Amy Butler Talks about Carignan

This is another new venture for us at – video!

We went to the 2014 Garagiste Festival in Pasa Robles and caught up with some amazing women in wine, not least of all was Amy Butler. We first ran across her at an Hospice du Rhone, back when she was working at Edward Sellars. Now, she’s the consulting winemaker at LXV (a post that will be coming soon) and has her own label, Ranchero Cellars.

Amy’s big thing is the carignan grape (also spelled carignane). We’ll let you look at the video to tell you why. We’ve tasted the wine and it was awesome!

Celebrating Grenache and Grenache Day with Steve Anglim

Bet you didn’t know that Friday, September 19 is Grenache Day. Truth be told, we didn’t either until Anne got the press release from the International Grenache Association.

But we did happen to have an interview with winemaker Steve Anglim, of Anglim Winery, talking about Grenache. And we thought while everyone else is tasting and tweeting #GrenacheDay, we’d jump into the fray with our interview.

Steve Anglim at a recent tasting event.
Steve Anglim at a recent tasting event.

One of the two ways folks end up as winemakers is that they start out as home winemakers, get hooked and work their way into becoming pros – and that’s Anglim’s story, as well. His daughter got him started when she bought him a winemaking kit for Father’s Day. It didn’t take long for Anglim to start making wine directly from grapes (he even belonged to the Cellarmasters, the same home winemaking club that we belong to), and finally landed in Paso Robles, California, opening his winery in 2002 and specializing in what are called the Rhone varieties, which include mouvedre, syrah and, of course, grenache.

“Grenache is both virtuous and difficult,” Anglim said. “It’s difficulty comes from- It needs to be very actively managed and grown or it produces a wine of rather non-descript and somewhat uninspiring character.”

In the right conditions, he explained, the vines get a little too exuberant and put out tons of fruit. Now, that sounds like a good thing, but often when a vine over-produces, the fruit flavors get diluted and blah. And that means non-descript or uninspiring wine, or as Anglim put it, “Gallo Hearty Burgundy.”

But Anglim went on to point out that when the grenache vines are made to struggle, the fruit they produce is much nicer.

“Generally, it will be a bright cherry [flavor], a vibrant character to the wine,” Anglim said about what you can find in a bottle of grenache. “If you’re in the premium section, you would expect more color development, more richness, more layers.”

Anglim in his tasting room. That’s his wife Steffanie Anglim serving the other two customers.

As for what to eat while drinking grenache, you don’t want something too light or too heavy, Anglim said.

“Anything in the middle of the menu,” he said. “Pork, lamb always works. You can do pasta with any kind of sausages.”

We also find that a lighter grenache does very nicely paired with food that has a sweeter edge to it, and Anglim agreed, but added that you can’t count on it.

“For me, grenache is very funny and we see this when we’re doing the blends,” he said. “Sometimes grenache doesn’t like to sleep with its friends.”

In short, he’ll have what seems like a perfect grenache to blend with its traditional partner mourvedre only to find that the wine doesn’t blend at all well.

So give your grenache a quick taste before deciding what to have for dinner. Or just drink it.

We tasted Anglim’s 2011 grenache in his tasting room and Michael thought it was a good full wine – not at all pale, with a savory herbal element alongside the pomegranate and red fruit character and a hint of oak. We do have another bottle in the wine fridge at the moment. The debate now is whether to open it or find some other grenache to enjoy for Grenache Day.



Jason Haas – Tablas Creek Rosé Heaven

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek and nice pink stuff

We’re having an insanely good lunch at the Hospice du Rhone on the last day of April – duck confit, goat cheese, roasted veggies (food was catered by The Girl and The Fig, of Sonoma, California), and it’s the rosé lunch, partly sponsored by the Synidcat de Tavel, where they make some of the world’s greatest dry rosés.  Every table had five Tavels to share.

