Pinot & Paella Cook-Off
The 4th Annual Pinot and Paella Cook-Off was held June 11 at the Templeton Community Park in
Templeton, California (just south of Paso Robles). 17 Pinot Noir producers were pouring and 15 chefs
were cooking with all of the proceeds going to the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.
Most people consider Paso Robles to be blessed with a warm climate conducive to growing Rhone
varietals, particularly Syrah, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. That is because they associate
Paso Robles with “Paso East,” the vast and arid growing area east of Hwy 101 which runs through
the town of Paso Robles. Here, the temperature can be quite warm during the day (it was 96° F the day
of the Pinot & Paella event), but the evenings are cool and it is this diurnal shift that allows warmclimate
varietals to thrive. “Paso West,” the 30 mile stretch of land west of Hwy 101 is quite different.
According to Matt Kramer in his book New California Wine (Kramer coined the terms “Paso East” and
“Paso West”), Paso West is the recipient of maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean via the
Templeton Gap, an opening in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Vineyards closer to this Gap and to the
ocean are cooler. Also, the soils out west are quite different. Kramer notes that “It’s most extraordinary
feature is soil. I’ve never seen, in California anyway, a wider swath of white calcareous soil than
in Paso West.” The unique soil and cool ocean air act in tandem to provide a milieu conducive to
growing Pinot Noir.
Paso West is part of San Luis Obispo County. In the 1880s, the first signs of large-scale viticulture were
found near the town of San Luis Obispo and more south in Templeton. According to Charles L. Sullivan
(A Companion to California Wine), there were nine small wineries at that time and by 1900, there were
about 1,000 acres of wine grapes in the county. The Hoffman family planted vines on their 1,200-acre
property west of Paso Robles in 1964 and began producing Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) wines, including
Pinot Noir, in 1972. This coincided with the onset of the modern era of viticulture in Edna Valley,
in the hills west of Paso Robles, and on the Estrella River Prairie to the east.
The Hoffman Mountain Ranch Vineyard is one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California. The
vines are 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean at an elevation of 1,700 feet in the southern Santa Lucia
Mountains. The award-winning Pinot Noirs made there during the 1970s involved legendary winemaker
Andre Tchelistcheff who consulted on the wines. In 1994, Adelaida Cellars purchased a 400-
acre parcel of the vineyard, including 32 acres of Pinot Noir. Considerable capital was invested in
resurrecting the old vineyard and recent Adelaida HMR Pinot Noirs have won praise.
A more recent Pinot pioneer in the Paso area is Windward
Vineyard near Templeton. Owners Marc Goldberg and
Maggie D’Ambrosia, who are both Pittsburgh natives, purchased
25 acres of rolling hills off Hwy 46 west of Hwy 101
near Templeton. The site’s rocky limestone, sloping welldrained
soil, and location in the Templeton Gap seemed
ideal for Pinot Noir. The site was previously a rhododendron
farm chosen for its cool climate. They cleared the land and
planted 10 acres of Pinot Noir in 1990. With the assistance of
noted winemaker Kenneth Volk (previously Wild Horse Winery,
now with his own label, Kenneth Volk Vineyards), four
clonal selections were chosen: HMR, Adelsheimer (Oregon), Bien Nacido, and Sanford & Benedict
(older articles on the vineyard indicate Calera was also planted). Goldberg’s reverence for Burgundy
led him to style his wines in an Old World fashion and his label proudly displays the word monopole
(monopole is a Burgundian concept which means the vineyard has one owner and both viticulture and
vinification are handled under one roof). The first vintage of 320 cases was 1993 and Windward Vineyard
Pinot Noirs have received many accolades since. Rene Chazottes, Master Sommelier at The Pacific
Club in Newport Beach, noted, “My respect for Windward Pinot Noir was confirmed when I put a
bottle in a blind tasting for our 15 member selection committee, and they chose it over a Nuits-St.
George at twice the price.”
