The Perera grape, allowed for use in the Prosecco blend (in addition to Glera, the primary grape.) The winery Marchiori makes the only single-varietal bottling of Perera.
The stunning UNESCO Vineyard Terraces of Lavaux, Switzerland, along Lake Geneva.
If you missed my article in the Village Voice…
Halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, bucolic Paso Robles has exploded with wineries over the last twenty-five years. The region, long home to cowboys and farmers, grew from a handful of pioneering grape growers who arrived in the late Seventies to over 200 hopeful winemakers working in eleven recently delineated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Although new plantings have stalled due to serious water woes, to locals and visitors, vineyard saturation is palpable, especially when driving along one troublingly expansive, deep-pocketed project. But to East Coast drinkers, the area’s wine boom has largely gone unnoticed.
Because most of Paso’s wineries are small to mid-size, their offerings rarely penetrate the competitive, Eurocentric NYC market. Only a few famous names stick in the minds of drinkers. For example, Justin, known for its red Bordeaux “Isosceles” blend, and Saxum Vineyards, the label that earned a Wine Spectator Wine of the Year award in 2010, put Paso on the map for wine collectors. Tablas Creek, a successful endeavor founded by the Perrin family from Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery Château de Beaucastel, helped drive the red and white Rhône blends that have come to characterize the area’s wines. Now, with the expanded reach of direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping and growing interest from local retailers, New Yorkers can tap into Paso’s wealth of up-and-coming, boutique brands.
“Paso Robles is an interesting alternative to other California regions because there is a lot of experimentation going on with different grape varieties right now,” said Jennifer DiDomizio of downtown Manhattan retail shop California Wine Merchants. “Of course there are the Rhône varieties and the more traditional zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, but we are seeing more French, Italian, and Spanish grapes and blends coming out of Paso.” DiDomizio also noted Paso’s big improvements in quality, “particularly as producers match their micro-climates to suitable grape varieties. I’ve heard very high praise for these newer projects, and there is an excitement about the energy that a new generation of winemakers are bringing to the region.” California Wine Merchants currently sells a handful of Paso wines, and rotates its selection regularly, but DiDomizio said the percentage of Paso wines in the shop will continue to grow, reflecting the region’s dynamic growth.
From Italian grapes and organic vineyards to unique bottling methods, here are six exciting Paso wineries to watch, all now available at your doorstep.
Tucked into the back of Tin City, an industrial zone recently revitalized by a flurry of new tasting rooms, Giornata specializes in varietally correct Italian grapes stamped decorously by the California sun. A darling D.I.Y. clan, because of their practical-and-fun-and-good-for-the-environment ethos, owns the winery. Husband and wife Brian and Stephy Terrizzi, along with their small children, take a hands-on, sustainability-minded approach to every facet of the business, from the vineyard to the cellar. The family even uses a bicycle-powered grain mill (read: good for exhausting energetic kids) to experiment in making flour from locally grown whole grains.
Giornata produces the finest American iterations of nebbiolo and barbera I can recall tasting. “Joyful” is not an adjective I use often in a note, but the 2014 Barbera’s ($25) electric cherry fruit and silky texture elicited the descriptor. Even a simple white, the 2014 Il Campo Bianco ($20), provided delights in its floral and citrus echo of an Italian garden, and over-delivery on price.
This small, family-run estate winery in West Paso focuses, like many, on Rhône grapes. Founder Bob Tillman departed the high-tech business world after 35 years to launch the label in 2003, and claims to embrace “the big, extracted style that naturally follows from this terroir.” I found the wines robust, but not pushy, which I attributed to their impeccable balance. For example, the 2011 Toasted Slope syrah ($45), featuring a splash of viognier à la Côte-Rôtie, pushed the boundaries of alcohol on the label, but not in the glass, where traces of booziness floated effortlessly away into a perfume of smoke and blackberries.
