Barrels at Halter Ranch Vineyard, Paso Robles, California
Over the last decade, Paso Robles, California exploded with new wineries and now boasts over 200 on the books. Unfortunately, the tourism sector — specifically the luxury hotel industry — has not kept pace. For a region capable of such artisanal, soulful wines, it’s puzzling more hoteliers haven’t opened commensurately boutique, aesthetically-conscious properties so synonymous with wine country in other parts of the state.
Fortunately, the team behind SummerWood Winery had the vision to open just such an inn, completing a total renovation more than a year ago. And their fully booked calendar, sold out months in advance, proves the stylish lodging void desperately needed filling. Tucked off the main highway and abutting acres of newly planted vineyards, Summerwood Inn provides the region with a fresh, design-focused perspective evoking a chic, modern farmhouse.
Calming hues of sand, slate, and blue carry throughout the nine grape-themed rooms. (The theme is really in name only. There’s nothing gimmicky about this property.) Framing the vines yonder, picture windows in the spacious rooms deliver practical wall art through scenic country views. My suite featured a double-headed shower, plus a stand-alone tub which would’ve been tempting but for the drought crisis afflicting the state. Had I more time than a single night, I would’ve cracked open my complimentary bottle of wine, either on the sofa affronting the gas fireplace, or on the private deck. Alas, after a long journey from New York, and a few stops at wineries along the way, the soft cotton sheets tucked into a fluffy, pillow top bed beckoned my fatigued limbs to climb in and never get out. The next morning, I was lured away solely on the promise of a generous, chef-inspired breakfast which did not disappoint.
Great properties highlight the relationship between small details and big concepts. An expansive great room filled with smart, custom furnishings draws shape and warmth from textured throw blankets, potted orchids, and mercury vases. From freshly picked flowers adorning breakfast tables, to locally-made custom bath products, to evening platters of decadent desserts and turndown service treats, it is evident innkeeper and chef Kelly Wangard and general manager Shayne Kline, understand the finer points of hospitality critical to leaving an indelible mark on guests.
SummerWood Inn’s only flaw: its handful of rooms can’t satisfy demand. If you’re lucky enough to plan in advance, or catch a last-minute cancellation, however, you’ll enjoy the best lodging experience in town.
Breakfasts are substantial and deftly executed by the innkeeper Kelly Wangard who is also a trained chef. Submit selections with preferred breakfast time, the night before. Fresh fruit, coffee, and juice complement main dishes ranging from smoky chilaquiles with a fried egg (essentially high-brow breakfast nachos), to fluffy biscuits and savory gravy.
SummerWood Winery & Inn is located in Paso Robles, California exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They are just one mile off Highway 101, on the corner of Highway 46 West and Arbor Road. From Highway 101 take the exit for Highway 46 West, Hearst Castle, and Cambria. Travel one mile west and turn right on Arbor Road. Summerwood Winery is on your left and the Inn is on your right.
- Choice of gourmet breakfast included
- Large demonstration kitchen and dining area can be booked for private events
- Outdoor patio
- Wine hour with substantial hors d’oeuvres, plus evening desserts and coffee
- Complimentary bottle of wine
- Nearby Summerwood Winery tasting room. Definitely try the Grenache Blanc.
If you missed my Village Voice column Unscrewed…
Lurching forward, rocking back, the black Jeep fought for purchase on the jagged rocks and loose soil of the Paardeberg mountain slope. Perched on the edge of the leather seat, I grasped the roll bar above me to avoid swaying into my co-passenger’s lap. Four adults had squeezed into the barely three-person rear of the vehicle as rides into the eucalyptus forest, our destination that evening, were scarce.
The Jeep continued climbing parallel to a vineyard studded with waist-high, twisted, thick trunks. Old bush vines, clearly, given their knobby appearance and the vineyard owner’s penchant for working with them. We had alighted just above the A.A. Badenhorst Kalmoesfontein Farm, the site of the Badenhorst family’s annual harvest party, and the vintage had just concluded. As dusk descended, the Jeep’s driver, a harvest intern at the nearby Mullineux farm, snagged a shadowy spot cast by two towering trees. Getting out of the car, I was enveloped in glowing pinpoints of light. Dust particles suspended in the late summer air sparkled with the last of the waning sun’s luminosity, setting the tone for the dreamlike night ahead.
