The first thing I noticed when walking into the Epoch Winery was the modernistic portrait of Ignacy Jan Paderewski behind the tasting room bar. When I asked if that was the pianist, Kristin Darnell was not only pleased, she seemed impressed.
It’s always good to impress your host or hostess when visiting a winery — and as I mentioned in my last column, there is much pleasure in a winery visit that goes beyond the wine itself. (She had no idea that as a child I had heard the Polish pianist perform.)
Kristin explained that the great musician and one-time Polish Prime Minister had been a lover of fine wine and that part of the Epoch property included the 82 acres Paderewski had once owned and for whom one of their prestigious vineyards is named. Hardly in the door, and my “more than the wine” experience was underway.
Epoch is in the Willow Creek area of the greater Paso Robles Wine Region, the coolest vineyards in the area. That I grew up along a Willow Creek in northwest Indiana merely added to my interest in the place. Epoch is cooled by the Pacific Ocean, a scant seven miles away sending breezes through the Santa Lucia Hills to contrast with the brilliant California sunshine.
To continue my “more than the wine” rant, Epoch employs a staff architect to look after its historic buildings. While the overall impression of the winery is quite modern and up to date, the entire place is built from or part of the original 1882 farmhouse, bunkhouse, and barn established by Andrew York. Epoch can claim to be among the oldest wineries in the region. It’s also the winery housing that 100-year-old press on rails suspended from the ceiling mentioned in my column last week. Kristen said the raising of that press stopped all other activity on the day it went up. Her degrees from the University of New Mexico and Harvard combined with her work with wine make her an ideal ambassador for the Epoch aspirations.
Oh yes, the wines. There were samples of Veracity and Ingenuity, playful names for very serious wines from the Paderewski and Catapult vineyards, Veracity a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah, the Ingenuity of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Petite Syrah. The names, incidentally, are bestowed by winemaker Jordan Fiorentini, more proof, if any ever needed, that women can produce exceptional wines. Epoch is one of the recognized “Rhone Rangers,” replicating wines from the grapes best known in that famous river valley.
Epoch is owned and was created by Bill and Liz Armstrong, Denver-based oil and gas professionals, in 2010 to translate their love of wine into producing wine they would be proud to serve their friends. Kristen came to Epoch from her job with the Armstrongs in Denver to manage employee relations, sales, marketing, and greet visitors who used to listen to Paderewski.
Epoch wines sell out every harvest season, mostly to allocations for regular clients and visitors so your best chance to obtain some is to join the waiting list or, better still, pay a visit. The winery is about 15 miles east of Paso Robles just off State Highway 46 at 7505 York Mountain Road, Templeton CA 93465. Better call first: (805) 237-7575. Epochwines.com. And try the Estate Blend — the Rhone wine with a dash of Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
Ever see a 100-year-old wine press sitting on rails suspended from a high ceiling? Or a large mural of Goldilocks picknicking with the three bears? Or 2,000 barrels stacked along temperature-controlled tunnel walls thirty-feet underground?
Such were some of the sights I saw last week on a return to the Paso Robles Wine Country at wineries with names like Epoch, Oso Libre, and Eberle. And besides the interesting sites inside the wineries, there was splendid coastal mountain scenery in every direction and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean every now and then.
Most wine regions are in beautiful locations. That’s true partly because the vineyards themselves are beautiful. But vines tend to do best in terrain that stresses them and which affords them the right blend of rain, sun, and drainage. I’m sure you have noticed that the most prestigious wines come from vines blessed by the presence of a river — the Rhine, the Rhone, the Saone, the Garonne, the Columbia, the Napa, the Ohio, and so on. Even South-Central Indiana grapes profit from Bean Blossom Creek. River country is beautiful country.
But there’s more even than the scenery. Good food abounds where there are vineyards. Those who seek the finest of foods point to Burgundy, Tuscany, California, good wine country all. Highly regarded cuisine flourishes in Vienna, Budapest, Lyon — homes to the fine wines of the Danube and the Saone; and we North Americans are paying more and more attention to foods from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and New Zealand as their wines continue to enter our stores.
Many wineries boast historic connections tied to events, visitors, traditional equipment and artifacts, the building housing them, or the owners themselves.
As on this recent trek through Paso Robles AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), the conversations with wine pioneers Jason Haas (Tablas Creek) and Gary Eberle resuled in more first-hand knowledge and a personification of the wines they create. Wine families are people of the soil and how to care for it.
Of course the tasting and sampling of the wines are of utmost interest and importance. But a winery visit has so much more to offer than the juice of the grape; it interprets a life style, a culture, a past and present, and immense satisfaction.
Remember those? Wine and cheese parties? So popular back in the 60s and 70s. One of my favorite bosses used to throw one every Christmas season that was a highlight of his neighborhood.
All of us wine lovers entertained with wine and cheese events. It was just the thing to do. Easy. Not cheap; cheese is a bit pricey, but the simplicity made up for it. Plus we always learned a bit more about both cheese and wine.
Of course there is plenty of scientific evidence that cheese does not marry well with wine. It mutes aromas, cancels oak, fruit, and tannins. But try telling that to an Englishman who embellishes his Stilton with a glass of vintage port. Try suggesting to a vintner in Colmar that his Gewurztraminer might be compromised by a Munster or a Burgundian that l’Epoisse will tarnish his favorite estate red wine. Diners throughout France are accustomed to a selection of cheeses helping them finish the last of the wine still in the bottle at the end of dinner, sometimes as a dessert, more often as a prelude to dessert.
Science or not, cheese and wine have much in common. Both are about chemical changes and aging, natural products doing natural things. I have long been an advocate of eating what you like with a wine that you like. With hundreds and hundreds of both cheeses and wines to experience, surely we can always find agreeable choices.
Shall we now address the matter of Champagne, chocolate, and strawberries? There are some things that science will never explain satisfactorily.
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