Tillman and his daughter Maggie, who runs their marketing program, believe in long-term stewardship of the land, and thus converted the entire mountain farm to organic. “It is a way of life, not just a business,” Tillman explained, adding that “this enterprise is intensely personal. We are constrained by only two things: The fruit must come from our vineyard, and we must be self-financed.” In addition to syrah, Alta Colina produces a viognier and grenache blanc for its whites, and a range of GSMs (grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah blends) and petite sirah.
While limited direct shipping is available, their NY distributor is Wine Source Group.
Canned wine might not seem like the obvious choice for a dinner party, and perhaps it’s best left relegated to pool, park, and beach events where glass is prohibited, but the juice inside this innovative company’s packaging is worthy of a glass bottle.
The winery name, Field Recordings, came from analogizing the term used for audio recordings produced outside of a studio, and often of natural occurrences, to the thought process behind the vino — “the wine being the stories of people, places, and grapes, captured in a bottle,” explained founder Andrew Jones. With regard to using an aluminum conveyance, Jones said he was impressed with all the positives he discovered when researching the canning process. “It is extremely gentle on the product versus a bottling line, it is infinitely recyclable, it provides huge savings to the end consumer, and overall, it is the most convenient packaging around for enjoying wine,” he said. Not all of his offerings come with a pull tab (most don’t), but the FICTION blends, like the red made from zinfandel and a vintage dependent rotation of five to seven other varieties, do. FICTION white and a rosé are also available. Four 500 mL cans are $40.
Tired of working as a Silicon Valley cubicle drone, Michelle, along with her brewmaster and winemaker husband Sherman, sought to leave their urban lifestyle in Santa Cruz permanently. In 2006, they purchased an old horse ranch in the Adelaida area of Paso Robles, and opened a winery and tasting room by 2008. “We showed up and it was trial by fire,” said Sherman, “but we embraced it.” Despite the picturesque backdrop of dips and hills, complete with a historic barn emblazoned with “KR,” denoting “Kentucky Ranch,” the emblem of the former owners, Thacher buys most of their grapes. Their land isn’t as suitable for farming as it is for photographing. But the world of fine wine has proven repeatedly that solid grower contracts can be as good, if not better, than estate fruit.
Uniquely for the area, Thacher produces a medium-bodied, savory, tea- and spice-evocative 2012 mourvèdre ($45). Blended with a dollop of lively, strawberry-leather-scented grenache, it’s a nice break from the rich, fruity overtones of the region’s reds. The 2013 grenache blanc ($28), from La Vista Vineyard, also offers a refreshing take on this local white grape, with its bright salty-lime- and green-apple-soda-tinged flavors.
Ranchero Cellars is the tiny, personal label of Amy Jean Butler (only 650 cases a year), who is better known for making other people’s wine. Butler adheres closely to the wishes of her clients, but when it comes to her grapes, which she buys through longstanding contracts, she strives for an acid-driven, restrained style — a tough combination to find in Paso.
Butler learned to love acid, she says, working at California sparkling house Schramsberg, and her wines prove it. The 2014 grenache blanc “chrome” ($28) rips with zippy citrus fruit, and her 2013 La Vista Vineyard viognier ($30) portrays the leaner, more delicate side of the too often blowsy grape. But Butler’s real passion project is working with little-respected carignan, or, as she describes the grape, “the wild, brambly, and gnarly red beast.” Her vivid 2012 Carignan ($32) expresses crushed blackberry Pez and an herb crust akin to one you might find on a lamb roast. If the description sounds weird, the wine tastes delicious.
Purchase wines online or contact NY distributor Vine Collective.
Successful wine brands have compelling backstories, made more so when the tale incorporates true romance with a superb product. Such is the case for Clos Solène, a label born of two aspiring French winemakers, lovestruck Guillaume and Solène Fabre. Clos Solène began in 2007 with two barrels housed in a nearby winery; doubling in size each year, the pair now have their own tasting room in Tin City.
