Biz Buzz: Wine alliance raises a glass for James

One of the most colorful figures in Paso Robles wine was honored Friday for his three decades of contributions to the local industry.

Tobin James was given the Wine Industry Person of the Year award for 2010 by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. The award was presented by Gary Eberle at the trade association’s gala event at the Paso Robles Inn.

“Toby was so enthusiastic when he first came to work for me in 1980,” Eberle said before the event. “He went from being the lowest cellar rat to owning one of the premier wineries in Paso Robles.”

James grew up on a vineyard in Indiana. While studying at University of Cincinnati in Ohio, he worked in his brother’s wine shop, where he met Eberle.

Starting as an intern at Eberle’s Estrella River Winery, James moved with him to Eberle Winery. An assistant winemaker, he crafted the first vintage for the Tobin James Cellars label using an extra 6 tons of zinfandel. That 1985 Blue Moon Zin earned gold medals.

As founding winemaker at Peachy Canyon Winery, his 1990 Westside Zinfandel ranked 69 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World list when released.

In 1994, James built his own label’s winery with partners Lance and Claire Silver on a former stagecoach stop off Highway 46 East at the end of Union Road. Reminiscent of an Old West saloon, its tasting room features an 1860s’ mahogany bar from Missouri.

Playing on rumors that outlaw Jesse James may have hidden out with his uncle, Paso Robles co-founder Drury James, its wine club is called the James Gang. It may be the largest in the nation with about 22,000 members. Today, Tobin James Cellars distributes nationally and the winery has become one of the most visible and popular for area visitors.

“His love of the industry still makes him one of the most effective ambassadors of our business that I know,” Eberle added.

James has four children with his wife, Ermie Morones, including a son who is majoring in enology and viticulture at Fresno State University.

The Wine Country Alliance also announced its 2011 board of directors and executive team at its annual dinner.

Alex Villicana of Villicana Winery remains as chairman. Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines was named vice chairman, with Paul Hoover of Still Waters Vineyards moving to the position of secretary-treasurer.

Other board members include: Eberle of Eberle Winery, John Crossland of Crossland Vineyard, Terry Hoage of Terry Hoage Vineyards, Jim Kroener of Silver Horse Vineyard and Winery, Joe Plummer of Plummer Vineyard and Karl Wittstrom of Wittstrom Vineyards.

— Raven J. Railey

No bids for Weyrich Templeton parcels

Forty-seven parcels that foreclosed at Santa Ysabel Ranch in Templeton went back to the lender of Paso Robles businessman David Weyrich on Jan. 4 because no one bid for them.

The auction took place in front of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse through Lafayette-based R.E. Loans Inc.Officials with the company plan to keep the $8.2 million property that they now own and are talking to real estate brokers on how to market the home parcels. Weyrich, trustee of the ranch, has defaulted on a roughly $23 million loan through R.E. Loans that packages the ranch with the Carlton Hotel in Atascadero, which the firm is also foreclosing on.

The firm is still negotiating a forbearance agreement on the iconic hotel, officials said, delaying taking action on the debt owed on it until a time Weyrich and the lenders agree on.

The Carlton is assessed for property tax purposes at about $13 million by the county.

— Tonya Strickland