Frank and I started our second day in Paso Robles at Niner Wine Estates with President Andy Niner, a second-generation Niner and the son of owners, Richard and Pam Niner.
Growing up on a farm in West Virginia as one of eight children, Richard spent his childhood helping on the farm. After attending college at Princeton and later Harvard Business School, he built several small businesses, from sunglasses to machine parts.
After being introduced to the Central Coast in the 1990s, he saw the potential for Paso winemaking and purchased the winery in 2001. After 10 years growing the business, the tasting room and winery opened.
Since 2013, Andy has taken over day-to-day management. For our tour he took us to the top of Heart Hill for panoramic, 360-degree views, including the heart-shaped grape grove sharing the winery’s mission, vision
and goals. At the top of the list was growing high-quality fruit to create delicious wines that are intentionally crafted to tell the story of each vintage and vineyard.
Andy said, “In 2013 we made a pivotal decision to be an ‘All Estate’ producer, using only estate fruit for our wines. This makes us smaller and better allows us to have complete end-to-end control of the land, operations, long term focus on sustainability, people and passion.” All these factors feed into Niner’s SIP certification.
A question that many readers ask us is which Paso wineries have good food choices. When answering, I always include and highly recommend Niner as one of my faves.
Its “Made to Share” summer menu has many choices, including meat and cheese plates, stone fruit plates, fried chicken and shrimp scampi. However, for an indulgent delight, I highly suggest the expansive Charcuterie board that Frank and I shared that includes meats, cheeses, and shallot jam.
Part of the goodness of Niner’s food includes its farm-to-table Chef Garden overseen by Fiona, wife of Executive Chef Jacob Burrell. With experience at a Michelin 2-star restaurant and Iron Chef Indonesia winner, Burrell contributes to Niner’s commitment to quality.
During COVID, Burrell perfected Niner’s focaccia bread, which is included in the board. The board was a perfect choice with the summer wine tasting featuring 2021 sauv blanc, 2019 reserve pinot noir, 2018 malbec and 2019 cab sauv.
All were great and paired well with the charcuterie. I especially liked the pinot with black tea, cherry and hint of cola. Niner is open each day for lunch from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has a wine dinner once per month.
Prior to lunch we were able to spend time with Patrick Muran, winemaker for Heart Hill Vineyard and Bootjack Ranch. Muran, a scientist by education, graduated with a microbiology degree from UC Santa Barbara. He began his winemaking career in the early 2000s with stints with venerated French winemaker Christian Roguenant before joining Niner in 2009 and promotion to winemaker in 2013.
Muran took us on a tour of the production center where we were able to barrel sample the 2021 grenache blanc made in large barrel format (600L) that slows the maturation and exposure to oxygen. We also had the 2021 Bordeaux-blend cab sauv.
Both were great now and will continue to mature and evolve. More info at ninerwine.com.
Hope Family Wines tasting
After Niner, we were able to have a VIP Wine Tasting at Hope Family Wines. Brand Ambassador CJ Gormley was kind enough to take us through a detailed lineup of wines across the Treana and Austin Hope brand collections, including Austin Hope Cellar Select premium wines.
The Hope family has been farming in Paso Robles for more than 30 years. When they arrived in the barely discovered Paso region, they initially planted apples and grapes and quickly shifted over to Rhone-style grapes.
Little did they know that the region would become one of the top wine-growing regions within the Central Coast. This is largely in part due to the marine sediment found in the dense, clay-based soils that influences the flavor profiles of the wine they produce.
Austin is the second generation in the family business after his father, Chuck Hope, moved the family from Bakersfield in the late 1970s. As a child, Austin remembers, he was a troublemaker. To punish his mischievous behavior, Chuck would send him out to the fields to think about his actions, but turns out Austin loved working in the vineyards. This was the impetus for the Troublemaker brand.
With 60 acres of land, of which 40 is planted, Hope Family Wines has long-standing relationships with over 50 growers to ensure only fruit with the truest varietal characteristics goes into its wines.
Per its website, Hope accepts nothing but the best and is willing to work hard to find it. To help achieve this goal, the winery requires the vineyards it works with to limit crop yields ensuring concentrated flavors.
Hope Family Wines views the Central Coast as its spice rack and can carefully and purposefully source from vineyards that present true varietal characteristics to produce reliable and delicious wines using sustainable growing practices. This was obvious as we tasted through the wines.
During our visit, we learned that 2015 was the first vintage of Austin Hope cab sauv. It was not until 2015 that Austin was confident to have his name on the label.
The 2015 turned out to be a 98pt Wine Spectator awardee gaining notoriety not only for Hope Family Wines but for the entire Paso Robles region. It was one that we enjoyed on our tasting.
In the upscale Austin Hope Cellar Select line, CJ shared the 2021 chenin blanc, 2021 rosé, 2020 malbec and 2020 graciano. I highly recommend the graciano with floral aromas and mulberry on the palate with a hint of earth and soft tannins, this was one of my faves of the tasting.
We also had a chance to enjoy the estate 2020 Mourvèdre with brightness for the dark fruit palate and 2020 Syrah.
And of course, we had the 2020 Treana Red Blend (75% cab sauv, 25% syrah), the most popular of the Treana brand.
See more at hopefamilywines.com.
Reach Frank and Rico at [email protected].