Their wines are unabashedly voluptuous, embracing the region’s propensity for naturally high alcohol without transforming the Rhône grape-based blends into diesel fuel (unlike a few of their peers). Flavors are intense, like the red-berry-concentrated 2013 La Petite Solène ($65), an SGM. While the wines sit at the top of the price pyramid for the region, they have received critical acclaim, resulting in regularly sold-out offerings. Production amounts are small, so if you love their wines, join the mailing list.
View from the top of the tower at Domaine Serene in Dundee Hills, Oregon
Looking to inject spice and exoticism into your staid wine-drinking routine? This June, head east. Pass Long Island, cross the Atlantic, skip over Spain, France, Italy…then stop. You’ve hit a cluster of emerging wine regions vying for the attention of sommeliers and tastemakers that are superseding Georgia as the new “It girl.” Start with gorgeous Croatia, a wine-rich culture blessed with a long Adriatic coastline, and continue east, curving around the Black Sea with Moldova, Bulgaria, and Turkey; each country offers indigenous grapes at affordable prices, allowing imbibers to visit far-flung locales, via wine, for less than $20.
Local experts weigh in on why these wines will intrigue you, and what bottles you can find on the market now.
Cliff Rames is a New York City sommelier certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers. He has devoted most of his free time to his labor of love, Croatian wine. He’s both founder of and brand ambassador for Wines of Croatia, and he has conducted masterclasses in NYC on behalf of the Association of Winemakers of Croatia.
“The wines of Croatia may be new to international consumers, but vino has been an embedded part of the region’s lifestyle for more than 25 centuries. The tradition continues with a new generation of winemakers focused on preserving indigenous varieties, such as graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali — an offspring of zinfandel, which originated in Croatia — grown in some of the world’s most unique terroir. From the cooler continental region, look for certified organic Enjingi Graševina 2012 [SRP $13], a savory, refreshing white with dusty notes of dried apple, pear, honey, and petrol. From Croatia’s hot, island-studded coast, the Bibich R6 Riserva 2011 [SRP $20] is a tasty glimpse into the potential of indigenous reds: a blend of babić, plavina, and lasina, it’s vibrant and balanced, finishing with notes of ripe cherry, dried fig, roasted Mediterranean herbs, and distinctive friškina — ‘scent of the sea’ — minerality.”
Last October, the promise of tasting seldom-exported indigenous grapes lured me to three different wine regions scattered across Turkey’s vast, rumpled landscape. What I found was a country in the midst of a vinous renaissance, enjoying a decade of boutique-winery growth stretching from the Aegean to Georgia.
Bulgaria’s southeastern boundary adjoins Turkey, but viticulture doesn’t stop at the border despite the predominantly Muslim population that lies within. In fact, winemaking in Turkey dates back nearly 7,000 years to the time of the Hittites. International grapes have sneaked their way in; cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc commonly share vineyard space with hard-to-pronounce natives like the juicy, cherry-flavored öküzgözü and the tannic red boğazkere. In the Ankara province, however, Vinkara Winery focuses exclusively on local grapes like narince, a refreshing, stone-fruit- and citrus-laced white, perfect for summer sipping, and kalecik karasi, an earthy, berry-fruited red with a delicacy reminiscent of pinot noir. Try the Vinkara Winery “unoaked” Narince 2013 (SRP $15) and Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2011 (SRP $25).
Although winemaking is still legal, recent years have seen the Muslim government lead an anti-alcohol campaign in the name of public health, marked by the passage of new, restrictive laws that threaten to strangle the burgeoning industry. For example, wineries cannot market themselves or their product: It is illegal to hand out business cards and informational brochures, or host websites referring to wine. Their future is uncertain, making the international market extremely important to their survival. Drink Turkey and lend your support!
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen earned their moniker, “World Wine Guys,” the hard way: by traveling to every corner of the planet in search of exciting wines (tough, but someone must do it). They’ve shared their wisdom in books and magazines, on television, and, most recently, during a seminar they hosted on Moldovan wine in NYC at the Astor Center.
