Touring: Rediscovering Edna Valley

Photos by Christopher SmithSeptember 28, 2010 

I recently moved up to Paso Robles and while enjoying the wineries in my new backyard, I missed the crisp whites and spicy reds that are trademarks of Edna Valley vintages. So I set out to rediscover the wines that started my wine journey six years ago.

My first stop was Sextant winery. With our picnic lunch in hand, my husband and I toured the quaint, quiet town site that is Old Edna. We drank in cool relief from the heat while walking around the barn, tree house, large bunny hutch and bed and breakfast before settling on a hidden nook to eat our lunch.

Inside the main building is the Sextant tasting room and deli that serves a light fare of sandwiches, paninis, salads and sides such as blueberry coleslaw. At the tasting bar, we started with the 2007 Beachcomber, a Rhone-style white with a mineral taste that ended up being my favorite, followed by two chardonnays and a small production 2007 pinot noir.

As we moved into the zinfandels (one spicy, one jammy) and Bordeaux-style blend, the wines just kept getting bigger in taste. The winery also let us try a lot of wines that were not on the list, which I always appreciate, but I was disappointed when I could not find a dump bucket. When I came across a wine that did not suit my palette (which is bound to happen at any winery), I had nowhere to dump it. Maybe they forgot to put them out, but it resulted in an awkward situation.

Our next stop was down the road at Claiborne and Churchill Vintners. Owners Claiborne Thompson and Fredericka Churchill primarily just make wine and source their grapes from outside vineyards, but since I had visited last, the winery has planted two acres of riesling and -- greeting you at the entrance -- one acre of newly planted pinot noir.

A “don’t miss” at Claiborne and Churchill is its facility. The building is a “straw bale building” made up of 16-inch thick walls of bales of rice straw that help maintain the temperature in the winery, leaving no need for air conditioning or heating. The tasting room also seconds as the barrel room/winemaking facility, so temperature control is very important. You can view the hay inside the walls through a “truth window” to the left of the tasting bar.

As expected, the white wines at Claiborne and Churchill delivered. Their 2007 dry gewürztraminer and 2007 dry riesling are both fantastic. The key for us is the word “dry” that keeps the wines fruity but still crisp and, in the case of the 2008 pinot gris, refreshing. Claiborne and Churchill also produces red wines and we found them to be much improved from the last time we visited. Its 2008 tempranillo was light, made from grapes from San Miguel, and its dark 2007 Runestone pinot noir had a nice cinnamon taste to it. Capping off the tasting was the 2009 Douce Amie, an orange muscat sweet wine, appropriately dubbed a hot tub wine.

Our final stop of the day was Wolff Vineyards, where my husband and I are wine club members and we had a shipment to pick up. Wolff Vineyards is a breathtaking place to visit. The tasting room is situated on top of a hill where you can see miles of rolling vineyards. From the shaded outdoor tasting patio, you can even see three of the famed Seven Sisters mountains, including Islay Hill, Bishop’s Peak and Cerro San Luis.

Wolff is a forerunner in sustainable wine practices, specializing in soil management, integrated pest management, water management and energy conservation. The vineyard also boasts a turtle rescue pond, dozens of quail, red-tail hawks and barn owls used for rodent management, and occasional golden eagle sightings.

Our first taste was the 2007 riesling, different and drier than Claiborne and Churchill’s riesling. Its 2008 chardonnay was citrusy, not buttery, as is common. Its 2008 pinot noir was very light in color and taste. The tasting ended with the 2008 petite sirah, but there was nothing petite about the dark color and bold but smooth taste.

A Wolff wine that I can’t wait to try is the upcoming teroldego release. It is currently for wine club members only due to the very small production, but Wolff has recently planted 1,200 new vines to help distribute the wealth. The vines had to sit through quarantine for four long years (to prevent pests or diseases from potentially infecting California vineyards) before making their way to their new home at Wolff, but I am sure the wait will be worth it -- and a great excuse to return to the beautiful Edna Valley.

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