After buying his first Paso Robles vineyard in 2002, novice grape grower Christian Lazo had an encounter that would remain with him for a long time.
“The first day I was out there working in the vineyard, Doug Beckett rolls up at the end of the day and says, ‘Hey, you’re new here!’ ” Beckett, the owner of Peachy Canyon Winery, then said, “You know, you’ve been doing that wrong all day. But that’s OK. I did the same stupid thing 12 years ago.”
Before he left, Beckett had one more piece of advice for the newbie in a small town in an even smaller wine industry: “Be nice!”
Lazo has followed that counsel ever since, and it has helped him learn the art of growing grapes and making wine. It’s also earned him the respect of his fellow winemakers over the past eight years.
His newest tasting room opened in January in downtown Paso Robles, following previous tasting rooms at Vines on Pine and at the 10th Street Vineyard Café in San Miguel. He is making about 1,000 cases of wine a year from his 25 acres of grapes, along with fruit purchased from French Camp Vineyard and others in the area.
A full-time teacher during the school year, as Doug Beckett also was before devoting his complete attention to wine, Lazo and his wife, Lupe, a preschool teacher, juggle their time between their jobs, the vineyards and winery, the tasting room and their two children.
The first vintage of Christian Lazo wines was made in 2002 in his neighbor’s garage. The next year, he moved to Paso Robles Wine Services, which he compares to a graduate school-style hangout.
“I always knew if I brought enough beer, I could sit in a circle and listen to all these other guys,” Lazo explained. Those “other guys” included Steve Anglim of Anglim Winery, Paul Ayers of San Marcos Creek and Steve Glossner of Justin, to name a few. The soft-spoken Lazo listened and learned and honed his own skills in the winery. “As long as you were quiet and had beer, you could learn a lot.”
Lazo likes “big, jammy, spicy, hit-you-over-the-head” zinfandels, but he also produces cabernet franc, barbera, cabernet sauvignon, petit syrah and sauvignon blanc to appeal to other palates.
He now owns two vineyards totaling 25 acres that he bought from Richard Sauret in 2003 and 2005, and the vineyards and winery are definitely a family operation. If Lupe isn’t in the tasting room, she’s on the road pouring at special events and tastings. Eight-year old son Jacob likes to help with the farming and created the abstract watercolor artwork that is on every label, while daughter Emily, 11, is more interested in the winemaking process and interacting with people.
Lazo plans to keep making wine in his small, on-site facility he built with a “garage wine permit” that requires him to have no employees, and he hopes to increase production to 2,000 cases if the market allows.
“We’ll just see what happens,” he said. “We’re pretty happy where we are.”
Annual Wine Classic under way in Avila
The 26th annual Central Coast Wine Classic is under way in Avila Beach this weekend.
While tickets for many events are sold out, there are still opportunities to participate in this popular event, including winery dinners tonight at the San Luis Obispo Country Club, Edna Valley Vineyards, Eberle Winery and Still Waters Vineyards. Sunday events include the Italian Wine Tasting and the Reserve Tasting, and tickets are available.
For more information, go to www.centralcoastwineclassic.org or call 544-1285.
Christian Lazo Wines
840 13th Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446; 226-8820
Owners: Christian and Lupe Lazo
Winemaker: Christian Lazo
Cases produced: 800 to 1,200 depending on the year
Tasting room hours: Thursday through Saturday & Monday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 12 to 7 p.m.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.