Rhône Grapes in Paso Robles with the French #Winophiles

Earlier this month I posted an image on IG depicting all of my notebooks from the pandemic phase of my worklife. These books represent the body of the conversations I’ve had since March 2020 with wine people from around the world. To say that they’ve been generous with their time, adapting to virtual connections when most of them would rather be in the vineyard or around a table, would be an understatement. I’ve been provided an education that I couldn’t have obtained if it required me to travel from my midwestern home.

I present this story with a huge grain of salty (very salty salt) because I love to travel. I am one of the many people that believe that screens aren’t a substitute for real life, which should be grabbed with both hands when conditions allow. BUT… I’m not shy to say that when opportunity knocks (even if it’s on your keyboard or by FedEx at the door) one must also grab on with both hands. If someone offers to share their story with you, by all means listen, no matter what the delivery method.

So when I got the opportunity to write about French wine grapes with new identities scattered in the terroir of the world, I thought immediately about Paso Robles and the Rhone varieties that seem to be quite satisfied with this new West Coast U.S. home. And the glasses I wear on this topic are bifocal, so to speak: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Paso Robles and I’ve also been blessed with a handful of excellent, expert Paso Robles conversations over the past year. Meanwhile, I’ve visited the Rhone Valley a handful of times, and have also been on the other end of the screen with many Rhone producers this year. (Note: some of the wines mentioned are media samples, but these are my own thoughts and notes from what these people shared so kindly with me.)

DAOU Vineyards

Take for example DAOU Vineyards, located on DAOU Mountain at 2,200 feet in elevation in Adelaida District on the west side of the Paso Robles AVA. This is a terroir that proprietor and winemaker Daniel Daou calls “one of the most unique in the world.”

The estate’s 2019 Chemin de Fleurs is a “synergistic blend” of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier—an interesting white wine of Southern Rhone heritage. Meanwhile, DAOU does some really cool blends of Boudreaux and Rhone varieties, and while this isn’t a technique applicable to my post, it is super compelling to anyone interested in French-origin grapes made in the California terroir.

Barton Family Wines

The portfolio at Barton Family Wines is peppered with Rhone heritage, including 2019 Holiday Clairette Blanche which second-generation proprietor and winemaker Joe Barton says is “inspired by Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” (Over at Barton, they are also fond of Bordeaux varieties, so if this is your thing, here’s another must-try.) In addition to Holiday, the husband-wife team of John and Jenny also offer a handful of other Rhone-centered cuvées and single variety releases, including two Viogniers, Picpoul Blanc, and a red blend.

Benom

Brothers Arnaud and Guillaume Fabre made their home in Paso Robles based on their desire to farm and make wine “without limits.” Natives of France, Guillaume is a sixth-generation winemaker with experience in Bordeaux and Languedoc. Benom wines represent a space beyond limits, blends made of varieties not tied to a common ancestral home. Grenache (which has original ties to Spain, but is part and parcel Southern Rhone in spiritual homing), Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre, get blended with Zinfandel, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The brothers say their wine has a “synergy and fusion” and that working together takes “trust and respect.” In these blends we see that theme: unlimited, respectful of terroir and total synergy. I’ve tried Origin, which is the estate’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’m enthusiastic about trying more of the range.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

It’s near impossible to write about Rhone varieties in Paso Robles without mentioning Tablas Creek. It could be argued that this domaine is itself a Rhone “variety” that found a solid home in the far-away land of California wine country… A wine estate shared by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the Haas family of Vineyard Brands since 1987, Tablas Creek is a literal link between these two environments.

There are many bottles to choose from, when it comes to picking up Rhone-style wine from Tablas Creek—all of their releases lean into Rhone varieties.

More (and more) Paso-Rhone Wines to Try

Le Cuvier La Veuve du Pape – XLB

Brian Benson Cellars 2016 GSM – Caliza Vineyard

Nelle Maniacal 2018

TH Estates The Pick 2017

Niner Wine Estates 2017 Silhouette du Coeur

Four Lanterns Winery 2019 Picpoul Blanc

Summerwood Winery 2019 Sparkling Grenache Blanc

Croad Vineyard 2016 Mourvedre Pure

Eberle Winery 2019 Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc

ONX Wines 2019 L’Autre Femme

Alta Colina 2018 Vin de Paille

Thacher Winery 2019 Cinsault

Jacob Toft 2017 Stolpman Vineyard Syrah

Robert Hall Winery 2018 Cavern Select GSM

Hearst Ranch Winery 2017 GSM Reserve Red Wine

Still Waters Vineyards 2019 Viognier

Clavo Cellars 2015 Viognier

I realized, as I combed through wines and wineries, that I just kept needing to add MORE..and there are yet MORE beyond. So, get to Paso Robles and explore. That’s the only thing for it.

The French Winophiles

For the third French Winophiles event of 2021, our host Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla invited the #Winophiles crew to explore indigenous or typical grapes from France. The twist: find a bottle of French grapes that are cultivated and made into wine somewhere else around the world. 

We take a look at French varieties made into wines around the globe. “Examples might be Cinsault but made in Chile; Semillon from Australia; or Négrette made in California,” says Camilla. “I asked them to be creative. And they did. Here’s the line-up for this weekend.”

8 thoughts on “Rhône Grapes in Paso Robles with the French #Winophiles

  1. I knew Rhone varieties had found a home in CA but not to this extent! Sounds like people are doing some really interesting things and it’s nice to see it happening with grapes like Clariette and Grenache Blanc.

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  2. We’ve only been to Paso once and spent time at Tablas and Daou. We were preparing to go last year but that plan was canceled due to Covid. Your article serves as a reminder we must get back there ASAP!

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  3. I love that there were many familiar names on your list, as well as so many that I don’t know! There is so much to explore in this region, I can’t wait to get back.
    I definitely agree with you that not traveling this year has been hard, but wineries and winemakers have all been so generous with their time and there have been so many avenues to learn more about wine regions globally that this year has really been filled with education, insights and great stories for me.

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  4. Beautifully written and I love the sentiments you shared at the start about the mixture of feeling grateful for new opportunities and missing travel. I’m also a big fan of Rhone varieties in California, so happy to have some new names to look out for, mixed in with some old favorites.

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