When my husband, Andrew, and I decide on a whim to go wine tasting close to home, we often just hit Highway 46 West or Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles and take our pick from the plethora of wineries along those routes.
But falling into this routine means we’re missing the treasures in Templeton, where there is a solid bunch of wineries flying under the radar. We recently sought out four: Hansen and Sarzotti, hidden on the far-out back roads on the east side; and Venteux and Rotta, nestled in the Templeton Gap, much closer to Highway 101.
No kidding: If you go to Hansen, plan to stay awhile.
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Owner and winemaker Bruce Hansen is quite a jokester, but he’s also serious about his cabernets — and he’ll share these fruits of his labor with you, chat about his life, your life and the wine’s life, and then he’ll share the wines with you once more. “Now try this again,” he’ll say a little while after a new bottle is opened. “Isn’t that different?” It is. What a difference a little bit of time and oxidation makes.
And that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of a visit to Hansen: Not only did we swap stories and laugh through a full wine tasting and more, but I learned something. During a visit to this tasting room years ago, Bruce Hansen advised me to not rinse my wine glass with water (I was a newbie then). And now I know this: Allow a bottle of cabernet to breathe for eight to 10 hours after opening so that it can show its best qualities.
Hansen specializes in estate-grown cabernets, aged three to four years before release. When I visited in late June, he and assistant winery manager Jennifer Jansen were pouring 2009 and 2010 vintages, and preparing to bottle the 2011s. Among the standouts was a 2009 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon ($91), which won double gold at an East Coast wine competition last year. It was smooth, light on the tannins and perfect for the hot summer day.
After completing the regular tasting, Hansen took us and another local couple to chill (and it was wonderfully chilly) in the barrel room. We sampled a young, sweet viognier. We pulled some chairs into a circle. And we talked. And laughed. And had some fantastic wine.
We spent nearly an entire afternoon here. It’s hard to leave when you’re having so much fun.
- Production: 2,000-2,500 cases a year.
- Tasting fee: $10 tasting fee, waived with a bottle purchase.
- Contact information: 5575 El Pomar Drive; 805-239-8412; www.hansenwines.com.
- Tasting room hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Walking into the Sarzotti tasting room is like walking into the arms of family members. “Come in, and enjoy!” they all say, as one puts his arm around your shoulders and ushers you toward the cheese and wine.
That’s not exactly how my entrance went, but it felt just the same.
Husband and wife Jim and Cheryl Sarzotti were pouring in the tasting room the Saturday we visited. They run the small-production winery with son James and daughter-in-law Jenne. It’s truly a family affair, and it feels like one. Much of the work at this winery is done by hand, and they even call on wine club members to help bottle. They make wine “the old-fashioned way,” Jim Sarzotti said.
In the tasting room, everything is right there, even the winery’s barrels. While the tasting counter is small, they made room for a selection of free cheese and crackers. It’s exactly what I needed: Fuel to wine taste.
“What’s your flagship wine?” I asked.
“The best wine is the one that you like,” Jim Sarzotti replied.
With that, I started tasting at the top of the list. He disclosed that the 2007 Vin Tavola ($18) — a blend of 80 percent cabernet and 20 percent syrah — is a favorite. My husband and I decided on the estate grown 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve ($32), for its berry and earthy notes.
- Production: About 1,000 cases a year, with plans to expand up to 20 percent this year.
- Tasting fee: None.
- Contact information: 180 Bella Ranch Road; 805-226-2022; http://sarzottiwinery.com.
- Tasting room hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
There’s a lot of charm at Venteux Vineyards. A vintage truck is parked out front. Adirondack-style chairs made of barrel staves sit on the porch near the tasting room. There’s even a bed-and-breakfast on the22-acre property.
We went to this family-owned winery on the recommendations of two people, including Vanessa North of Luis Wine Bar in San Luis Obispo, who said the 2010 mourvèdre ($34) “is to die for.” Unfortunately, the mourvèdre wasn’t open for tasting (a good chunk of the wines are for purchase only), but there were still eight available to taste on the day we visited. Standouts were Venteux’s only white, the crisp 2012 Fleur Blanc ($26), a Rhône blend, and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($48), which sources grapes from three Westside Paso Robles vineyards.
Venteux also produces a few estate wines, including a 2010 Estate Cuvee ($48), whose tasting description noted “a petite-driven nose of rich forest floor” — which I swear was true!
Venteux dry farms and uses wild yeasts in wine production, according to Sue Evans, who was pouring for us in the tasting room. Add to that its donations to local nonprofit Must! Charities through sales of a GSM blend, Aumone — which means “charity” in French — and there’s a lot to say cheers to.
- Production: 2,100 cases a year.
- Tasting fee: $10, waived with bottle purchase.
- Contact information: 1795 Las Tablas Road; 805-369-0127; http://venteuxvineyards.com.
- Tasting room hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Rotta, one of the first wineries in San Luis Obispo County, is undergoing one of the local industry’s most recent transformations.
While the Rotta brand, established in 1908, will stay intact and true to its traditions, the winery is in the process of releasing a series of higher-end wines under the Siot label. Siot — which gets its name from Adolph Siot, who planted the original vineyard on the property in 1856 — is kicking off with two varietals: chardonnay and cabernet. A Bordeaux blend will follow.
The Siot wines weren’t ready for tasting when we visited Rotta in July. But what was available were the traditional wines that spotlight the Italian-American inspiration for which Rotta is known.
Rotta keeps it simple: There’s a white, a rosé, a red, all in the $17-$20 range. Highlights are the dessert wines, particularly the NV Black Monukka ($31). Black monukka are table grapes primarily used in raisin production, but Rotta has turned them into a sweet, nutty sherry.
- Production: 6,000 cases a year; aiming to boost that to 12,000 with the addition of the Siot label.
- Tasting fee: $10, waived with purchase.
- Contact information: 250 Winery Road; 805-237-0510; www.rottawinery.com
- Tasting room hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.