One story included his out-of-the-box idea of a tailgate party on the property that served as a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. He, along with “the love of” his life Sonya Guzman, proudly held up a check for $900 that they had made in their inaugural attempt, an event mostly filled with friends and local winemakers.
After lunch we headed back down the mountain, back to the tasting room, and nearly back to reality. The last I had seen of Branco was him headed off on a ATV to pick up his daughters. I ordered a few wines and lingered a bit in the tasting room but he hadn’t made it back before we all had to leave. As he had given me his cell number we called from the car where all five of us let him know that we loved his wines and thanked him for a remarkable time.
More about Rotta
Established in 1908.
Try the Black Monukka dessert wine.
Open 10:30-5:30 daily.
- Lohr Cuvee Component Tasting 2014 Vintages
Meeting at J. Lohr Vineyards, which we hadn’t visited since our wonderful 2011 trip, we met in the same large room as before but this time it was set up for a component tasting. (For anyone wanting to do a component class get the Torani syrups, they are the most true. See photos here.) Along with the syrups for identifying fruit aromas, we sniffed dried and fresh flowers (rose, sage, jasmine and hibiscus), spices and other components (clove, cocoa, coffee, tarragon and fennel) trying to identify each so that later we could identify them in our wines.
Ian Adamo, the sommelier at Paso Robles’s Bistro Laurent (we had met Ian before when he paired an outstanding Adelaida dinner for us at the 2014 Cab Collective event) is currently working on his dissertation for his MS. Adamo, along with J. Lohr red winemaker Steve Peck, led us through each wine to evaluate the fruit, spice, floral, herbs, volume, astringency and then we were to try to guess the varietal of each of the five 2014 single varietal wines in front of us.
A bit tough with the caliber of fellow writers and somms in the room, we agreed on some descriptors and what wine that indicated. Ian listed colors, fruits and tannins that were certain indicators of standard varietals no matter where grown.
“It’s the structure that tells you the story” Ian said, in describing a Cabernet Sauvignon. And the purple color and bright fluorescent rim in the glass is indicative of all Malbecs.
Any bell pepper notes, which most people think is a flaw, ends up in their lowest priced bottles Peck said, and is how most domestic wineries handle that component when found.
I checked off whenever at least my descriptors matched Ian’s as I certainly wasn’t going to guess all of the varietals correctly! At the end of the class I got one wine right across the board, the others only shared descriptors. I definitely want to try this at home with a group.
Peck then gave us some great news: when we got to lunch a little later “some of the wines the somms tasted” in front of us the other day that we weren’t given…had “fallen off the truck” and we were going to taste them!
But first we were to blend a “Cuvee Pom” (in a nod to the Pomeral region of Bordeaux) blend of 82% Merlot and 18% Malbec with 2% (equal to 1/2 barrel) to 4% (equal to 1 barrel) of Cabernet Franc. The first, with 2%, softened the bite of the Pom alone, more fruit and less tannin. The second, with the 4%, now seemed spicier, rougher, and I actually like that better. It was an interesting exercise as again, it’s very objective so we all had our favorites of the blends we had created.
Peck said that he wanted to create a luxury brand, and is not after scores. He has yet to decide what he will do with the blends we were playing with. In the meantime, the evil scientists at my table grabbed more glasses and decided, ON THEIR OWN, to move to 6% of Cabernet Franc in their blend.
During “the next chapter” of our seminar Peck gave us a slide show that included a “style map” with color/body/mouthfeel/tannin/color broken town into styles based on their strength. He mentioned that it was akin to how someone may like their coffee: thin and astringent, dark but with creamer, etc. Pinot Noir would fall on the light end of the map while Cabernet Sauvignon would be on the dark end, and blends in the middle.
After that we adjourned to a wonderful lunch and all of the wonderful wines that fell off the truck and the latest three J. Lohr Cuvee blends – enjoyed it all!
Vina Robles Cabs of Distinction Seminar
The Swiss owner of Vina Robles, Hans Nef, that greeted our merry group of seminar attendees told us that he has a farming background and came to Paso Robles in the mid 1990s. Nef’s goal, after turning the class over to winemaker Kevin Willenborg, was to give us some background on Vina Robles and present 11 districts of Paso AVA with the six wines we were too taste.
With six slides we learned that the family came to Paso in 1996 and had their first crush in 1999. Introducing Vina Robles wine in 2003, the Cuvee Collection in 2005, RED4 wines launched in 2006, in 2007 the Hospitality Center opened, Willenborg joined in 2012 and the new Vina Robles Amphitheatre opened in 2013.
Nef said that the winery is mid-sized, family-owned and produced 40k cases per year, all from estate grown grapes.
Willenborg then took over the lecture. He told us that they have 5 different districts within the Paso Robles 11 AVAs that are used in Vina Robles wine. He pulled some wines, still in barrel, from different districts that we would later sample to see if we could discern any differences between the different AVA districts (map).
The Santa Lucia mountain range allows the area to be warm in the growing season. There are other ranges, on the south and east that “kind of frame Paso Robles.” Like being in “a bowl” surrounded by mountains. There are 614,000 acres in the 11 Paso AVAs with 32,500 planted. There are over 45 soil series, including alkaline, calcareous and siliceous.
The word “Sauvignon means wild” Willenborg said…and Cabernet Sauvignon grows wild and strong after planting. Here, not like Bordeaux, their window for growth is longer.
There are 23 varieties grown, on 1,300 acres, at Vina Robles and they only source 15%, so the balance is sold to other wineries. The main districts that Vina Robles grows in are Jardine (Estrella District), Huerhuero (split between two districts: Geneseo and El Pomar), Creston Valley (Creston District) and Adelaida Springs Ranch (Adelaida). Then we tasted wines from each district to discern different flavors.
This was tough for me, like barrel sampling, these wines were single varietals that had yet to age or be blended. Lots of tannins, volume, weight, astringency, and big mouthfeel was indicative in all – as these attributes comes straight from the grapes. Some seemed less tannic or fruitier than others, but all in all I longed to have each in their final blended process which I was more than happy to trust Willenborg with!
(After the 2013 Cab Collective I visited Vina Robles winemaker Kevin Willenborg. Read here for story on the tasting and interview.)
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com