“Wines from Moldova face more of a challenge in the U.S. at the moment because there are fewer of them in the market. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, wedged between Ukraine and Romania, but with financial help from the European Union they are holding trade tastings in countries such as the U.S. and England. If you can get your hands on a bottle or glass of feteasca alba or feteasca neagra — respectively, white and red grapes indigenous to Moldova and Romania — give them a try. Feteasca alba is a pleasing aromatic white, while feteasca neagra is vinified into a complex red with flavors of cassis and dark berries. They are hard to find, but one producer that has a presence in New York is Purcari Estate, like the Purcari Rara Neagra 2012 [SRP $17]. Wine drinkers who like to ‘drink their way around the world’ should definitely seek out indigenous varieties from Moldova.”
Hot on the heels of their Moldova presentation, the World Wine Guys hosted a Bulgarian wine lunch at Corkbuzz.
“Although Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, with archeological evidence of winemaking dating back 9,000 years, its wines are almost completely new to the American market. Wines are made from international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and viognier, as well as native grapes such as mavrud, a rich, deep red. One of the best things that Bulgarian wines offer to wine drinkers is value for price, with a surprising number of recent ‘Best Buys’ in Wine Enthusiast, where Jeff tastes wines from the ex–Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. A terrific bottle to try is Chateau Burgozone Chardonnay 2012 [SRP $14] from the Danube River Plain, which has tropical fruit flavors and a crisp, clean finish.”
Three days in Iceland sounds like too short a time to glean a comprehensive understanding of the country, and it is. If you can stay longer, do. Martin Miller’s Gin invited me to join them on a short visit to judge their international cocktail competition, and I added an extra day-and-a-half to see a few sights.
If you don’t know the premise of UK-based gin brand Martin Miller, you’d likely wonder why they would host a mixology competition in Iceland. The answer is in the water. While the spirit is distilled in England, the gin is bottled to strength in Iceland using the country’s naturally filtered H2O. We visited the water source and bottling plant, looking and tasting for proof Icelandic water makes a difference in the quality and aromatic expression of the gin. And it does. Without going into scientific detail, the juniper and botanical notes manifest more delicately with less alcoholic burn than Miller’s competitors.
After the close of the competition, a colleague and I stayed on to drive the iconic southern stretch of Ring Road 1, and walk around Reykjavik. Here are my ten insights.
Don’t Buy Bottled Water. The tap water is clean, delicious, and free. Most casual restaurants provide self-serve water stations. If you need to carry water around (which you will want to in your car), pack a reusable container with you, or else buy one bottle at the start of the trip and refill it throughout.
Don’t Exchange or Take Out Money from the ATM. If you feel more comfortable carrying a little pocket change, go ahead, but every restaurant, shop, café, and gas station I hit, accepted credit card for payments as small as a few cents. I asked a local for an explanation, and she proffered that because their money comes in notes of thousands, and lots of heavy coins are used for hundreds, people prefer to use credit than carry around cash. Makes sense.
Rent a Car. Driving in Iceland requires little effort, with big financial savings. Two of us rented an automatic from Enterprise using the tourism office downtown, for $78/day. Gas was expensive, adding another $50, but we would’ve paid anywhere from $115 to $230/person to do a Bus/Jeep tour of the same route we drove independently. We stopped when we wanted, for as long as we wanted, and didn’t have to share a cramped space with strangers while doing it. We drove the “Southern Coast” and used a brochure to map out the sights the tour guides hit. Most were visible from the road, and well-marked. You can do the same for the popular Golden Circle tour, too. This rule doesn’t apply for activity-based experiences like glacier and volcano hikes, where you obviously need a guide. Since I didn’t do any of them, I can’t personally comment, although friends of mine loved the glacier hike but disagreed on the value of spending $300 for the volcano tour.