I found myself tagging along to the party after working a few weeks of the 2015 vintage in South Africa this February. The Paul Cluver winery in Elgin (a cool-climate region southeast of Cape Town) was my station, but after the stint concluded, I’d scurried northwest by two hours in time to catch the precious ride I’d sourced via email through stateside South African wine importer Pascal Schildt. Rumors about previous years’ antics — all-night alcohol-fueled debauchery — coupled with a few outsiders’ impressions of Swartland as an ego-driven, insular community, left me feeling vaguely like an interloper crashing the clandestine celebration of a wine-worshipping cult. Whatever I would find, my goal lay less in rallying with strangers in the inky darkness of the South African woods, than in seizing the opportunity to encounter a multitude of the region’s vinous visionaries in one spot, even if they’d likely be plastered.
While Swartland’s winemakers are not actual members of a cult, they do fervently profess to abide by a common ethos: to sustainably produce transparent, terroir-driven wines with natural ferments and indigenous yeast. And those wines have ignited a cult-like following, with Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wine, as the early de facto leader, soon joined by cheeky, charismatic Adi Badenhorst. Sadie’s study in syrah and mourvedre, blended to produce his now-legendary Columella (first vintage in 2000), first galvanized interest and investment in the region.
Swartland begins around 35 miles north of Cape Town, along with a creeping shift in scenery and terrain. It’s a hot, dry place with low rainfall and poor soils like schist and granite, once known for bulk production; vines planted decades ago in a burst of experimentation were practically forgotten as the fine wine industry moved on to focus firmly on Bordeaux-style blends in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. Driving through its wide dusty expanse dotted distantly with golden, wheat bearing hills and rocky outcroppings, Swartland reminded me of a frontier region left to the devices of pioneers and ranchers, and evoked the last untrammeled enclaves of rural California.
Thus, the apparent chasm between Swartland’s wine producers and those of the rest of the Western Cape is not defined by miles, but by their collective outlook and ability to see opportunity in the region’s uniquely challenging growing conditions. Plus, they are imbued with an anti-commercial spirit (although prove shrewd at branding and pricing, which may strike outsiders as philosophically incongruous, perhaps explaining a measure of Swartland-directed enmity). With land priced much more economically than elsewhere, a likeminded set of younger, intrepid winemakers decamped for it, many seeking to plant new vines while rescuing some of the country’s oldest fruit — e.g., chenin, grenache — from demise by cash-strapped farmers on the brink of ripping out the low-yielding plants. The wines’ styles are largely unaltered; for example, producers eschew robust new French oak treatment (which requires money anyway) in favor of natural, balanced expressions that articulate the secrets shared between dirt and vine.
Loire (chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc), Rhone (syrah, grenache, viognier), plus Spanish and Portuguese varieties as well as South Africa’s hallmark pinotage, exemplify the diversity of plantings. Blends, especially for whites like Andrea and Chris Mullineux’s fragrant and full-bodied clairette, chenin, and viognier, and single vineyard expressions, such as their granite-based syrah, are a focus of production.
Swartland’s self-described “revolution” (actualized by an annual party in November celebrating the people and their wines), has spurred newfound international attention on the country as a whole. A rising tide lifts all boats, helping to spotlight the growing ranks of cutting edge producers hailing from other areas like Hemel-en-Aarde, Bot River, Elgin, and even a few newer projects in Stellenbosch. There has never been a more exciting time for South African wine, especially for American drinkers who now have access to them.
As for the rest of that moonlit night in the eucalyptus forest, what happened in Swartland, will stay in Swartland, although a highlight I can comfortably reveal was the sunglass-donning, cherub boy fountain urinating gin for self-serve G&Ts. I also discovered an eclectic, cautiously hospitable group of winemakers (shock that a New Yorker had made it to their remote party was a recurring conversational theme), who had developed a fierce sense of community. To move there, farm, and make wine paradoxically strengthens one’s independence while fostering dependence on one’s neighbors; such an endeavor will inevitably cultivate strong bonds.