So what does Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Winery, go around and do?  Plops down random bottles of the Tablas Creek 2009 rosé.  Thank you, Jason.  Was that good stuff!  And given that we had the best of an entire region to compare it to, it compared quite favorably.  We can’t say that any one of the wines was better than the others because they were all fabulous.

Anne then got out her trusty voice recorder and caught Haas sitting down for a chat about making rosé.  As he noted, it’s a pretty simple process.

One of the nice things about the rosés is that they’re very straight forward to make,” Haas said.  “You make your decision as to which lots you want to use. You bleed ’em off. You stick them in stainless steel and they’re done three weeks later.”

Well, actually, there are two ways to go.  Keeping in mind that most grape juice is white, red wines and rosés get their color from the grape skins.  Red wines are fermented with the grape skins and the juice.  Juice that becomes rosé sits on the skins for only a day or two.  Then, if that particular batch of wine is only going to be rosé, the grapes are pressed and the pink juice is made into wine.  Or, if the winemaker wants to punch up some of the fruit flavors in a more typical red wine, some of the juice is bled off after a day or two and either tossed (feh) or made into rosé.

So which way do they do it at Tablas Creek?

“It’s actually half and half,” Haas said.  “We have a section of the vineyard that we dedicate to making the rosé. We co-harvest and co-ferment about four rows of mourvedre, grenache and counoise. And use that as the base of the rosé. It’s actually our original nursery block that we planted to get more vines to plant the rest of the vineyard. So that’s the base of the rosé, and then we supplement that with mourvedre and grenache saignées from other lots of the vineyard. [Saignées are]bleed offs from the fermentation.”


The bleeding off, however, is not about the reds, Haas said, “Because we really like rosé. It would honestly make our lives a lot easier if we didn’t have to do it. But we love the rosé so much that we always scour the cellar for lots that we feel like we can bleed a little bit of wine off without making them too intense.”


The result was yummy.  Stay tuned for tasting notes to come.

Rounding Up the Paso Rhone Rangers

Well, we’re back home and mostly recovered from checking out the 30-odd wineries present at the 2010 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience, which happened this past Sunday.

It was a particularly good day for us. We caught up with some old friends, discovered a new-to-us boutique winery and that’s before we got to the event tasting!

The Rhone Rangers is a national education and advocacy group of about 200 wineries and other folks dedicated to educating the wine-buying public about wines made from the 22 varieties of grapes that come from France’s Rhone Valley. The principal grapes are syrah, grenache and mourvedre on the red side, with viognier, roussanne and marsanne on the white. The wine we Californians are producing do tend to heavier and fruitier than, say, a Chateauneuf du Pape (one of the major producing areas in the Rhone Valley, it’s pronounced shah-toe-nerf doo pop and means the Pope’s new castle).

But one of the things we’re getting excited about is that more and more wineries are working toward developing a food-friendly style that’s closer to the original French style. And we certainly saw that at Sunday’s event, put on by the Paso Robles chapter of the Rhone Rangers.

Imagine two rooms, with tables ringing the walls, and behind each table is someone from a winery pouring wine into your glass and trying to talk over the noise in the room and answer questions, while you’re trying to balance a wine glass, your notepad and pen, and… It’s a real blast.

We did get in on a press pass because these events are about selling wine and introducing people to some of the smaller wineries that are not as easily found on the magic maps. As for who we tasted, well, we’ll be posting those over the next few weeks. But if you want to check out the Rhone Rangers, click here for their website. And, no, we did not taste all the offerings, nor can we get to every event out there. Our livers would never forgive us.

Exploration Fun

This being the middle of the harvest, we’re pretty busy here at OddBallGrape.  Put almost 1,500 miles on the car last week and the week before in three trips to Paso Robles, California, to go pick and bring back cabernet franc, syrah, primitivo, vernacchia and merlot grapes for our own home winemaking efforts.

And, gee, since we were in the heart of the Central Coast wine country and since there just happen to be…  (ahem) a few wineries up there (like almost 100) and on the way back through the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills.  Yeah, we did a little tasting here and there, catching up on some old friends and making a couple new discoveries.