Bring Layers. I just returned from a mid-May visit and experienced rain, snow, and 45 degree sunshine in three hours. The nights were cold. If you plan to do any ice/snow related tours like a glacier hike, you’ll want to bring more than jeans and a sweater. Pack snowboard/ski pants and jackets, gloves, hat, and hiking boots. Some tour companies provide spare layers, but if you’re out on your own and the rain kicks in sideways, or you opt to walk behind a head-to-toe soaking waterfall, you’ll be thankful for your water-resistant apparel.
Drive the Southern Coast. I had one day and could pick only one route, so I can’t comment on the most popular Golden Circle tour, which stops at a famous geyser and Europe’s largest waterfall. But for me, the southern coast offered the widest variety of Iceland’s prime assets in a compact two-hour stretch between Reykjavik and Vik, all of them free. Highlights: Multiple waterfalls including the lovely Skogafoss; changing landscapes from farmland, to moss-covered rocks, to desolate black sand beaches; and glaciers and volcanoes abutting the coastline. Eyjafjallajökull, which blew in 2010, is visible from the road, topped in snow and clouds. You can drive down Route 221 inland to the Solheimajokull glacier, and walk about a half mile up to its edge. Further towards Vik, two turnoffs lead to coal-black beaches, plunging cliffs, and unusual rock formations at Dyrholaey (the backdrop for several movies including Noah with Russell Crowe). If feels like the end of the earth. We had terrible weather the day we drove it – icy rain, whiteout fog conditions, and flat skies that wouldn’t cooperate with my photographic ambitions — and yet I still found the area stunning. I can only imagine how it would’ve looked with the sun filtering down from the firmament.
Don’t Let the Weather Ruin Your Trip. As aforementioned, I had a lot of photography hopes riding on a solitary day. The locals say if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. But it rained intermittently all day and the fog obscured the scenery. The rain nearly damaged my camera gear (I wasn’t prepared), and I lost a lens cap running to the car to escape a downpour. I admit to grumbling about it, a lot, but I ultimately chose to find beauty in the roiling sea and storming sky. Plus, if you’re in the city with bad weather, you can hit a few coffee shops, bookstores, or cafes to read, work, relax. They all have free wifi. In fact, so do the hotels. The city is extremely modern and connected!
Drink Coffee. I had a list of eight coffee shops to visit, and I hit five. I highly recommend the following three: Reykjavik Roasters, not far from the church. This operation represent the city’s apogee as far as third wave specialty coffee with on-premise roasting, single origin offerings, and pedigreed founders (formerly of Denmark’s acclaimed Coffee Collective). Buy beans to take home and order a kalita wave to drink in situ. For espresso-based drinks, served in a dark, retro-Scandinavian interior, hit Mokka-Kaffi. Finally, Tiu Dropar, a basement-level, full-service restaurant and bar specializing during the day in waffles and espresso-based coffee drinks, has a cozy, candlelit throwback vibe that’s perfect for a rainy afternoon. You’ll spot tourists, hipsters, young professionals, freelancers, and wizened fishermen, all hanging out.
Bring Good Camera Equipment and a Smartphone. A high-quality camera, back-up batteries, and spare memory cards, plus a raincover for your gear (advice I wish I’d had), will help capture the splendor of the county. Reykjavik’s colorful buildings, set in a harbor framed in snow-dusted mountains, is extremely photogenic, as is every half mile, once you exit the city limits. Out in the countryside, you’ll want to stop for photos constantly; the ubiquitous Icelandic horses (they don’t call them ponies), small churches, or abandoned stone huts built into the hillsides, are quite alluring. But don’t break in the middle of the road. With few cars on the highway, the temptation to pull over and shoot quickly is high. But the Ring Road doesn’t have shoulders, so wait for a pull-off and walk back for the shot.
Hotel Location Doesn’t Matter. The city is so compact and walkable, don’t fret if the property isn’t nestled in the “shopping district of the city-center,” as many that are, advertise. Also, consider using AirBnB or apartment rentals like Luna (I happened to walk by and took a look and a card), as reasonably priced alternatives. Hotel prices seemed to vary wildly depending on the booking site, so check several, including directly with the property.