Here are ten South African producers to watch (all available in NYC):
Mullineux, Swartland. White Blend ’13, $30. Husband and wife team. She’s originally from California. All of their wines are fantastic, from the entry-level Kloof Street label, to their high-end soil studies through chenin and syrah. White blend is one of their richer wines at a lower price point. It’s redolent of flowers, apples, and hay. Broad but focused. (Importer: Kysela)
Three Foxes Project, Swartland. Clairette ’13, $29. Joint project between importer Pascal Schildt, his brother, and Chris Mullineux. Made from 70-year-old dry farmed grapes rescued from destruction. A textural wine from skin contact, it’s bright, citrusy, and low-alcohol. (Importer: Pascal Schildt)
Fram, Swartland. Chardonnay ’14, $15. Young guy also making killer chenin, syrah, and pinotage at accessible price points. This chardonnay, the fruit sourced from Robertson, not Swartland, exhibits an unusual intensity of tropical perfume for the variety. Full of pineapple, ripe pears, guava notes, it’s surprisingly clean and refreshing on the finish. (Pascal Schildt)
David, Swartland. Grenache ’14, $45. Rising star with the last name Sadie, but since he’s unrelated to Eben, he uses his first name to avoid confusion. Wines coming soon to the U.S. The grenache is earthy and dusty with plums, red fruits, and a hint of mint on the finish. (Pascal Schildt)
Thorne and Daughters, Bot River. Rocking Horse White ’13, $30. Another promising young label blending wines with grapes sourced across the Western Cape. Roussanne, chardonnay, semillon, and chenin compose this broad, textured, floral, and fruity white. (Pascal Schildt)
Crystallum, Bot River. Peter Max Pinot Noir ’13, $30. Two brothers (descendants of pinot pioneer Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson brand) focusing on pinot and chardonnay out of Walker Bay. A savory, smoky, red fruit driven wine with firm tannins. (Pascal Schildt)
Botanica, Stellenbosch. Western Cape, Chenin ’12, $25. American female Ginny Povall moved to South Africa to make wine. She runs a wonderful guesthouse in Stellenbosch but sources fruit from all over, including from the same area as the acclaimed Sadie Family Skurfberg chenin. Similar old vine dry farmed fruit goes into her mineral-focused, slightly oxidative version. (Pascal Schildt)
Riebeek Cellars, Swartland. Cabernet Sauvignon ’13, $11. Value-focused producer with unbeatable wines for the prices. This cab shows dark black fruits, cassis, and herbs, with a soft structure. (Kysela)
Keermont, Stellenbosch. Red Blend ’11, $50. One of Stellenbosch’s newer projects, this merlot, cab franc, cab sauv, and syrah blend delivers a smoky, meaty, rich, dense and ripe experience. Filled with cassis, blue fruit, plum, spice, it makes a great swap for a Howell Mountain Napa Cab at a relatively economical price. (Kysela)
Tierhoek, Piekenierskloof. Sauvignon Blanc ’14, $18. Small, certified organic producer with a new female winemaker. The high altitude fruit for this wine brings a tingly grapefruit, citrus character with striking, fresh acidity. Not pungent like an NZ S.B.; rather, refreshing and well-priced. (Pascal Schildt)
Other notable producers available in New York include Swartland icons A. A. Badenhorstand Sadie Family, plus Savage, Alheit Vineyards, and Radford Dale. Paul Cluver in Elgin makes beautiful pinot, chardonnay, and riesling, but is not yet available in our market.
Wine on Wheels 2015
Grand Tasting and Auction
May 2nd 2015, City Winery
4th Annual Charity Event to Benefit Wheeling Forward
This spring, Wheeling Forward , a charity focused on serving NYC’s disabled community brings together some of the greatest sommeliers and wines in the world inside one venue for its annual fundraiser Wine on Wheels . Currently in its fourth year, Wheeling Forward’s Wine on wheels invites oenophiles and novices alike to journey through over 150 wines poured by over 50 of the top sommeliers in the city lead by the co-founder Yannick Benjamin, a wheelchair bound seasoned industry professional and sommelier at the historic University Club. New this year will be a series of engaging seminars hosted by GuildSomm featuring a focused look at individual wine regions, spirits and the technique of blind tasting.
