This past Sunday I was fortunate to attend the annual Rhone Rangers event held at Windfall Farms here in Paso Robles. The event consisted of a seminar conducted by local winemakers followed by lunch and a general public tasting of many Rhone varietal producers from here in the Paso area. There are 22 Rhone varietals, both red and white, that are acknowledged by the French Government as well as the Rhone Rangers organization. The event was one of the best tastings I have been to this year and was especially exciting to see such quality wines coming out of Paso.
The seminar included ten winemakers presenting their wines and giving a brief description about the varietal, production methods, growing strategies, etc. Four of them presented white wines, while the rest were all red. Each winemaker showcased a different wine/varietal or a blend in some cases. It is interesting to note how some were very disclosing in the exact methods they used to achieve the wine they presented whereas some were not. However, it definitively appears that some prefer to follow traditional methods while many are eager and determined to try different techniques/methods to create something unique.
The most interesting wine on the panel was a Grenache Blanc from Cypher Winery. The wine was 100% Grenache Blanc produced in all stainless steel. The wine itself was very clean, almost clear in color, and extremely light on the palate. Too often this wine can easily be overdone and be real heavy on the palate almost as if it has been over-oaked and aged. Grenache Blanc has enormous flavor and phenolic composition that must be contained to allow it to posit its structure and show off its gracefulness. This wine was exactly that, picked at a low brix to restrain the maturity of the skins and to obtain the striking acidity and "sexiness" as Christian Tietje (Cypher winemaker) called it.
A few interesting facts noted by some of the speakers about the Rhone wines in general. First, is that the actual total acreage of Grenache Noir (red) in California has actually decreased in the past decade. This mostly has to due with the Central Valley, however, with the recent increase in consumer popularity and quality of this wine it would seem as if it would be increasing in plantings all over the state. I hope it rebounds soon and continues to grow in consumer demand. Secondly is that Petite Sirah was the first Rhone varietal to be planted in California (pre-prohibition) but was the last to be accepted by the Rhone Rangers organization due to the fact it does not exist in the Rhone Valley anymore. It was not until the sixties that Syrah cuttings were brought to California and the revolution began. Today we are lucky to have almost all Rhone varietals at our disposal. This must be credited to Tablas Creek and the work they did importing and certifying these cuttings from France.
Calcareous Vineyard has been producing Rhone wines and blends since we began. Our founder, Lloyd Messer, originally saw the potential these varietals had and planted them high-atop our west-side location. The estate vineyard has Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre which continually accounts for the majority of our flagship red blend Tres Violet. On Sunday we poured the 2008 Tres Violet, 2008 Syrah, and unreleased 2009 Estate Grenache. All of these wines were showing beautifully and really are great examples of the Rhone here in Paso. If you have yet to try them please come on up and taste.