Spending time in Santa Barbara in the early 2000's, I was exposed to, but not intimate with Paso Robles. To me, at the time, the wines seemed to be good, not great, and certainly more rustic. I was exposed to endless overcooked Zins and Petite Sirahs, which tainted my initial impressions. Being that I am a devout Rhône-head, I was intrigued by some of the early proponents of these varieties such as Tablas Creek and l'Aventure. My interest was piqued by the possibilities.
Fast forward to 7 years later, as I was forming ampelography, I was approached by Paul Sowerby, the Sales Manager for Adelaida Cellars. I was familiar with Adelaida, and always had some affection for the wines from my early years in the industry, but hadn't tasted the wines in some time. As Paul guided me through a dozen or more wines, I was impressed by the balance and structure of these wines. The reds had no "over/super ripeness" and perhaps more impressive, the whites were just beautiful with a healthy dose of minerality. Where had these wine been? Why were they discovering me, when in reality, I should have come across these sooner. It was one of those moments of epiphany.
The subsequent summer, I took a trip out to Paso and spent the day with Paul in the vineyards and with winemaker Terry Culton in the cellar. Terry had clearly put his mark on the wines, which is to say a minimal hand. Terry worked at, among other places, Calera (which has always been one of my all time favs). Calera and Josh Jensen are known for being proponents of Limestone soil. Coincidentally, but probably not, Adelaida is largely situated on Limestone. This made perfect sense. Here's what I didn't expect: Adelaida is quite climatically cool. Most of their vineyards are 1800 ft above sea level and just a few miles from the Pacific as the crow flies. Tremendous air flow and marine influence from the Pacific + the Templeton gap from the south have really made this area unique within Paso Robles. So much so that there is a proposed AVA including a handful of additional top producers within this microclimate to be hopefully called: The Adelaida District.
Adelaida dates back to 1981, but the vineyards that comprise it are in some cases, much older. The oldest Pinot Noir vines south of Sonoma are here, at the HMR Estate. No one is sure of the clone, but it's cool climate, limestone soil, 40+yr old pinot vines that are naturally low yielding. Yeah, the wine is pretty good. In fact, it's one of the most unique, yet totally pinot-like wines I've ever had. The true stars though are the Rhône blends. Syrah and Mourvedre put on quite a show varietally speaking here, but once they are blended with the usual suspects, you get the sense of a wine with an amazing pedigree. The same holds true of the whites, the stars there are of course, Rousanne and Grenache Blanc.
It's easy to become cynical in the wine business, after a while you think you may have it all figured out. Then a small producer from a pristine corner of Paso Robles knocks on your door, and you begin to realize how much you still have to learn.