Wine Notes: From a mountain to a cellar

Steve Goldman, among the vines next to his tasting room he shares at Sycamore Farms on Highway 46 west, established his own label.
(Photo by David Middlecamp)
Steve Goldman, among the vines next to his tasting room he shares at Sycamore Farms on Highway 46 west, established his own label. (Photo by David Middlecamp) The Tribune

You would think Steve Goldman had it made as a future winemaker.

His father, Max Goldman, owned the York Mountain Winery in the early 1970s, when it was one of only three wineries in the Paso Robles area. But the young Goldman didn’t embrace winemaking then.

“I was in a winemaking family, and I was raised in that same lifestyle,” he says now, “but I never thought I’d become a winemaker.”

That changed after he came home from college and couldn’t find a job. His father had just bought the winery as “his retirement project,” and he couldn’t stand watching his son hang around the house. “He said ‘get off your butt and go up there and do something!’ ” Goldman said. “I said, ‘Oh, what the heck,’ and I gave it a try.”

On his own

For the next 30 years, Goldman worked with his father growing the York Mountain Winery and watching as the Paso Robles area grew into a major winemaking region. In 1983, Goldman and his father created the York Mountain AVA, the same year Paso Robles established itself as an American Viticultural Area.

Along the way, in 1994, Goldman established his own label, Stephen’s Cellar. Originally intended “as a little side thing,” he decided to put more focus on it when the family sold the 240-acre York Mountain property in 2001.

Withholding 20 acres from that sale for himself, Goldman planted his own vineyard in 2002 and built a small winery. Until his vineyard— which he devoted entirely to pinot noir — started producing, he made wine from grapes from neighboring west side vineyards. Many of those vines are more than 25 years old, and some of the vineyards he personally manages, including Moore Vineyard and Stromsoe Vineyard.

Passion for pinot

Goldman’s goal is to make about 3,000 cases of wine a year — primarily focused on pinot noir, with a small portion of chardonnay.

Why pinot noir? “Well, it’s my favorite wine to drink, for sure!” he said. “What we found through the years, after several rootstock trials and clonal trials and winemaking trials, is that pinot noir did the best up there (on York Mountain).”

Stephen’s Cellar, he went from “very tiny” production of about 250 cases, to “small production.”

Fortunately, he had some help. Friend Neil Collins, winemaker for Tablas Creek Vineyard and consultant to many others locally, has always been by his side as “alternating proprietor.” And in 2002, he married Lori Stone, formerly the grower programs manager for the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association.

While he describes his winery as “a mom-and-pop operation,” he has successfully established distribution in seven states and last August opened a tasting room on Highway 46 West.

Goldman shares space with the Lone Madrone tasting room at the Sycamore Farms herb garden. Owners Bruce and Sandy Shomler rebuilt the facility last year after a devastating fire the year before.

Now the two wineries share a single tasting bar, and customers can go back and forth between Lone Madrone and Stephen’s Cellars wines. The winemaker for Lone Madrone is, by no coincidence, Neil Collins.

“The neat thing about it is that Neil’s style of winemaking and the varieties he uses is totally different from what I do,” Goldman said “so we really complement each other.”

‘Not about numbers’

As he plans to turn 60 this year, Goldman says he has learned some lessons along the way. As for wine competitions, he says, “I used to enter every competition out there. Now I enter the ones that I feel have a good judging criteria.”

Recently the winner of multiple gold and silver medals at the San Francisco Chronicle competition, Goldman says it’s not about the numbers. “I’m not out to collect medals, I’m out just to get an idea of how my wines are doing. It helps me determine if I’m on the right track or not.”

And as for the tremendous growth of the Paso Robles wine industry he has witnessed in the past 35 years, he observes, “It’s great. Now, this area is really on the map.” Asked about recent magazine articles proclaiming Paso Robles to be the “next Napa,” Goldman said. “Nothing could ever compare to Napa, and Napa can never compare to Paso Robles.”

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