The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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56 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 San Miguel District: "Vibrant Red-Fruit Flavors" Located at the north end of the Paso Robles AVA and straddling both sides of the freeway, this sub-AVA sees very little rainfall (11.4" on average) and is made up of alluvial ter- races and alluvial sands. J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines owns vineyards primarily in San Miguel and Estrella for their Bordeaux program, with nearly 1,100 acres planted specifically to Cabernet Sauvignon by Paso Robles pioneer Jerry Lohr. Lohr's daughter and Vice President of Marketing Cynthia Lohr explained that the area's unique growing conditions "really brought about the intensity and concentrations of the flavors he was seeking." Lohr described the Cabernets from San Miguel as having a longer hang-time with "rich, ripe, vibrant red-fruit flavors" and "softer in tannin structure—which for us is what we're seeking; we want a soft plush Cabernet that is drinkable now but able to age." In comparison, she noted that their Estrella vineyards tend to produce bolder tannins than San Miguel. Santa Margarita Ranch: "Purity of Place" Located in its own southernmost corner, this region has a single tenant: Ancient Peaks' Margarita Vineyard. The vineyard itself is extremely diverse, ranging six miles from tip to tip. Originally leased and planted by Robert Mondavi in 1999, the land is now owned by the three farming families who purchased back the lease in August 2005 after Mondavi sold to Constellation Brands. "When we started this company, we realized we could do something special with Cabernet Sauvignon," said Ancient Peaks' Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor. "We really felt we could bring something to market that was different, and that's what Mondavi saw! It's colder here; these wines are unique, and there's a purity of place." The region shares many of the distinctive calcareous and alluvial soil profiles found throughout Paso Robles but experiences a greater marine influence and higher average rainfall. Sinor explained that their Cabernet does well in blocks located at a higher elevation; row orientation is more north-south and leans towards the warmest parts of the ranch. When asked about the profile of their Cabernet, Sinor told us, "They tend to be just a little leaner ; they're tighter. Then again," he laughed, "that's just the site. It's not because we're forcing it." Creston District: "More Fruit-Forward" Of all the sub-AVAs in Paso Robles, Creston may still be considered the "Wild West." The 47,000-acre AVA has only 1,400 acres planted, yet the vintners interviewed were inspired by the region's potential. The region has an elevation range of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, so it is very site-specific, with hilltop blocks ripening earlier. Owner and winemaker Mike Mooney of Chateau Margene pointed out that Creston is typified by its well- developed terraces and hillside soils. "We've got a lot of this granitic and sedimentary rock, sandy loams and clay loams at depth." Mooney observed that bud-break typically occurs in April and their normal pick date is the last week of September. "We're typically in the 25 to 26 Brix range, and that's in the last week of September. So, if we needed to, in a cooler vintage we could leave it on another four to five weeks, but we've never had to," he laughed. The Parrish home ranch is also in Creston, but he noted that his site typically sees a longer hang-time with harvest taking place in late October. "We see softer tannins because we hang the fruit longer, and more fruit- forward wines," said Parrish. This is also dependent on vintage; tasting the 2012 (a cooler year) and 2013 (a warmer year) side by side, the 2012 was softer in tannins with more date-like qualities due to the longer hang-time while the 2013 had more spice, slightly bigger tannins and more acidity. The Creston District sub-AVA has only 1,400 acres planted but holds great potential. Paso Robles Geneseo District: "Massive Temperature Swings" Winemaker and owner Gary Eberle started his career in the Estrella District before purchasing 64 acres in what is now the Geneseo District. This was a piece of land that he examined with one of his professors, Harold Olmo; "he was so excited about it because it was one continuous soil type," Eberle recalls. Eberle described the soil profile as having "decomposed granite, some sand and very little clay. Our water here just goes straight through." The Cabernet vines planted are from one clonal material sourced from the celebrated BV 2 vineyard in Napa Valley. Eberle portrayed the result - ing flavor profile as having "great color, good tannins and very stable pigments . . . The wine will be fruity in the mouth, but it will have what I call 'bottle bouquet'"—a char- acteristic that Eberle refers to as a "sweet dusty nose" or "your grandmother's attic." Ster ling Kragten, winemaker for Cass Winery, described the area around their prop- erty as "almost like a half bowl." He notes that while it is hotter there, they also benefit from the Templeton Gap influence which comes up through the Huer Huero Creek and settles in the valley. "We still get massive temperature swings but a little bit hotter days, which really suits the Bordeaux varieties," said Kragten. As far as flavor profile, he added, "You would expect a jammier type of Cab, because most people expect the East Side to be hotter, but our style here tends to be a little bit lighter . . . You have some bright fruit flavors, but you get a little bit of that classic Old World green kind of spice."

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