You know it’s more than the wine when you have to pass an enormous bronze boar to enter Eberle Winery. Especially when Gary Eberle himself is at the door, looking every bit ready to rejoin the Penn State football team for which he starred many years ago. The boar symbolizes the Eberle name as it means in German. It also symbolizes the tenacity with which Gary Eberle pioneered so much of what happens in the Paso Robles Wine Region.
He likes to walk with you onto the large deck overlooking his vineyards with the Santa Lucia Mountains in the background. As you probe his background he will admit to having shifted gears while at LSU Graduate School from biology to wine and continuing wine studies at UC Davis. He is not only a former football player and biologist, he is a scholar about things wine. And wine business.
Paso Robles hasn’t always been a wine mecca. It took pioneers like Gary Eberle to see the potential and take it on, back in the 1970s. His famous Boar Label was launched with his 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon. Five years later he opened his 16-thousand-square-foot wine cellar, today holding more than 2,000 barrels. It is one of the largest wine caves in the state and one can be forgiven if he momentarily thinks he is in a Bordeaux chateaux.
In the coolness of the cellar we talk and sip our way through some of the wines that place Eberle at the top of anyone’s wine producer list. The 2015 Chardonnay was a double gold winner in San Francisco, creamy and refreshing, like the constant temperature in the cave. Same for the rose, very like those in Provence with a thirst-quenching dry finish.
A wine he calls a bistro wine is one I ship home. The Cotes-du-Robles Rouge could be Cotes de Rhone, a silky blend of Rhone grapes. There are others, of course, and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon proves that done right this grape will equal those of its cousins further north.
Eberle wines will be around for a while. Chris Eberle is in charge now with impeccable credentials. A scholar, like his father, with degrees in Ag Business and Viticulture, he has checked out how vintners do their jobs in South Africa, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and France. \
The winery is east of Highway 101, just a couple miles from town, 3810 Highway 46E, Paso Robles 93446. It’s open to the public from 10:00 to 5:00 every day, and by calling ahead, you can enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch on the deck — along with a couple samples of fine wine, of course — firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rub the bronze boar’s nose coming or going, and you’re assured of good luck. And a glass of chilled Muscat Canelli will guarantee it.
Keeping up with my current theme of More than the Wine, I recall an unexpected stop in Chateauneuf-du-Pape almost thirty years ago on a very hot summer’s day because I saw a man watering a flower garden near a driveway bearing a winery sign. I was alone and asked about a tasting. Cordially he escorted me into a side building and poured me a glass of white wine. I didn’t realize he was a member of the Perrin family and that I was at the Chateau Beaucastel where visits are by appointment only. Needless to say, I have been a fan of Beaucastel wines ever since.
Jump ahead almost twenty years when I received an invitation to come meet Jason Haas visiting Bloomington from his family wine estate in Paso Robles. He was pouring a white wine for three or four other guests when I arrived, and, as he introduced himself, handed me a glass. One sip and I said aloud: “I’m back in the Rhone Valley.”
Last week, both Jason and I remembered his trip to Indiana but we couldn’t agree on the year. And again, we started a visit with a glass of that white wine — Espirit de Tablas Blanc, the Tablas flagship white. And why shouldn’t it taste like a Rhone? The Haas Family and the Perrins have been friends for generations. Together they found this rugged, almost violent California terrain along Tablas Creek that greatly resembled the driest, rockiest part of the Rhone Valley and started a winery named for the creek.
Same grapes. Same techniques. Same landscape. Very similar climate, very similar soils. A visit to the Tablas Creek Winery is almost like a visit to Chateau Beaucastel, except nothing in the California winery dates back to 1549 when the current chateau got started nor to 1321 when the Beaucastel vineyards were first farmed.
The grapes at Tablas trace their origin to the Rhone Valley — Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Noir, Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise. Those really interested in wines of the Rhone can join Jason and his wife on an eight-day river cruise from Avignon to Lyon next July. Details on the website: www.tablascreek.com.
The Tablas Creek tasting room is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00 pm at 9339 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446.
As we drove up to Denner Vineyards, Rick said “wow, they’ve invested some real money in this place.” Rick Hofstetter owns the 19th-century Story Inn in southern Indiana and knows about designing and maintaining property. As it turned out, we learned that Ron Denner is an architect and designed his winery to fit into the contours of the hills on which his vines grow. Before tasting a drop, my feeling that a winery visit is more than the wine was borne out.
And as I pointed out in my last piece that it’s always good to impress the host or hostess at a winery, when I helped Roxanne Malkie get her numbers straight in English by saying them in French, I knew we were in good hands — especially when she welcomed us with a cool glass of a Theresa blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, and Vermentino. Roxanne came from the Southwest of France just three years ago but already speaks English like a Paso Robles native. And our bond was cemented when she told me how her grandmother makes foie gras.
Roxanne obviously likes the Denner Winery and is proud to show how the destemmed grapes drop into the fermentation vats from above, flowing by gravity not by the use of pumps. Because of Denner’s architectural skills, there is very little mechanical intervention in the grape’s progression into wine.
With a pleasing slight French accent, Roxanne explains why some of the most popular red wines are named Ditch Digger, Dirt Worshipper, and Sacred Burro. Denner came into the winery business from a career as owner of Ditch Digger dealerships. Smile if you will, but the Worshipper was ranked 11th on the 2008 WINE SPECTATOR list of the top 100 wines of that year.
The majority of Denner’s production falls into the Rhone category — blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Cinsault. But in a wry twist of words, he calls his Bordeaux blend — Cabernet, Merlot, and Petit Verdot — the Mother of Exiles, because his region starts the transition from south to north in California of Pinots and Rhones in Paso Robles to the Cabernets of Napa and beyond.
A portion of the winery has been dedicated to “Comus House,” a luxury bed and breakfast inn of four bedrooms for guests not wanting to leave the premises for a time. Better plan ahead if this appeals to you — reservations look almost a year ahead.
I was pleased to see Indiana listed among the states to which Denner will ship wines because that showed our efforts of many years to influence Hoosier wine law has started to pay dividends.
www.dennervineyards.com tells you all about the place, and email@example.com is the place to write for reservations and wine lists.
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