Some of those will be featured in future posts, but we did want to mention the fun we had at Wild Horse winery in Templeton, which is just south of Paso Robles.  Yes, Wild Horse is a label you can find in your local grocery store – Trader Joe’s, in particular, carries it.  So normally, we wouldn’t have bothered.  But since it’s right next door to our merlot grower and since we’d heard that wine maker Clay Brock, formerly of Zaca Mesa, had joined the crew there (and we really liked Clay’s wines), we thought, what the heck.

The thing with Wild Horse is that this is where wine maker Kenneth Volk got his start, and he’s the one who instituted their blaufrankisch and negrette programs.  They also make a white from a grape called malvasia.  And it’s also where we got interested in odd ball grapes – we loved the blaufrankisch, and you can’t get it at the store.  It’s only available in the tasting room.

We’d been back since Volk had moved on to start his own label, about a couple, three years ago, and were sad to see that there was no blaufrankisch available.  Huzzah, huzzah, it’s back now.  Along with negrette and malvasia.  And we don’t have notes because we went in just for the fun of it.

However, it is a lesson in wine tasting.  While avoiding the supermarket labels has its place, it’s sometimes worth it to check out the tasting rooms of such wineries anyway.  Some of them have wines you can’t get in the supers, including varieties you don’t see anywhere else.  In fact, it was Blackstone Winery that introduced us to tannat – and they are one of the biggies out there.

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure and transparency, the guy in the tasting room at Wild Horse comped us for the tasting fee as being part of the trade.  We don’t think he heard us talking about the blog, but we were talking about being home winemakers, so….

Robledo 2006 Pinot Blanc

Pinot blanc, one of the 22 varietals common to the Rhone region of France, has become a star in its own right.  Here in California, there are a few plantings in Paso Robles and Lake County.  And it was from Lake County that the Robledos got their grapes for their 2006 bottling.
The aroma of peach and related stone fruits fills the glass with a hint of something special and different. That something is the gooseberry and grapefruit flavors that blend with the peach taste.  This is a cool region grape, but there is no grassiness like you often find in a sauvignon blanc grown this way. This pinot blanc is dry and has a lush mouthfeel.
The Robledo pinot blanc is a good wine to serve with a soft buttery brie, water crackers and fresh fruit. Or chilled and paired with fresh mozzarella on sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and balsamic.  Either one would nicely liven up an outdoor concert at a park near you.

Halter Ranch – Growing the Good Stuff

Courtesy Halter Ranch
Courtesy Halter Ranch

Every so often, it doesn’t hurt to remember that wine is, ultimately, an agricultural product and that you get grapes by farming them.  Fortunately, when Mitch Wyss came in to grow grapes for Halter Ranch Winery owner Hansjorg Wyss, he came in as a farmer.  However, one with not much experience growing wine grapes.

“It was a real trial by fire,” said Leslie Wyss, Mitch’s wife.  But Mitch is still there and it’s not because of a family connection.  He and Hansjorg are not related.  Leslie explained that Mitch is of Swiss ancestry and Hansjorg is Swiss.

“It’s not an uncommon name there,” Leslie explained.

She said that they are farming 250 acres, but their production is actually rather small, about 5,000 cases.  The wine, itself, is made by winemaker Bill Sheffer.  Leslie said that one of the reasons the grapes are so good is the soil, which is rich in limestone, not unlike some of France’s most renowned grape-growing regions in Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.

Courtesy Halter Ranch
Courtesy Halter Ranch

“We’re growing Bordeaux varietals and Rhone varietals that are really nice,” Leslie said.  “But I think we’ll mostly be Rhone.”

The main Bordeaux varietals, of course, are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, with syrah being the best known of the varieties of grapes grown in the Rhone Valley.

Halter Ranch is located on the west side of Paso Robles, on Adelaida Road.  You can find their website here.