Wine & Beer

Looking for wine and history? Epoch builds on York Mountain winery’s legacy

Epoch Wine Estates in Templeton specializes in Rhône-varietal red and white blends.
Epoch Wine Estates in Templeton specializes in Rhône-varietal red and white blends.

Anyone who’s spent some time in San Luis Obispo County will likely find something familiar about Epoch Wine Estates’ new tasting room in Templeton.

The sleek, airy space is built on the bones of the old York Mountain Winery, established in 1882 as the county’s first bonded winery. Over the decades, countless customers on their way to a day at the beach in Cambria stopped there to get a jug of wine.

Epoch is known for richly textured Rhône-varietal wines rather than jug wine, but the imprint of the past remains strong.

Proprietors Bill and Liz Armstrong started Epoch a decade ago after purchasing the Paso Robles vineyard that once belonged to Polish pianist and politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The couple replanted the vineyard, purchased a second and began making wine.

But their winery lacked a real home until 2010, when the Armstrongs discovered York Mountain, which had lain in neglect after being condemned after the 2003 San Simeon earthquake.

“Bill wanted a destination with meaning,” winemaker Jordan Fiorentini said. “This brought it full circle, because the York brothers actually made Paderewski’s wine.”

The Armstrongs, both geologists with a passion for history, purchased and customized another production facility on the mountain, opened a temporary tasting space and rehabilitated the old winery, accentuating the original elements with modern enhancements.

Two rock walls — one painstakingly reconstructed piece by piece — stand in their original location, as do wood beams that were once part of the Cayucos pier. Other walls constructed of bricks fired on the mountain were strengthened and stabilized.

The large fireplace central to the old York Mountain tasting space — built by the same mason who gave San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn its distinctive stone features — now frames an open-air courtyard. (The thatched roof that many past visitors recall is gone.)

The revamped space joins an old farmhouse across the road that the Armstrongs restored a couple years ago. Both properties give visitors a taste of the past through old photographs and historical placards adorning the walls.

The Epoch team is also working to revive York Mountain’s 30-acre vineyard — situated just outside the sprawling Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the York Mountain AVA, the state’s second-smallest designated wine-growing area — and propagate old zinfandel vines from the Paderewski vineyard.

While they wait patiently for those efforts to bear fruit, Fiorentini and her crew are producing premium wines that consistently garner high marks from critics using grapes from the Paderewski and Catapult vineyards on the west side of Paso Robles. Many of those wines are fermented in concrete, highlighting the minerality that Fiorentini believes shows the grapes’ more serious side.

Fiorentini, who came from cool-climate winemaking in the Russian River area, describes herself as obsessed with texture as much as flavor – something she represents in visual tasting notes illustrating how the estate’s wines play out on her palate.

Alongside Rhône blends named for traits team members associate with their muse, Paderewski — Ingenuity, Creativity, Veracity — each year yields a varietal-spanning yet surprisingly harmonious Estate Blend that Fiorentini calls “a snapshot of the vintage and our vineyard practices.”

But assembling a wine from the varying flavors of multiple vineyards and even different blocks is more like piecing together a puzzle, something that’s reflected in Epoch’s labels.

“They’re all blends,” Fiorentini said, “even if it’s just one varietal.”

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at or on Twitter @sallybuffalo.

Epoch Estate Wines

7505 York Mountain Road, Templeton

805-237-7575 or

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

The scene: An inviting mix of old and new in a spacious tasting room with views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Visit three impressively large Percheron horses in the barn down the hill.

The offerings: Rhône-varietal red and white blends.

Expect to spend: $20 to taste four wines, waived with $50 purchase; $30 for appointment-only, flight-style tasting, waived with three-bottle purchase. Bottles $30 to $65.

2017 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience

Taste Rhône-varietal wines from 45 Paso Robles-area wineries in a walk-around tasting Feb. 19 at Broken Earth Winery, 5625 Highway 46 in Paso Robles. The tasting, which takes place 1:30 to 4 p.m., is preceded by a seminar and luncheon. Admission to the tasting and silent auction is $35; add the seminar and lunch for $90. For details, go to