Centered at the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been one of my favorite hunting grounds for unique, thoroughly one-of-a-kind wines for years. It’s where I first discovered the Rhone Ranger glories of L’Aventure, and stumbled upon the mind-bending Syrahs grown in the western reaches of Paso Robles by Justin Smith of Saxum. Also home to some of the most prized bottlings in my personal collection – Linne Calodo – Paso Robles is one wine region I simply cannot visit often enough.
In the early days, the A-listers could be counted on a few fingers, to include the aforementioned and – of course – the ethereal Zins of Turley. That’s all changed though, with a new group of settlers finding their way to Paso Robles over the past decade, lured to the gentle rolling hills of this chaparral environment. Vineyard owners seem to be everywhere these days – eager to rent their homes when you come to town – thanks to the need for high quality grapes by some big name producers here.
But I’ve fallen in love with the wines of a winery I hope remains as boutique and under the radar as they’ve been for years. That winery is Desparada, and its owner Vailia is among my top 5 – make that 3 – very favorite people in the wine business. My wife and I recently paid a visit to Paso Robles, and our two hours in the cellar with Vailia were unforgettable.
The first thing you notice about Vailia is that smile. It’s real; never departing from her face, it reaches all the way to her eyes. That smile is as real as the wines she makes, wines that now fill at least 50% of our small 15 case “cellar” at home. Wines that speak of Vailia equally as much as Paso Robles and the single vineyards she sources from. Wines that perfectly speak of varietal – she works with so many, so unique – and, just as important, wines that allow each unique vintage to share their story. Vailia is a tremendous winemaker. As such, she thoroughly understands and respects her role as steward.
Working with some of Paso Robles’ great single vineyards and perfectly tended vineyards, Vailia has shown me bottles of shockingly delicious blends spanning multiple vintages. My first experience has turned into a vertical of “Sackcloth & Ashes”, a multi-site, multi-varietal blend which I first encountered with the 2012 vintage. Now into my fourth vintage, I will attest that this striking wine – Cabernet, Petit Sirah, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec; hailing from the Happy Canyon, Coghlan, Roadrunner, Santa Barbara Highlands and Vogelzang vineyards – is one of the most profound of its type; worth 2-3 times what we pay.
Then there’s the vertical of “Borderlands” I cannot keep my hands off. Another stunning blend – this time equal parts Cab, Cab Franc, Grenache and Syrah – from the Coghlan, Santa Barbara Highlands, Spanish Springs and White Haw vineyards, it is so immensely irresistible that I’ve asked my wife to hide two bottles of each vintage from me. How Vailia bottles such deeply soulful wines at these earthbound prices is one of life’s great mysteries.
But there’s so much more – so VERY much more. So many shockingly delicious versions of Sauvignon Blanc; one that I’ve “blind” tasted my Francophile buddies on and convinced them it was La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (go ahead, look up the price difference). Amphorae fermented and aged wines of every type and description. Barrel fermented, stainless fermented wines based on the same varietal – just so Vailia can follow their evolution. Italian varietals, Spanish varietals – that truly and completely honor their native land while reflecting Paso Robles AND Vailia.
I’ll close now – probably said too much already (just can’t keep a secret) – by encouraging you to (at the very least) sign up for the
the wines will quite possibly change your outlook…