Just 700 yards down Union Road from the large and popular Tobin James Cellars is a tiny boutique winery that can accommodate no more than four customers in its tasting room at one time, and makes just a few hundred cases of wine a year.
Owner and winemaker Dean DiSandro opened his little Rockin’ R Winery tasting room in October, and is the first to admit he’s not your typical winemaker.
“I don’t have any type of pedigree — I didn’t go to Davis to study enology and I didn’t study under some famous winemaker around here,” he said. “I just did it on my own.”
DiSandro, 51, started making wine in his garage more than 10 years ago while still running a software development company in Orange County. When he retired from that career, he set his sights on full-time winemaking, and bought the property on the eastside of Paso Robles in 2006.
The winery is little more than a converted garage itself. He named his wines Rockin’ R, an unconventional name in the formal wine world. “I’m passionate about the arts, and music in particular,” he explained. The singer/songwriter has a band on the side and features his own CDs in the tasting room.
Another reason for the unusual approach was his tiny size. “I had to stand out and be a little different because we’re so small,” he said, adding that he has “zero advertising budget.”
His grapes come from both the east and west side of Paso, and he makes up to a dozen different wines. Most are blends that feature names like “My Way,” “Pink Freud” and “Who R You?”
“All the names are collaborations,” DiSandro explained, “just like the blends in the wines themselves.” Atypically, again, he deliberately doesn’t disclose what grape varieties are in each blend.
“I like the old Super Tuscan model where they just make proprietary blends and don’t necessarily put on the label what grapes they’re using for it,” he said. By not knowing whether it’s a syrah or zinfandel or cabernet, he said, consumers are more open-minded about trying a wine and judging it on its own merits. “That way there’s no preconceived notions,” DiSandro said.
Rockin’ R released 450 cases its first year, and plans to release 700 this year. And although he is small now, that doesn’t mean DiSandro is not dreaming big. On the wall over the tasting-room counter is an architectural drawing showing his future 6,800-foot winery/tasting room. He’s also planning a three-suite bed and breakfast and a sophisticated solar and wine powered energy system.
There is no start date for the construction. With a six-year window in mind, he’s watching the numbers. When asked when he might start, DiSandro smiled and said, “I guess when people decide they like my wine well enough.”
Rockin’ R Winery
8500 Union Road, Paso Robles 93477
Owner/winemaker: Dean DiSandro
Cases produced: 700 this year.
Tasting Room hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cal Poly Wine Festival
This weekend is the 8th annual Cal Poly Wine Festival, taking place Saturday at Santa Margarita Ranch. The student-run event showcases wineries from all over California, as well as local restaurants and caterers. Proceeds from the event support the Wine and Viticulture Program at Cal Poly. For tickets and more information, go to www.calpolywinefestival.com.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.