Why is it that you can drink the same varietal from the same winery grown on the same piece of land, and it tastes so different from year to year? What makes a particular winery’s 2009 Tempranillo so vastly different from its 2004 or 1994 offering? Why does the wine community herald some vintages, while others are just so-so or “average”? Well, as you might have guessed, the answer isn’t one-size-fits-all. We’re just glad you’re curious!
Here’s an easy way to think about rainfall and its link to wine. The more water you see falling from the sky, the more water the grape will probably retain. This isn’t necessarily the best thing for a wine grape, which can easily become diluted (a.k.a. more mild in flavor). Winemakers strive for a balanced sugar to acid content in their fruit, so a whole lot of rain can send grapes seriously out of whack. That said less rain isn’t always a good thing. Although less rain equals a more stressed plant, more vigorous roots, and more concentrated flavor (a major plus), a full-on drought can put serious stress on a vineyard, especially traditionally dry farmed vines. When the rain comes is also a big wildcard factor in wine flavor. Rain during vine-growth and establishment can be great, creating vivacious and lush greenery. Rain immediately following fruit set is known to breed dreaded mold and mildew—two things you don’t want associated with your next release.
Four Lanterns Winery’s 2014 Jacinth Grenache is a great example of what happens when Mother Nature gives you a perfect balance of flavor, acid, and tannin. Thankfully, the Templeton Gap is known for its cool nights and warm, temperate days. Pair this delicate, intricate red with chevre cheese, bolognese sauce, or roast venison.
Mapping and Directions to Four Lanterns Winery: speedfind.com/FourLanternsWinery
To make wine, winemakers must crush their fruit in some way or another. However, not all complete this task identically (where’s the fun in that?). Modern crushing and destemming machines consist of a large steel or aluminum trough with a screw at the bottom. The screw turns, gently squeezing the juice while separating the roughage (stems, seeds) from the fresh juice. While a winery might opt to hand-sort each grape before sending it to the crusher/destemmer—resulting in a more premium product—they may not choose do so every year. Still, some winemakers may throw out the destemmer altogether, going for a more rustic, farmhouse style. Temperature and time of day also plays a major role: A winemaker may choose to keep certain varietals chilled during the crushing process, adding a crisper, more vibrant flavor.
Speaking of keeping grapes cool, Chronic Cellars’ 2015 Stone Fox features Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Picpoul Blanc picked and crushed in the early morning hours of the day (a.k.a the only “cool” time during your average Paso Robles harvest). Enjoy this wine’s fresh flavors of pineapple, coconut, fresh orange blossom, flint, and baked honey.
Mapping and Directions to Chronic Cellars: speedfind.com/ChronicCellarsWinery
Another good rule of thumb: The higher the temperature outside, the higher a grape’s sugar (and later, alcohol) levels will likely be. Conversely: The lower the temps, the higher acid will usually soar. While a hotter than usual growing season can produce ripe, fruit forward flavors, a too-hot growing season can bring about overripe, flabby, or heavy jammy influences into the wine. Vice versa, a colder growing season can create a tarter, more refined wine (such as in the case of cool climate pinot noir). This is why savvy winemakers will test the phenolic of their grapes as the fruit approaches maximum balance, harvesting the moment they feel the fruit has reached its optimal flavor profile. It truly is a dance, and not an easy one at that!
Did someone say peak ripeness? Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon showcases Paso Robles’ long, warm growing season with dark cherry, smoke, and a plume of rich dark cocoa on the nose. Enjoy now or age for a decade—it only gets better with time!
Mapping and Directions to Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery: speedfind.com/HearthstoneVineyard
Yeast plays a huge part in the flavor of a wine from year to year. While some winemakers go with a natural yeast fermentation derived from the land, others will purchase specific yeasts in the hopes to yield a certain flavor or style. This will obviously either add consistency or a spontaneity to the final product. In addition, whole cluster fermentation—the practice of fermenting whole clusters of grapes with no intervention by machine—can create a unique, robust and rustic flavor profile all its own.
This bold 2012 Carnal GSPS Rhone Blend produced by Oso Libre Winery features an open top fermentation with punchdown and pump-over processes twice daily under cool temps (to preserve crisp fruit notes).
Mapping and Directions to Oso Libre Winery: speedfind.com/OsoLibreWinery
We all know that wine aging is a major factor when it comes to comparing wines from year to year, which is exactly why it is usually one of the first things you’ll learn about by reading the label. From vintage to vintage, a winemaker may use fragrant French Oak, more neutral American Oak, smokey whiskey staves or even concrete or clay vessels to impart that perfect finishing touch on the wine. Depending on materials available, preferred style, or need to “correct” for other issues within the wine, a winemaker will try his or her best to make the best call. This is also where blending can come in: a dash of this, a drop of that—and bingo—you’ve got yourself a killer vintage that outshines the rest.
Thanks to New French Oak aging, this 2014 Vortex blend produced by Peachy Canyon Winery showcases a light, toasted vanilla nose bolstered by coffee, butterscotch, cherry, and caramel apple.
Mapping and Directions to Peachy Canyon Winery: speedfind.com/PeachyCanyonWinery
This blog was written by Hayley Thomas Cain, food and wine writer for SLO New Times and PasoRoblesWineries.net. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on instagram @flavorslo.
If you’re looking for a place to spend the night in Paso Robles, checkout:
The Adelaide Inn is an iconic, locally owned hotel known for its friendly staff and lush landscaping. With spacious rooms and a convenient location close to highway 101 and the event center – home of the California Mid-State Fair – this hotel is a great choice for most travelers.
Majestically set among vineyards, olive groves and fruit baring orchards, the 20-acre Allegretto Vineyard Resort is a world unto itself, offering breathtaking settings that inspire and bring joy to all who choose this memorable wine country haven. Featuring 171 rooms and suites, on-site spa, grand ballroom, wine tasting room, and inspired culinary creations at Cello, the resort’s full service restaurant.
La Bellasera Hotel & Suites is an elegant boutique hotel nestled in the heart of Central Coast Wine Country. Influenced by Mediterranean and Italian architecture, the luxurious accommodations reflect the aged sophistication of the Central Coast region and the relaxed nature of the California countryside.
Hampton Inn & Suites Paso Robles is nestled in the Central Coast wine region, home to over 200 wineries, beautiful beaches, mountains and diverse attractions. Relax and revive in a comfortable guest room with all you need for a successful stay. You can count on Hampton to deliver value, consistency and service with a smile. We love having you here®
Experience the pristine countryside of Paso Robles Wine Country at Lekai Ranch. Lounge on the porch of your private suite and lose yourself in the tranquility and stunning views of the vineyards and oak studded hills beyond. This vacation rental is located just minutes from some of the most distinguished wineries and a premier olive oil estate, and only 15 minutes from downtown Paso Robles’ restaurants, wineries and shopping.
Enjoy the elegance, style and natural beauty of California’s Central Coast at the JUST Inn®. Surrounded by vineyards, our JUST Inn Suites offer luxurious appointments like fireplaces, Tempur-Pedic®mattresses, Frette linens, hydro-spa tubs, and range in size from 600–1,200 square feet. An overnight stay includes breakfast and a tour of the winery and caves.