North Coast harvests its wine potential

It’s fall harvest in San Luis Obispo County, and wine-grape growers are exhausted but hopeful their bountiful harvest will ultimately crush to become memorable 2012 wines.

Some vineyards are hidden in the hills beyond the scenic North Coast.

“San Simeon and Cottontail creeks, Santa Rosa and Santa Rita Creek roads, Green Valley off of Highway 46 have grape vineyards,” explained Stuart Selkirk, owner and winemaker at Cayucos Cellars.

Cayucos Cellars, Harmony Cellars, Hearst Ranch Winery, Moonstone Cellars of Cambria and Red Zeppelin Winery in Morro Bay represent some of the scenic coast wineries with tasting rooms.

And more Estero Bay wine bars have emerged. Morro Bay Wine Seller, below Windows on the Water, has added some competition for STAX Wine Bar, next to Giovanni’s Fish Market, and Bella Vino’s Wine & Cheese, near DiStasio’s Italian Ristorante. In Cayucos, there’s Full Moon Wine Bar & Bistro and newly opened Backstage Pass Wine Bar.

“When someone finds out we produce the wines right here, they prefer to stay on the coast and taste and enjoy our weather,” Stuart said.

Cayucos Cellars has produced wine since 1983. East of town, the Selkirk ranch was originally an old dairy. Today, barrels are stacked to age before bottling at the 131 N. Ocean Ave. tasting room.

“We bottle zinfandel, pinot (noir), cabernet, syrah, chardonnay and our blends,” Stuart said.

The pinot grapes are his biggest challenge: “They take constant maintenance and 90 degree weather or mildew creeps in. We produce 500 to 800 cases of aged premium wines annually.”

Cayucos Cellars is a family affair, with its only employees being wife Laura and siblings Clay, Ross and Paige.

Clay is assistant winemaker and tasting room/marketing manager. He explained the cycle of winemaking.

“After harvest picking in the fall, the vines are dormant over the winter,” he said. “About February, pruning is critical to allow the leaves to bud out and train the shoots for proper sunlight. Once the grapes meet the vintner’s satisfaction on the vine, red grapes are picked and separated from their must — stems and seeds — then allowed to ferment naturally for one to two weeks. Finally, before they are barreled, they go through a press, which squeezes the juice from the grapes.”

Stuart admitted Cayucos Cellars’ equipment was “old school,” but it works.

“My investment was only $30,000, instead of $500,000,” he said. “No debt allows us to age our wines longer — three to six years — before bringing them to market.”

“We haven’t had time to talk to each other for weeks,” Clay said. “We pass each other working this year’s harvest or working the tasting room.”

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at judysalamacha@gmail.com or 801-1422.