There has been a proliferation of Pinot Noir vineyards in the Paso West area, a more than tenfold
increase since Windward’s first vintage in 1993. Credible Pinot Noirs have appeared from a number
of wineries and the presence of 17 producers at this year’s Pinot & Paella event testifies to the potential
for this varietal in this unique microclimate. I still find a number of Pinot Noirs from this region rather
rustic and earthy, sometimes leaning toward stewed flavors. Although several miss the mark, I have
had a few good ones that bode well for future success. One nice feature of Paso Pinots is that the
prices are sensible enough that they can be drunk regularly.
The Pinot & Paella Cook-Off is a very casual affair,
with samples of paella served on picnic tables, vintners
pouring their wines under tented covers shaded
by massive trees, and many smiling people just
hanging out on folding chairs enjoying the afternoon.
The crowd was primarily locals and everyone seemed
to know everyone else. Because of the heat and the
ongoing celebratory mood, serious tasting of Pinot
Noir was not a priority. The idea was not to sell wine,
but rather to enjoy wine.
Paella is a good choice for a summer event for it
shines best outdoors and practically everyone loves it. Although it is Spain’s most beloved dish, it can easily be adapted to California tastes by including
local ingredients such as artichokes, fava beans, quail, sausage, cauliflower , and zucchini.
Most Californians think seafood when the word paella is mentioned, but the original paella contained
rabbit, snails, sometimes chicken, but never seafood. The word paella comes from the Latin patella,
meaning shallow pan. The pan is critical, for it allows the dish to cook properly and it is perfectly
suited to outdoor grills.
The classic wine match for paella is a dry Spanish or Cotes de Provence Rosé. Rioja works well with a
meaty paella and a white Rioja with a shellfish paella. Pinot Noir is not a classic match but its versatility
makes it right at home with paella, particularly those Pinot Noirs made in a lighter Beaujolais style.
The Celebrity Judges’ Award went to Chef Joe of Giaseppe’s in Pismo Beach, Most Creative Award to
Chef Charlie of Catering by Chef Charlie, Chef’s Choice Award (tie) to chef Joe of Blue Moon Café and
Chef Tom of Villa Creek, and the People’s Choice Award to Chef Dallas of 10th St Café.
My favorite wines and producers at the event are detailed below.
Asuncion Ridge Vineyard and Inn
Philip Krumal and partner Michael Dilsaver own a unique vineyard
and lodging high on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Atascadero. 300 acres and a residence
were purchased a few years ago. The residence was converted into an Inn consisting of three
elegant suites furnished in Spanish-themed furniture from Mexico. A gourmet breakfast is served in
the large kitchen/dining room or on one of the patios overlooking both ocean and mountain views.
The Inn is only a 20-minute drive from the town of Atascadero, but it is like another world with exceptional
beauty and tranquility. A 7-acre Pinot Noir vineyard
has been planted adjacent to the Inn on a welldrained
hillside at 2,200 feet. Several clones are
planted including Pommard 4 and 5, 2A, 23, 667, 777
and HMR. Philip learned his winegrowing and winemaking
from Marc Goldberg of Windward Vineyard.
At the event, Philip (right) was pouring his:
This wine should be released within weeks and will be
available from the website at www.asuncionridge.com
or phone 805-461-0675. The 2006 vintage is coming along in barrel and will provide 400 cases. Philip says “the 2007 crop looks stunning and with newer
vines, we should produce about 700 cases, even with extensive shoot and cluster thinning.” Philip’s
pouring crew is shown below.
Adelaida Cellars (see Hoffman Mountain Ranch, page 9).
The current winemaker, Terry Culton, learned his trade at Wild
Horse, Edmeades and Calera, and has modernized this winery’s whole operation.
The wines show it (there was also a very credible 2006 Vin Gris of HMR
Estate Pinot Noir poured). The wines are sold on the website at
www.adelaida.com. 800-676-1232. 5805 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA
Castoro Cellars A very large producer (60,000 cases of multiple varietals)
that farms 600 acres of vineyards (the website says 20,000 cases
and 400 acres but the higher figures were told to me by the pourer at the
event). Despite the size, this remains a down-to-earth operation. At the
event, a single pourer had a couple of bottles of Pinot and a few business
cards atop a barrel and that was it.