Wine on Wheels will feature exciting wine producers from all over the world
Champagne Delamotte, Gourt de Mautens, Valentin Zusslin, Domaine Henri Milan, Domaine Andre & Mirelle Tissot, Mas Cotelou, Domaine des Hautes Terres, Chateau Yvonne, Emilian Gillet, Sentier Rose, Te Muna Road, Craggy Range, Domaine Marchand, Drouhin-Vaudon, Renato Ratti, Pol Roger Champagne, Faiveley, Olivier Leflaive, Hugel, JL Chave, Gunther Steinmetz, Francois et Vincent Jouard, Giamello, Gothic Winery, Smith Haut Lafitte, Giscours, Lynch Bages, AIX, Herman J. Weimer, Flowers, Alfred Gratien Champagne, Red Tail Ridge, Domaine La Soumande, Chateau Grillet, Elena Wach, Domaine Fontboneau, Mas du Daumas and many more!
For more information and to purchase tickets here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A special thanks to the participating importers, distributors, partners & restaurants
Yannick Benjamin, Co-Founder
Yannick is a New York City-based sommelier and one of the co-founders of Wheeling Forward. In 2003, a car accident left Yannick paralyzed but did not stop him from pursuing his dreams of going on to college and becoming a world class sommelier. Yannick is currently an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and has worked at Le Du’s Wines for over seven years. Currently Yannick is a sommelier at the University Club and is working on his Master Sommelier certificate.
As a para-athlete, Yannick has competed in several marathons and races including the New York, Boston, and Chicago marathons. Yannick’s deep connections in the wine world have helped Wheeling Forward to build a broad base of supporters and inspired many sommeliers and wine distributors to give back to the community
|Photo by Michael Seto|
New York has long been a hotbed of successful women. Before Hillary, the state sent Geraldine Ferraro to receive the first female nomination by a major party for the White House. Edith Wharton explored social hypocrisy in her acclaimed books. Sonia “From the Bronx” Sotomayor sits on the bench of America’s highest court.
Manhattan is also the epicenter of America’s fine-wine industry, the ranks of which ambitious women have been slowly but steadily infiltrating. Formerly the province of Caucasian gentlemen (and not-so-chivalrous gents), several of the industry’s leading ladies derive from the unusually high pool of Masters of Wine living locally.
Don’t be fooled: “Unusually high” equates to fewer than ten, and that’s out of a mere 318 MWs in the world. Less than 10 percent of MW candidates sit for the rigorous exams, and significantly fewer pass — and eager grape-loving masochists must be accepted into the elite program in the first place. Chelsea resident Christy Canterbury is one of those rare stars in the wine-world firmament to earn the credentials. (For clarification, the Master of Wine program differs from the Master Sommelier, or MS. While there is overlap in studies, the MW focuses on wine business and industry, and the MS focuses on service to the consumer.)
When I met Canterbury, she strode in wearing an elegant tailored suit; we’d agreed to convene for a late-winter-morning chat over a Rwandan coffee over at the High Line Hotel Intelligentsia. Having completed my WSET Diploma, I wanted to inquire about her MW experience. Did I have the masochism gene in me to keep going? I hoped to find out.
We’d met once before, at a dinner she hosted to extol the joys of reasonably priced vouvray (honestly, a revelation in bang for buck), but seeing her again reminded me of my first impression: How does she remain so slender and petite and flawlessly put together for a woman who eats, drinks, and travels on an endless loop for a living? (Trim traveling men prompt the same internal query.) One might divine Canterbury’s stylish sensibility as Parisian, but she is, in fact, Texas-born, hailing from the ironically “unpleasant” (as she put it) town of Mount Pleasant.
