Whales, Unicorns and Wines. A California Central Coast Wine Experience

By: David Lester – General Manager

In early May, I had the opportunity to travel to California’s Central Coast region and spend a long weekend with a group of friends from Decorah. This was my first time to visit this part of California.

The Central Coast region is about 40 miles wide and extends from south of San Francisco to slightly northwest of Los Angeles. Paso Robles is considered the hub city of the wine producing region, and is located just 20 miles from the Pacific coastline.

We flew into San Jose and drove south on Highway 1 along the coast towards our destination of Cambria. The drive along this famous highway takes you up and down dramatic, fog-covered hills, through redwood forests and past some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. After passing through Big Sur we saw a pod of whales travelling up the coastline and I began to get the feeling that at some point we might see a unicorn dart out of the woods. But that never happened. Nonetheless, it was still a pretty magical drive.

After arriving at our destination in Cambria, we got up the next day and headed to a wine tasting at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles. The 20-minute drive from Cambria to Paso Robles was, again, breathtakingly beautiful and we experienced about a 25 degree increase in temperature in this short drive. If you saw the movie Sideways, you will notice many familiar views because the movie was mostly filmed in the area.

Eberle is owned by one of the Paso Robles’ area wine pioneers, Gary Eberle, and it produces about 25,000 cases of wine each year. After working for years at his family’s large production winery, about 500,000 cases/year, Gary decided to do something different and create a unique winery dedicated to handcrafting some very special wines. I was particularly excited about visiting this winery because one of the Co-op’s wine distributors, Okoboji Wines, had just picked up Eberle as one of its Central Coast suppliers.

Eberle’s Marketing Director, Stacy Miller, started us off with some boxed lunches on their deck overlooking a gorgeous view of the Paso Robles area and a big view of their vineyard. Our afternoon tasting of six different wines began with Eberle’s 2011 Viognier. It was a nice clean, refreshing and citrusy wine to start off the afternoon, but it led to what I would call one of the best Chardonnays I’ve tasted that’s less than $20/bottle.

I think I can speak for the group by saying that this was a wine moment. After primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks, 25% of the juice is transferred to French oak barrels and the rest goes into neutral oak barrels. In the end, when they are combined, a slightly oaky, buttery, green apple Chardonnay is formed. It is fantastic and a very versatile Chardonnay that will please almost anyone. Roasted chicken, grilled salmon and just about anything in a cream sauce would go very well with this wine. And, we Ioved the solid, memorable finish that this wine had.

Our next wine was their 2011 Syrah Rose, which was a slightly dry rose with a lot of color from the juice being soaked with the Syrah grape skins after being crushed.

Following the Rose was another group favorite, Eberle’s signature Cotes du Robles. Not only was it a nice word-play on the French, Cotes du Rhone wine, but it was an incredible blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes that gave it great earthy depth of mixed berries, or, as Eberle puts it “the charm of Old World wines without the funk.” The finish on Cotes du Robles was long and very nice. This will be a crowd pleaser at any party, especially one that is serving roasted lamb or grilled pork loin. I would also say that this has been one of my favorite red wines to drink in warmer temperatures.

After tasting the Cotes du Robles, Stacy led us on a tour of the winery. First, we saw the crushing equipment and the impressive stainless-steel fermenting bins. It was hard to believe after seeing all of this state-of-the art equipment that Eberle is considered a relatively small winery for the area. Next, Stacy took us down into their caves. For me, this was the highlight of the tour. This interconnected cave system was dug in 1992, because Gary Eberle needed more space to store his wine. So, he went down. Today, there is over 17,000 square feet of cave storage that holds a constant temperature of about 60 degrees. This part of the tour felt especially good after drinking wine in heat of about 92 degrees outside. There were little tasting areas with tables and chairs throughout the caves that could be used for special events and tastings. It was a great way to end our first Paso Robles wine tasting.

After returning to the surface, I think we were all so stunned by the Cotes du Robles, the cave tour and the fruit tarts that were now in front of us, that we did not spend much time discussing the next two wines placed in front of us. First, was their 2009 Zinfandel, a mineral-based, wine with a peppery finish. Lastly, we tasted a fabulous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve, which was the perfect way to finish our tasting. I’m excited that the Co-op will have access to the deep, flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon that uses grapes from its 30 year old Estate vineyard.

Two other wineries worth mentioning that we visited while were in the Paso Robles area were Pipestone Vineyards and Harmony Cellars. Pipestone is owned and operated by a husband and wife team of Jeff Pipes and Florence Wong, Carleton College grads, and their team of draft horses. This small family owned winery uses solar power, horse power and organic growing methods to produce wines that are some of the most sustainably-grown wines in the area.

Our last visit was to a micro-winery called Harmony Cellars, just south of Cambria about 10 miles. We spent a late afternoon on their lawn tasting five different wines and various cheeses from the area. I fell in love with their dry, crisp, hints of watermelon and strawberry Rose. I also found room in my suitcase for their incredibly delicate Pinot Gris, which was the only one I tasted on this trip. Very high quality wines in the $20-$25/bottle price point.

At the Co-op we have brought in the 2011 Eberle Central Coast Chardonnay ($19.99/bottle) and the 2008 Eberle Cotes du Robles ($22.99/bottle). I invite you to stop in and ask one of our wine staff any questions you may have about our wine selection and we will help you find a bottle or two that fits with your menu and your budget. We have several different wines from the Central Coast region of California and from all over the world. We have also made shopping for wine a little easier by re-categorizing all of our wines by their style and from least expensive to most expensive as you browse from left to right. At the Co-op, we purchase the best tasting wines that we can at the best price. Wines in the $7 – $8/bottle category are going to be some of the best tasting wines we can find at that price point. You won’t find any unicorns at the Co-op, but you will find several different price points in all of our styles of wine so that you can go on your own little wine adventure and find the one that fits your palate. Cheers.