On any given day, it’s hard to know which hat Steve Glossner will be wearing.
He could be tinkering with Ethyl, the 500-liter German still where he makes liquor both for his spirits label, Pendray’s Distillery, and his line of port-style wines, PasoPort Wine Co.
He could be down at Steinbeck Vineyards’ new production winery on Paso Robles’ east side, checking on fermentations or blending wines for Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery or Guyomar Wine Cellars.
He could be out scouring vineyards for promising new grape sources, tending to his own new vineyard property or checking on the few plantings of little-known Portuguese varietal grapes he uses in his newest label, Per Caso Cellars.
But most likely, Glossner is doing little bit of each.
“There’s always something to be done,” he said.
It’s tough to believe Glossner would have it any other way. He sometimes refers to himself as a dinosaur for his allegiance to Old World, old-school winemaking, but he’s forever introducing something new, launching new projects and learning new tricks.
“He’ll never stop,” said his wife and business partner, Lola Glossner.
A wine-country pioneer
Various pioneers have propelled Paso Robles’ wine industry over the years, but few have been involved in as many trail-blazing ventures as Glossner.
Early in his career, he was hired as winemaker at Justin Vineyards & Winery, also in its early years.
Glossner quickly helped put the Paso Robles winery — and Paso Robles as a whole — on the map by winning a coveted international award, the Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for best blended red wine, for his 1994 Isosceles.
As Glossner managed a winery that went from producing 7,000 cases each year to 30,000, he also made the base wines that went into the 1997 Isosceles. It was the first Paso Robles offering to make Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 wines of the year — coming in at No. 6 in 2000 — further elevating the region’s profile.
Glossner then succeeded John Munch as winemaker at Adelaida Cellars, another of the region’s influential early wineries. “For John, everything was an experiment,” said Glossner, who held that post for a few years.
In 2002, Glossner was hired to start the wine program for Halter Ranch Vineyard, creating the new Paso winery’s initial portfolio and developing a sizable and diverse vineyard property.
He’s kicked off winemaking efforts at several other properties — Denner Vineyards and Kiamie Wine Cellars on Paso Robles’ west side, to name just a couple.
“Starting something from scratch is fun,” Glossner said. “Anything is possible.”
Glossner’s early experiences as a winemaker led to a realization: “I’m not a very good employee,” he acknowledges.
Glossner likes to do things the way Glossner likes to do them. He doesn’t use shortcuts and prefers time-honored techniques, releasing wines only when they’re truly ready.
That’s a good strategy for making distinctive, age-worthy wines, but less good for growing a larger-scale winery.
“I wanted to do something on more of a smaller scale than a larger scale, with a more personal investment,” he said.
Adventures in port, spirits and sparkling wine
For the last decade, Glossner has found a more fitting path working as a consulting winemaker for various labels — including a project with Leon Chen, a Taiwanese exporter with a vineyard in Paso Robles — and pursuing his own projects, of which his wife is a central part.
After 17 years in corporate aerospace in the Los Angeles area, Lola Glossner was looking for something new and nurturing a passion for wine. When a potential partnership in a wine business fell through around 2006, she figured she’d work a harvest and got hooked up with her future husband.
“Within three weeks, we both knew,” she said.
Fate runs deeper: The reason she got interested in Paso Robles was a bottle of Justin Isosceles.
“I found out he was the one who made the wine that got me up here,” she said. “It’s like it was meant to be.”
At the time in 2006, no one in Paso Robles had a port brand. So Steve Glossner decided to try his hand at it, using the traditional Portuguese varietals.
PasoPort now makes a range of award-winning ports, fortified with brandy and aged in oak barrels. Each label is graced with its own 1940s-era pin-up girl.
“Steve wanted to go back to the time when port was more popular, post-Prohibition times,” Lola Glossner said, “to bring that feel back.”
Her husband followed his adventures in port-making with a self-taught course in making sparkling wine, a personal favorite.
Soon after, the Glossners became early players in the local distilling game, adding a still in 2013 so they could handcraft their own brandy for the port.
Once he got the hang of distilling, the pair started Pendray’s — Lola Glossner’s maiden name — and began producing port barrel-aged brandy and grappa. Later, they added three liqueurs made with local ingredients: a sweet orange, a rich plum and spiced walnut.
The most recent addition to the portfolio, Per Caso, came by chance — the name’s translation from Italian.
Steve Glossner started making the label’s wines for owners Lynne and Dave Teckman in 2007 and acquired Per Caso when they decided to sell in 2014.
Under the label, Glossner shows his deft hand with a range of varietals, from vibrant albariño and a rare Paso-grown chenin blanc to bold Bordeaux, plush pinot and beguiling blends.
Most distinctive are the earthy, bright nebbiolo and uncommon Portuguese varietals: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão and Souzão, mingling enticing herbs with rich, dark fruit and cocoa.
While many wineries are pouring their 2016 reds, a “new release” in the Glossners’ scenic tasting room is more likely a 2014. Their more recent siblings are still resting away in barrels for a few more years.
But there’s always something new fermenting at the Glossner property, atop a hill with expansive views of the Paso Robles countryside.
They are releasing a rosé of grenache in the spring, as well as a port rosé, blended from their red and white versions. Pendray’s is coming out with an apple brandy and apricot liqueur.
Chen, the Taiwanese exporter, may want to launch stateside production.
And there’s the Glossners’ recent purchase of the neighboring 10-acre vineyard, originally intended to be used for Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena Winery. They might replant some of the vines and begin farming the vineyard organically.
Glossner’s not the kind of guy to turn down a new project. “It’s energizing,” he said.