Despite harboring a childhood dream of pirouetting onstage professionally in satin toe shoes, she fled Texas for New York to work in finance and private equity. The 24/7 lifestyle left her dissatisfied, so she squeezed a few more hours out of her weekends to learn about wine while working at Vintage (the first all–New York–wine store in Soho that debuted and eventually closed, sadly about a decade ahead of its time). After gaining a modicum of “wine street cred,” she left her career to work on the business side at Italian Wine Merchants, and then parlayed that role into her first restaurant industry gig, running the $125 million beverage program at Smith & Wollensky.
The idea to pursue her Master of Wine came about organically. Canterbury is an insatiable student (she finished her undergrad program at SMU in three years, speaks fluent French and very good Spanish, and is working on her Italian), and she started with the WSET Intermediate, then Advanced, followed by the three-year Diploma program, which she completed in June 2003. “I decided immediately, being on a roll with my education, to continue,” she says. “I never wanted to be wrong or pretend that I knew what I was talking about if I didn’t, nor be unable to have a conversation at a higher technical level, should I want to.” Also, earning the rare MW would help distinguish her from the rest of the industry.
To Canterbury’s surprise, a series of employers (the MW takes years to complete) fought to dissuade rather than encourage her to pursue an education, despite its relevance to her job and the prestige it could bring to the company. “I had one boss tell me, ‘Good luck, you are crazy,’ and another employer flat-out refuse to allow me to attend the residential seminar because ‘the company was going through a difficult transition period.’ If I didn’t attend the mandatory week-long exam training, I couldn’t sit for the test. I ended up calling in sick for those days, and showed up Monday morning for work. We never discussed it again.”
While an employer’s lack of enthusiasm could be attributed to the anticipated distractions of an employee (although how many male somms or wine professionals going after their MS or MW are discouraged from doing so, I wonder?), Canterbury was shocked further by the institute’s lack of support.
“I was angry with the process for a number of reasons,” she says. “While I had a great cheering squad among my friends, nobody else was really helping me. I had several disengaged, bum mentors assigned to me. It was a lonely road at times.”
Aside from the week-long group seminar, hosted around the world in various locations once a year, the MW is, essentially, just an exam. No companion classes, syllabus, books, or coursework are offered to guide candidates toward success. It is the ultimate life test in discipline.
Canterbury eventually found other candidates in the city with whom she could study, taste, and prepare. Fortunately, they all passed — and they were all women. Canterbury rocked her theory exam on the second try, and her practical (blind wine-tasting) exam on the fourth.
I asked her whether she felt the long, expensive, frustrating road had been worth it. Candidates have been known to spend upwards of tens of thousands, even up to a hundred thousand dollars (although the $100K figure is an accounting I can’t make sense of) in self-study expenses.
“I had no idea how many doors this could open,” she says. “Even as a candidate just two years into the program, meeting MWs who were willing to help someone young in the wine industry was amazing. And being an MW has allowed me to work for myself. I honestly don’t know how I ever could have done it without it.”
Canterbury’s freelance work consists of speaking, judging, and writing about wine, and she appears at conferences for both trade and consumers. She remains miraculously poised, unwrinkled, and fit. “When I am on the road, I end up eating a lot of bread and crackers — or foie gras. So I work out a lot; I go on runs through the vineyards.”
Canterbury’s top three regions to watch:
Oregon “Due to growing outside investment, the wine quality is off the charts, and their pinot noir and riesling are stunning.”
Eastern Europe “Keep an eye on places like Croatia, even Romania. NYC restaurants are opening up their lists to these places, too.”
Greece “I love that Greek wines are becoming mainstream, and that assyrtiko is the new grüner veltliner.”
Bush Vines of Adelaida Cellars in Paso Robles, California
Sneak Peek: My piece on the clash between Turkey’s blossoming wine culture and the current government’s politics, debuts in Melbourne-based drinks journal Alquimie in one week. If you’re not a subscriber, order a copy of the fifth edition here. In addition to my article, the issue covers tequila’s smoky, rustic cousin mezcal, Rhone Valley Syrah, and a range of fun apéritifs. Gorgeous photography and fine writing guaranteed.