Don’t Shop Near the Marina/Waterfront. Prices are highest near the start of the two main shopping streets Laugavegur and Skólavördustígur. You’ll easily spot the tourist traps filled with Icelandic sweaters, black lava salt (which is just regular sea salt dyed black), and stuffed puffin animals. The Reykjavik locals I spoke to claim they don’t wear those sweaters, but friends of mine who were in other parts of Iceland, say they’ve seen people wearing them. I was told that they wore them long ago, when they didn’t have money or access to finer things, and that they are mostly shapeless, scratchy relics of a bygone era. Use your own judgment if you want one, but the prices closer to the marina are highest. Also, there are lots of Icelandic brands of outdoor clothing shops, but none of their products are manufactured there. All of it is made in China or Asia and is quite expensive. Unless you arrived unprepared, sans coat, pants, gloves, there are no deals in the gear shops. The best Icelandic or Scandinavian clothing and home design, plus jewelry, galleries, and boutique shopping in general, begins on Laugavegur after it intersects Frakkastigur. That’s where the locals shop.
- You need a reservation to visit the Blue Lagoon. Make one upon arrival, or before, if possible, to avoid disappointment.
- Locals don’t tip. Food prices are high, so think of the bill as having the service cost built in.
- Hot dogs are a thing. The average blend includes lamb, giving them a lamb-y flavor. Order one with “everything.”
- Reykjavik airport has free wifi and loads of electrical outlets for both traditional 220 volt and USB. Airports around the world, TAKE NOTICE!
- Everybody has free wifi! You can find a hotspot practically anywhere you are standing in town, even if you don’t go inside a shop/restaurant.
- WOW Air just launched out of Boston and Washington D.C. (sadly, no NYC yet). It’s a discount airline. My friends flew them for $400 round-trip out of Boston. They also fly to Scandinavian destinations like Denmark, so you can extend your trip further into Europe via Iceland.
- Iceland Air allows free 7-day stopovers en route to Europe.
- Eat lots of lamb and fish.
- As early as May, perpetual twilight kicks in. Bring an eye mask for sleeping if sensitive to light.
What I Wish I Had Done
- Listened to live music. The country is filled with promising musicians.
- Chatted with more locals. I’d love to hear about their lives, and how they manage the cold and darkness for 9 months a year.
- Driven to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It’s 4.5 hours from Reykjavik making it too far for a leisurely day-trip. Next time, if not driving the entire ring road, I’d overnight along the way. The black beach is supposedly littered with glowing blue ice broken off of glaciers, that looks like glass sculptures. A photographer’s dream.
- Hit the vibrant bar scene on a weekend (supposed to be manic) and several hotel cocktail bars like the Slippbarrin at Iceland Air Hotel Marina, 101 Hotel Restaurant and Bar, and the Kvosin Hotel Bar. All three looked chic with good quality cocktail potential. I only had time for a glance around each one.
- Stayed Longer. Driven the ring road.
Where to Stay
Affronting the wharf, the hotel pays homage to its location and the country’s maritime heritage with details like fishing nets as remote control holders, and sailor knots stamped on wallpaper. Antiques and oddities like a stuffed puffin collection, and books on Icelandic sagas, interspersed throughout the colorful, whimsical common spaces, feel playful and fresh rather than gimmicky. Rooms are cozy, but bright, and several have balconies facing the water and ships. The excellent breakfast spread is included with the rate.
Located at the base of the main shopping streets, this former printing factory turned boutique hotel, retains much of its 1940s charm. The décor mixes modern-industrial materials like cement and steel, with textiles of leather and cowhide animal print. The mood is contemporary, dark, and romantic, marked by the enormous freestanding tub in my room. The candle-lit subterranean lounge makes a great spot to start or close the night. Breakfast included with the room rate.
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.