The owners are Niels and Bimmer Udsen. Niels’ nickname is “Beaver.”
While working in Italy, his friends called him “ll Castoro,” or beaver in
Italian. The name stuck and the Castoro label sports a beaver and the
tagline, “Dam Fine Wine.” The winemaking team here has been together for over 20 years: owner
Niels Udsen, head winemaker Tom Myers, and assistant winemaker Michel Olsten. The wines are very
2004 Castoro Cellars Blind Faith Vineyard Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., $20. The Udesen’s purchased a
local vineyard and when the opportunity to buy it arose, they acted in “blind faith.”
This was a very credible Pinot sporting the finesse and quaffability to perfectly compliment paella. Light in body and
alcohol, yet with nice red fruit, spice and tea notes, this could be a perfectly fine daily drinker.
Castoro Cellars winery is located at 6465 Von Dollen Road in San Miguel and is open to the public from
10-4 daily. 805-467-2002. The tasting room is at 1315 N Bethel Road in Templeton and is open from 11-
5:30 daily. 805-238-0725. The wines may be purchased on the website at www.castorocellars.com. A
Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is also available.
Jack Creek Cellars Owners Doug and Sabrina Kruse are about as passionate about wine as anyone I
know. A few years ago Doug sold his grain feed business in Southern California and bought the front
75 acres of the JRK Ranch in Templeton, 7 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The land is part of the
York Mountain AVA and sits at the southern border of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. In 1997, Doug
planted 20 acres to Pinot Noir (115, 2A, Pommard), 4 acres to Chardonnay, and a little to Syrah. Recently,
he has planted more Pinot Noir (828, 943), Syrah and some Grenache. The Krause’s plantationstyled
home sits on the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding Kruse Vineyard. The modern winery
and adjacent storage barn are tastefully positioned among the vineyards as well. Projected production
is 2,500 to 3,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. Doug is a burly, lumberjack-like figure
and his wines reflect his appearance. He is the first to admit that he prefers a bigger style of Pinot
Noir. (More information in PinotFile, Vol 6, Issue 5).
The wines may be purchased on the website
at www.jackcreekcellars.com. Tasting is by appointment (805-226-8283). The winery and vineyard
are located at 5265 Jack Creek Road, Templeton, CA 93446.
Sylvester Vineyards & Winery This Paso Robles winery had its origins in the 1960s
when Sylvester Feichtingel purchased the Rancho Robles which is now the current home
of Sylvester Vineyards & Winery. The first grapes were planted in 1982 and the inaugural
commercial wines appeared in 1990. This is a large operation with a modern winery
capable of producing 50,000 cases of wine annually. The winemaker is Jec Jacobs.
2005 Windward Vineyard Monopole Paso Robles Pinot Noir
2,000 cases, $36.
A nice young French girl was pouring and this was appropriate as this wine
was the most “Burgundian,” and the least New World at the event. There was noteworthy earthiness,
minerality, and fecundity complimenting the red fruits in this wine. It was not as showy as several other
Pinot Noirs that were poured, but it is built more for the long haul. A connoisseur’s Pinot.
The vineyard is
located at 1380 Live Oak Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. Tasting room open daily 10:30-5. 805-239-
2565. The wines may be ordered online at www.windwardvineyard.com. A second bottling, the
Windward Vineyard Barrel Select Gold ($60), is culled from the best 10 barrels in the cellar. Some
older vintages are still available.
Other producers at the event: Calcerous Winery, Carmody McKnight, Casa De Caballos, Cayucos
Cellars, Hug Cellars, Pali and Loring Wine Co, Midnight Cellars, Opolo Vineyards, Red Head
Ranch Winery, and Stephen’s Cellar.
For more information on Paso Robles wineries on the internet: Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance,
www.pasowine.com, and San Luis Obispo Vintner’s Association, www.slowine.com. For information
on next year’s Pinot and Paella Cook-Off, consult the event website at www.pinotandpaella.com.