Last night, I attended “Being,” a collaborative wine and art exhibition in a brightly lit, white-walled gallery in Nolita, NYC thrown by Wines of Corsica. The event sought to transport wine enthusiasts to the French isle near Italy, a rugged, windswept place still raw and untouched in its beauty, but refined in its wines. Twelve producers brought their current lineup; guests noshed on cheese from Artisanal and perused photos of Corsica by Aaron Zebrook, the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and art by Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer.
From what I tasted and the gorgeous photos I’ve seen (included the ones on display last night), Corsica is the most beautiful spot I’ve never visited, and I need to rectify that immediately. For now, we can at least drink the flavors of the island because 8 of the 12 producers at the show are in the NYC market. Several wineries noted in their tasting manual profiles that they are looking for representation. So, for any importers interested in Corsica, there are three more events slated for today through Saturday. For consumers, you can buy $30 tix here for the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows.
I didn’t make it through all of the wines, but I found six of the seven I spent time with, impressive. The typical varieties of Corsica are the white grape Vermentinu, and reds Sciaccarellu (pronounced check-ar-ello), and Niellucciu (pronounced nell-oo-cho). The range of expressions squeezed out of Vermentinu was surprising. Textures changed depending on the location of the vineyard, and the winemaking styles, and even fruit profiles differed enough to make every Vermentinu a new discovery. Apple, pear, citrus, lemon-curd, herbs, white flowers, a stony mineral character, hay, and occasionally, an oily note, could be detected.
The medium-bodied reds were often a blend of the two grapes: one for color and fruit, the other for tannin, and showed dark red/black fruits, pepper spice, licorice, savory herbal notes, occasionally a meaty/ferrous quality, and varying degrees of acid structure, depending on the side of the island the grapes were grown.
The surprise hits of the night were the rosés. Maybe I just long for this ghastly East Coast winter to choke and die, but sipping the refreshing, pale pink lovelies put visions of seafood on a warm, breezy beach in my head. The wines hit the perfect balance of delicate red fruits, orange citrus notes, and litheness and minerality on the palate, without a single touch of sourness, bitterness, or sharpness of acid on the finish. None. Corsican rosé should be stocked in your fridge all summer.
Overall, the producers I particularly liked were Domaine d’Alzipratu (no importer), Clos Teddi (The Vine Collective), Orenga de Gaffory (VOS Selections), and Yves Leccia (Kermit Lynch). The last producer, Yves Leccia, makes a stunning and unique white wine from the grape Biancu Gentile. Originally thought to be extinct, there now are only five producers in the world commercially making this wine. Flavor profile: Ginger spice, almond, ripe pear, lemon, and white flowers on the rich, aromatic nose, leading to a broad, waxy-textured palate almost reminiscent of a white Rhone grape. Really cool, really rare. Go find it.
Yves Leccia/Domaine d’e Croce, 2013 Biancu Gentile Blanc, I.G.P. Ile de Beaute (the French government, sticklers that they are, wouldn’t officially recognize the grape in the region’s appellations, hence the IGP.)
I posted a brief synopsis of the event on Unscrewed two days ago:
Wines of Corsica Presents “Being” at Openhouse Mulberry Gallery (201 Mulberry Street), April 9 through 11
Transport yourself out of Manhattan and onto the rustic and beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica with “Being,” a one-of-a-kind, artistic event series dedicated to the dreamy French isle’s finest export — wine. Attendees will sample an array of local vins while viewing depictions of daily life through the eyes of two artists.
For three days — Thursday, April 9, and Friday, April 10, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 11, from 7 to 11 p.m. — nine Corsican producers will be on hand to discuss their wines, walk patrons through the process of winemaking, and describe the various grapes commonly grown on the island.
The visual component to the tasting was conceived by Aaron Zebrook, a photographer and the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer. Both artists spent ten days on the island during the harvest season in order to capture the essence of Corsica, from the wine culture and the natural surroundings to the people who call it home. Bravo Clavello creatively incorporates organic elements into her paintings by using Corsican soil, vines, and rocks. Zebrook will present his inspiring photographs.
Tickets for “Being” are $30 and include the wine tasting, cheeses by Artisanal, and the art show.