The Paso Robles West Side Story, Part Two

The previous column underlined the growing importance of Paso Robles as a major wine country with its more than 180 wineries emphasizing French Bordeaux and Rhone style wines. After nearly a weeklong visit, with mostly West Side wineries in my sights, more needs to be revealed about this fastest growing California favorite.
The West Side is really those wineries west of Highway 101 and generally connected with State Highway 46 West. It is uncongested, rugged, hilly and much cooler, with the western boundaries just six miles from the Pacific Ocean.
The wines are spectacular. You got an in-depth example of this when the celebrated JustinWinery and Vineyard was profiled. We found out that a lot of Justin’s grapes are sourced from two nearby vineyards, so a visit to Denner Vineyards and Halter Ranch seemed to make sense.
Ron Denner has been at the winemaking business since 1997 on 156 acres of rocky, rolling hills on Vineyard Drive, a few miles from the 46 West. He prides himself on the ultra-premium Rhone-style varietals that dot the wine list, including his “Theresa,” a white blend of Rousanne, Viognier, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. The 2007 vintage was applauded by Wine Spectator as one of the finest white wines in California. They called it “elegant and refined with pear, citrus and tropical notes … intense and focused.”
I asked him how many grape varietals are grown at Denner. “Fourteen types of grapes are harvested here, and we can do that successfully because of the wide diversity of climate and soils,” he said. “The potential of Bordeaux styles like Cabernet and Merlot are limitless and best expressed by Justin’s Isoscles. We are now experimenting with Carmenere, a grape originally from Bordeaux and getting a reputation in Chile. My son Brian, who made wines for 10 years in Chile and is now our winemaker at Denner, introduced me to this exciting red wine.”
Denner concluded our visit with a walk-through his Comus Center, a nearly-completed castle for events and Comus Club members. Comus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Bacchus the God of Wine. He was known for his revelry and prodigious appetite for great wines. Those who visit the annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans know the Comus Ball as the biggest and best. Ron Denner knows too. He has made Comus his model for success.
Halter Ranch is the largest vineyard west of Paso Robles, with 250 acres and 15 wineries on its client list. Mitch Wyss runs the operation, which dates back to the 1880s. Sixty percent of the grapes are Bordeaux style, with 40 percent Rhone. “I treat each block of vineyards as a different kid that needs special attention and treatment to get the best out of each of them,” he said. He took me on a hair-raising ride up and down the steep slopes of the vineyard in what seemed like a runaway four wheel drive tractor-roller coaster. “The soil is the key here,” he yelled. “This is as close as you get to the limestone of the great Rhone Valley of France.” Halter does sell its own branded wines and I would recommend the 2006 Syrah blend, with Syrah, Malbec and Mourvedre.
Other wineries worth noting are Tablas Creek founded by the Haas and Perrin Families from France, a world class Chateauneuf-Du-Pape style vineyard. After years of searching for just the right wine country for this style of wine, they found their location on the West Side of Paso Robles. Robert Haas and his son Jason are Rhone-style wine experts, Robert Haas was recently honored as Wine Industry Person of the Year.
A small 40-acre winery to try is AJB Vineyards, with an Italian approach, growing Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Zinfandel.
When you go exploring Paso Robles Wine Country, be sure to check out the palatial La Bellasera Hotel and Suites. Ask for one of the affordable suites with a whirlpool spa in the front room complete with Roman columns and scenic backdrop. It fits four if you like company. When finished with your bath, robes are at your fingertips. A dining experience awaits in the Enoteca Restaurant and wine bar, with an extensive list featuring, of course, Paso Robles Wines. For more, access www.labellasera.com. Be sure to navigate the new wine country Web site at www.pasowine.com. It is a virtual experience unlike any other I have seen.
Wine Bytes
— Downtown Fallbrook has its next Wine & A Bite Artwalk from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 15. Stroll, nibble and taste Fallbrook Winery at participating stores. The cost is $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Call (877) 451-3282 for details.
— WineSellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley is presenting a Mod vs. Traditional Chardonnay Tasting from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 15. Six wines offered for a $32 fee. Reservations can be made by calling (858) 450-9557.
— A Sights and Sips Hornblower San Diego Cruise is coming Aug. 22 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. It’s a floating happy hour with four different wine tastes. The cost is $30 each. Call (619) 955-8884 for more information.
— Reds, Whites and Green, a Culinary Adventure, happens from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo. It’s an elegant fundraiser with gourmet foods, fine wines, microbrew, health and wellness services and products, to benefit the Poway School District. The cost is $45 per person in advance, and $50 at the door. Call (858) 668-2273 for details.
— Orfila Winery in Escondido celebrates its annual Grape Stomp from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 29. There will be grape stomping in huge old wine barrels, full dinner buffet, wine tasting and dancing to live music. Meet Don Reha, the winemaker. The cost is $85 each. Tickets can be purchased at (877) 727-9463 or online at www.orfila.com.

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