“Where Bordeaux Meets the Rhone” is an apt mantra for l’Aventure, a winery created by the adventuresome Bordeaux-born Stephan Asseo so he could fashion the kinds of wines he fancies, free of the appellation restrictions of his native France. After his adventures had taken him pretty much around the world, he found his terrain on the edge of Paso Robles, where he launched l’Aventure in 1996.
The winery is a work in progress. Surrounded by bull dozers and other earth-moving equipment, tractors, stacks of construction materials, cranes, and dozens of scurrying laborers, the current building houses every winery activity — from tasting room, fermentation room, bottling line, press room — cheek by jowl. The winery is a work in progress. “We can hardly wait till we get a real visitors’ center,” explained Jillian Robinson, our hostess that morning. Chloe Asseo, Stephan’s daughter, said our place “will be a state-of-the-art center soon.” Chloe had left her modeling career to come “home” to help her parents as the winery’s “Ambassador.” Their Cuvee Chloe blend of Syrah and Grenache bears her name.
But the mantra comes from the Estate Cuvee, a blend of 57% Syrah and 31% Cabernet. Syrah, of course, could not be used in Bordeaux, and Cabernet would not be allowed in the Rhone, hence Stephan’s decision to opt for California over France. The Asseos claim the Templeton Gap and Santa Lucia Foothills are perfect for their “Bastard” wines, such as their Optima, 58% Syrah, 38% Cabernet, 9% Petit Verdot.
Even so, probably because of it being Paso Robles, the Asseos lean heavily toward Rhone-style blends of Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, and Syrah.
Dust, however, from the building activity served as a prelude to discussing the ever-present issues: drought and warmer temperatures. “We were at least two weeks earlier this year with the harvest,” Jillian told us. “It’s been getting earlier every year since we started.” The production crew says the extreme heat and dryness reduces the size of the harvest by 10 to 15%. They also complain about handling the different varietals when they all ripen at the same time.
It’s obvious that the Asseos do not fear or mind the hard work of producing wine, and their efforts are to our advantage. Their wines are as fine as Etienne Hugel had told me they are when he encouraged me last year in Alsace to pay them a visit. I’m glad I did.
I should have seen it coming–in fact, I should have thought of it–but then I don’t have my own vineyard. Lydia Mondavi–yes, Mondavi, as in wife of Rob, the grandson of Robert–has been busy turning the refuse of winemaking into some pretty wonderful skin products. We already knew that grapes have lots of health benefits. Lydia, in an interview with “Wine Fashionista” Mary Orlin, described the anti-oxidant powers of grape seeds as being “”50 times more powerful than vitamin E and 20 times more powerful the vitamin C.”
I first learned of this new line of skincare products, called “29,” when I was recently shopping at Target and found a tube of “29 First Crush Lip Scrub.” The product is in a lipstick tube and applies like a lip gloss, but has little grape-seed nubbies in it to exfoliate dry lips. With a tough winter ahead of us, I knew this would provide some welcome relief. I was so happy with the lip scrub that I went back for a “Starter Kit” for the skincare collection. This reasonably priced collection ($35) contains the following: Cream of the Crop Cleanser, D’Vine Day Cream with Broad Spectrum SPF30, Replenishing Toner & Pore Purifying Treatment Pads, Secret of the Vine Serum Extract and Vineyard Repairing Night Cream–all in travel sizes and in a nice travel cosmetic bag. This is a perfect gift–especially for yourself. I’ll be trying all of these products tonight–I expect that I won’t recognize myself in the morning!
Traffic was slow on U.S. 101 as we drove past SLO (San Luis Obispo), and I feared I may violate my own number one rule about being on time when visiting a winery. But we just did make it at 10:00 a.m. to the Tablas Creek Vineyards just west of Paso Robles where Joell A. Chiff had a couple of white wines ready to pour as we walked in.
Tablas Creek Winery is an interesting partnership between two distinguished wine families thousands of miles apart. Robert Haas of Paso Robles and Jean-Pierre and Francois Perrin of Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape looked far and wide to find the right California plot for producing Rhone-style wines. I witnessed their success some years ago when Jason Haas (Robert’s son) came to Bloomington to introduce us Hoosiers to Tablas Creek. As I sipped his wines back then, I could only recall my visits with the Perrins over the years. Tablas Creek had become a priority visit for me on my first detailed look at Paso Robles.
I like their flagship wines — Esprit de Tablas: red based on Mouvedre, white based on Roussanne. So too do I appreciate their Cote de Tablas – Grenache red and Viognier white. Of course, as in the Rhone Valley, the Tablas wines are blends requiring skillful juggling of harvest and fermentation times as the various grapes ripen at different times.
It took the Perrins and the Haases four years to decide that the soils along Tablas Creek were just what they needed for the vines they brought from France and which had to be put in quarantine for three years. That was in the 1960s when they decided to go organic and have done so from the beginning. They keep herds of sheep, alpacas, and burros to help with weed control and fertilization.
Joelle smiled when I asked her about the significance of the new American Viticultural Areas for Paso Robles. “For one thing,” she said, ” “it means that producers over here on the west side of town can no longer bring in grapes from the east side!”
Tablas Creek may not rival the Rhone River in size or ancient history, but it certainly holds its own in the growing of quality grapes, and these two friendly partners have taken full advantage of that.OLDER POSTS »