Like many things in life, sometimes the best experiences happen spontaneously. Such was the case during my recent wine tasting trip to Paso Robles, on California’s beautiful central coast…an area that has been getting much deserved attention in the past few years. Paso Robles is primarily known for its Rhône blends, reminiscent of those in France’s Rhône Valley, that runs from south of Lyon to the Mediterranean and includes the renowned wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Many wineries in Paso Robles are members of the Rhone Rangers, an organization dedicated to promoting American “Rhône varietal” wines. In fact, Paso Robles has more “Rhône Ranger” members than any other American wine region.
While visiting Kevin Jussila and tasting his wines at Kukkula, a winery about which I wrote last spring, I asked him for a suggestion or two of more off the beaten path, interesting wineries in the area. He immediately said “Villa Creek“. And, as I expected, Kevin was spot on! Both Kukkula and Villa Creek are part of the “Rhône Rangers”. JoAnn and Cris Cherry own the winery as well as their popular Villa Creek Restaurant in downtown Paso Robles. Paul Lopez assists Cris in winemaking and other aspects of the business. It was Paul who poured on that memorable afternoon and shared his vast knowledge of the exquisite wines of Villa Creek.
The three standout wines tasted that afternoon were:
~2010 High Road, a traditional Rhône blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre, using grapes from the renowned James Berry Vineyard that supplies the grapes for the now famous Saxum by Justin Smith, whose 2007 vintage was the #1 Wine of the Year in Wine Spectator for 2010. High Road is a notable, exceptional wine and the highlight of this trip.
~2010 Avenger, a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, the traditional Rhône varietals.
~2010 Mas de Maha, an interesting blend of 50% Tempranillo, 25% Grenache and 25% Carignan. Tempranillo’s origin and primary growth area is in Spain. Grenache also originated in Spain, but is a predominant grape in southern France, used in Rhône blends and one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. Carignan also originated in Spain and is the backbone of the Languedoc wines of that region of France.
Villa Creek’s Tasting Notes:
High Road is our annual tribute to the unparalleled James Berry Vineyard. Knocking the head off of a new barrel and taking in all the beautiful aromatics in preparation for barrel ferments is always a highlight of the harvest season. James Berry Vineyard old vine Syrah was treated to the labor intensive, but incredibly satisfying, barrel fermentation process where it spent nearly 60 days on skins. Whole cluster Grenache and Syrah were fermented together in tank to create another portion of this magical elixir. Destemmed Mourvèdre was the third component. When all three varietals were finally integrated, the fireworks went off!
Aromatics of red fruits and smoked meats are enhanced by notes of white rocks, incense and damp earth. A generous palate offers hints of boysenberry preserves, rose petals, spice, and minerals finishing with vibrant fruit, supple tannins and all the stuffing to go the long haul. Think Energizer bunny. Best from 2014-2030.
Avenger – is always Syrah based, but this wine is reminiscent of some of the first vintages of Avenger with its higher percentage of Mourvèdre. Luna Matta Syrah is the backbone of this vintage. Mourvèdre grapes come from Denner, James Berry and Luna Matta. The Syrah was fermented 50% whole cluster and aged in 30% new French barriques. The Mourvèdre was fermented without stems and aged in second fill French puncheons. The Denner Grenache was destemmed and aged in neutral puncheons.
Magenta in color, the wine shows aromatics of raspberries, cinnamon, tree bark and camphor. A gorgeous mid-palate folds in flavors of cocoa, brown butter, salted caramels and spice. The wine eases into its long finish with rich fruits and lush tannin. Best from 2013-2025.
Mas de Maha – This is the juiciest Mas de Maha to date. Ohana Vineyard has been our go-to vineyard on the east side, producing beautifully structured Tempranillo. When combined with the Grenache’s rich, bright cherry, the Carignan’s deep color, freshness, and complexity – the blend is complete.
The Tempranillo and Carignan were fermented 50% whole cluster. The Tempranillo was pressed into new French Barriques. The Carignan was pressed into neutral barriques. The Grenache was destemmed, fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral 500-liter puncheons. Blended in June of 2011 and bottled in early 2012.
Aromas of Concord jelly, tar, and black fruits jump out of the glass. The palate starts fresh with loads of juicy primary fruit and gradually moves to the back of the palate becoming more serious with a modest backbone of tannin surrounded by blackberries, boysenberries, currants, and crushed rocks. This wine will be hard to cellar because after you open one at dinner with some friends you may open 2 or 3 more that evening. Best from 2013- 2025.
If you decide to visit Paso Robles, make sure to stop at Villa Creek to taste and savor some of the best wines that Paso Robles has to offer.
Villa Creek Cellars
5995 Peachy Canyon Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone (805) 238-7145
Fax (805) 238-7514
Open Friday-Sunday 11-5, with mid-week appointments available by request.
Until next time…à votre sante!
Photos by Christine Humphrey ©2013