Uncorked: Exploring California’s lesser-known areas
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Oct 03, 2012 | 2347 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I most often write about California wines, or more specifically, those from Napa and Sonoma. That’s because I have more exposure to these two areas and more access to those directly involved in wine production. But I know there are outstanding wines made in lesser-known California growing regions.

One such region is Paso Robles (pa-soh roh-blays), located in the south central coastal region of California, approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The original name of the region was El Paso de Robles, “The Pass of the Oaks.”

The settlement was founded in 1828 by Franciscan friars who, as early as 1790, built missions and established mission outposts. They cultivated grapes for sacramental purposes. These mission ranchos originated in San Diego and spread northward, terminating near Sonoma.

Over the years, Paso Robles has been known as the Wild West of the California wine industry. Drury James, co-founder of the town of Paso Robles, was the uncle of the outlaw brothers Frank and Jesse James. In the 1860s, the James brothers made their way to Paso Robles and stayed at their uncle’s ranch.

Later, Jesse would return to bathe in the hot mineral springs of the area to recuperate from a gunshot wound.

European winemaking families did not immigrate to the area until the mid-1800s, and commercial winemaking did not take hold in the area until the late 1800s.

Paso Robles is the fifth largest American Viticultural Area in California. Today, approximately 200 wineries call Paso Robles home, including well-known labels such as Eberle, Eos, Robert Hall, Tablas Creek and Justin.

Justin Vineyards and Winery was established by Deborah and Justin Baldwin in 1981 on 160 acres with the goal of producing Bordeaux-style wines. The Baldwins were both former investment bankers who left careers to operate a family winery. The estate grew to include an inn and restaurant, and their wines garnered critical acclaim from top wine publications and critics.

In 2010, this family-owned winery sold for an undisclosed sum to Roll International Corporation, which, among other things, owns Fiji bottled water. Roll plans to expand the brand, but the Baldwin family will continue to live on the premises and be involved in the management of Justin for the immediate future.

Reactions to this sale have been mixed. Loyal members of the Justin Wine Club fear the change, while other area winery owners see the sum paid for Justin as validation of their land’s worth.

I have tasted a lot of Justin wines over the years because a generous friend is an avid collector. I recently tasted two Justin wines, a moderately priced release and an older vintage specialty label, Justification.

Try these Justin wines to experience Paso Robles:

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Paso Robles. Balanced, fruit-forward wine. Ready to drink, but might improve with another year of aging. Bright berry fruit flavors, medium-body cabernet. Serve with roasted lamb or steak.

I did not find the 2010 vintage locally, but the 2009 vintage is available at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs for $24.50.

Justin Justification 2005 Paso Robles. Not available locally but found online for $41. More recent vintages are available from the winery. Drink now!

A substantial wine from 64 percent cabernet franc and 36 percent merlot. Concentrated, complex blend. Earthy, almost musty nose, but this does not transfer to the rich berry fruit flavors and smooth tannins.

Made to emulate a St. Emilion right bank Bordeaux wine. The prestigious Bordeaux region is divided by the Gironde River. The left bank is home to famous top growth chateaux where cabernet dominates. Right bank wines are generally lesser-known properties where merlot and cabernet franc dominate.
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Uncorked: Exploring California’s lesser-known areas by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star

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