When Doug and Sabrina Kruse started looking for ranch property in the Paso Robles area 12 years ago, they had two priorities. The first was finding a place where they could start a family, a place without the congestion, pollution and pop culture of their Southern California home.
“We didn’t want to raise kids where you can see the air,” Sabrina says of the smoggy Los Angeles skies. “We just wanted them to have a healthy place with room to roam.”
Their second priority was to find land where they could plant and grow grapes — something Doug and his brother had done for years on their small vineyard in Ontario. But he wasn’t interested in just any grape: “We were absolutely in love with pinot noir, so we wanted pinot property.”
While pinot noir has been successfully grown in Edna Valley and the Santa Maria areas, “Paso pinot” is somewhat an oxymoron for the North County, where the warm climate is generally not conducive to growing cool-climate pinot varieties. But when Doug saw the 75-acre JRK Ranch on the far west side of Templeton, he knew he found the property he was seeking.
Just seven miles from the coast, on the southern end of the Santa Lucia Range, the ranch — now known as Kruse Vineyards — is located in the Templeton gap. Situated in a microclimate, the vineyard receives heavy coastal influence: cool morning fog burns off in early afternoon, and the coastal breezes that flow every afternoon cool the fruit down in the summers.
Now, Kruse confidently says, “You can grow pinot in Paso.”
At first the couple wanted just to grow fruit and to sell it to other local wineries. Then, after harvesting their first crop, they decided to hold back a half ton and start trying to make their own wine. The Kruses did the same the second year, and with help from other generous westside winemakers such as Matt Trevisan, they started seriously learning the craft of winemaking. When they got bonded in 2002, they still didn’t know what direction they were heading.
“We thought, we’ll see where it goes,” Doug explains. “We’ll make a couple hundred cases and hopefully we’ll be able to give it away. And that’s what started it.”
Named for the road it is located on, Jack Creek Cellars is now making about 2,500 cases of wine each year from 40 planted acres. The Kruses opened their tasting room on the winery property last October, and rather than giving their wine away, they sell more than 90 percent of it to wine club members and tasting room customers. The other 10 percent goes to a select group of wine shops and restaurants on the Central Coast, as well as in Hawaii and Las Vegas.
And although the couple adamantly dislikes the whole idea of “chasing scores,” they recently got an unsolicited 92 points in the Wine Enthusiast for their 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve.
Along the way, the Kruses haven’t forgotten about their first priority: the family. A year after moving to Templeton they had their first child, daughter Cara. Two years later, son Zach came into the family. Both children are interested in winemaking, with 11-year-old Carra often helping her father in the winery in the morning before school and 9-year-old Zach already proclaiming that he will someday be the winemaker. “And he really has a sensitive palate,” Sabrina says.
If it all seems like a bucolic fantasy, for the Kruse family it definitely is. Decisions such as the strategy not to sell to distribution and outside the area are driven mostly by their desire not to have to travel and leave the children. Their decision to open a tasting room on the property was driven by their desire to stay close to the kids on weekends — the house, winery and tasting room are all just a few steps from one another.
“We are now living what was once a dream,” Sabrina says. Of both the winery and her family, she says, “It is truly a labor of love and passion.”
Jack Creek Cellars
Owners: Doug and Sabrina Kruse
Winemaker: Doug Kruse
Cases produced: 2,500 in 2008
Address: 5265 Jack Creek Road, Templeton, 93465
Mark your calendar for holiday events at wineries
The next two weekends will be filled with dozens of holiday open houses and other winery events in Paso Robles, offering everything from mulled cider and wine-filled chocolates to holiday cookies and Christmas music. Special pricing is featured at many of the wineries, and most of the events and tastings are complimentary. The events are too many to list here, but a complete listing is available on www.pasowine.com.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org