Paso Robles has just gone through tremendous growing pains, and this map is proof of all of their geological research… Air, soil, water, and climate all playing contributing parts to defining terroir; as well as the people involved, the flora, and the fauna… Having traveled to 41 of our 50 US states, I can tell you that each one is so unique that I would never – going to the furthest extreme to prove a point – tell you that apples grown in Maine are going to be anything like apples grown in Hawaii, for instance. Hawaiian apples are called pineapples, truth be told. When I visited Tedeschi Winery in Maui, I spoke with employees. At that time, in the 1990s, they were trying to only have one crop a year of wine grapes. The vines weren’t going through a dormancy period, so as soon as one crop was harvested, the next growth cycle would begin, with two crops per year.
I’m very interested when I hear people say that terroir isn’t real. I know it is, having been connected to the earth since the day I was born into my grandmother’s garden, and have had my own gardens, since the late 60s. What grows in the tropics for plants, which become ginormous, wild proportions, were puny house plants in Maine for me. If I had put them out of doors in the winter, they would have instantly frozen.
Terroir is very real and defines regions. I just spent a great deal of time studying the Green Valley of Russian River Valley this year. In order to really “get” it, I began with Pangaea. Yeah, it’s like that, if you truly want to understand the geology, first and foremost… Then, I worked my way up to the soils of today, based on what created them.
So, Paso Robles… Just look at this map above. This region is really coming into its own, as are the wines. Gone are the days of people who, when word association was played, would say “Napa,” when California wine was mentioned. Yes, Napa has its terroir really well understood and defined, and it has become an inspiration for others. But, to believe that Napa is the be all to end all wines in California is very myopic, in my humble opinion.. And, quite boring – with all due respect to Napa. It would be like saying, “I only eat peaches for fruit, because peaches are the only fruit worth enjoying.”
Let’s take Petite Sirah, for instance. Petite from Napa can be very elegant, with some of it – beyond cold fermentation, natural punchdowns, etc. – having to do with the funding available, based on winery owners. If anyone can afford property in Napa, they’ve got cash to spare. Investing so much money for land carries into all other aspects for what else can happen with winemaking; from rock star winemakers, to the finest viticulture people and the finest treatments on all levels. This impacts the wines, of course. So, is Napa the be all to end all for Petite Sirah? Nope, they’ve got great Petites, make no mistake abut that. Then, on the other hand, also just try some of the Petite Sirahs coming out of Paso. When I’ve been out tasting Petites from many regions at the same time, and consumers tasting a Paso one invariably say, “Wow, can I taste that one again?” And, they also buy them. This works for other varieties, too. I just have a very firsthand knowledge with Petite, so it’s a natural example for me.
Just look at all of the sub regions of Paso Robles. This is a flavor chart, if you understand geology at any level… Soil science, very complex to completely understand, is in the realm of PhDs. A lifetime could be spent trying to get a handle on this one. That I’m very clear about, given this past year for me. What I do know well is how little I do understand, because in one year, I’ve only scratched the surface, so to speak. I just had a renowned geologist say to me (wanting to remain anonymous, so as to not offend anyone):
“A winemaker will wax poetic about the flavors that come from his or her vineyard. Those flavors run a spectrum of possibilities for the winemaker. Meanwhile, ask a group of geologists the same question about that same soil, and there will only be one consistent answer for what the soil will impart to that wine.”
And so, with terroir, we have to respect those who have tried to define their regions. It’s not done in a willy-nilly fashion.
In their new map, pay close attention to the rivers that run through the regions. Water moving soil carries unique nutrients, and causes differing humidity ranges. This begins the process. EXAMPLE: Apples in Maine have juices dripping down your chin when plucked from a tree and eaten on the spot, in September and October. That won’t happen with apples from Sebastopol, California, for instance. California just doesn’t get that much water feeding into the root system and fruit over the course of a growing cycle, the way Maine apples do. So, they’re dryer and pithier.
Through PS I Love You, I have long ties to the Paso Robles area, and love visiting. If I were headed to Paso Robles, and this could be sooner rather than later, the wineries of special interest to me are the following: