There are over 35 varietals of grapes planted in the Paso Robles AVA, making up over 26,000 acres. Varietals differ from common, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, to obscure, such as Albarino. The kinds of grapes planted in a certain area can give you a real sense of place: what the weather is like, soil conditions, and more. So what do we have planted and why? I explore that here!
Paso Robles is well-known for producing great wines from varietals originating in the Rhone region of France. Currently, we have three Rhone varietals planted on the vineyard: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. This Spring, we will be adding one more: Viognier. We also have a traditional Bordeaux varietal, Merlot, planted and will be adding Cabernet Sauvignon this Spring as well. If you are curious about the differences between the varietals and why they work on our vineyard, read on!
There are currently 326 acres of Grenache planted in San Luis Obispo County, two acres at Paso de Record Vineyard. Originating in the warm climate in the South of France’s Rhone region, this grape is generally used in blends. We use it, combined with Syrah, for Randy’s Red. Another common use for the Grenache grape is to make dry rose wine, delicious in the Summer! The wines made from this grape are typically rich and high in alcohol, because of the high sugar content achieved before harvest, and contribute a wonderful fruit component when blended with more refined grapes such as Syrah. You typically get lots of bright fruit flavors, specifically cherry, in wines made with the Grenache grape.
The Syrah grape also originates in France’s Rhone region, but does well in both warm and cool climates. There are 2,770 acres of this versatile grape planted in San Luis Obispo County, which approximately 2,600 are in the more specific Paso Robles region. We currently have eight acres of Syrah and will probably plant more in the future. Syrah is a hearty grape with thick skin that does well in most climates. The flavor profiles of wines made from Syrah can differ greatly depending on the climate they were grown in. Warmer climate Syrahs typically have flavors of dried fruit, dark fruit, pepper and cured meats, and with an abundance of tannin, contributes structure when blended with fruitier varietals such as Grenache and Mourvedre. This grape is an important part of Randy’s Red but will also make a solo debut with the release of the 2010 wines this Summer.
Mourvedre is another varietal grown extensively throughout France and even Spain. While there are no specific number on the amount of Mourvedre grown in San Lis Obispo County (or the Paso Robles region) it is one of several red varietals that make up 150 acres of “other varietals” grown throughout the county. We planted one acre in the Spring of 2011 and are planning to plant one more in the Spring of 2012. We plan to use this grape to blend with the Syrah and Grenache to make a traditional GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre) blend that are so popular in France, Australia, and now California! Mourvedre typically adds a spicy characteristic to these blends and on it’s own displays more spice and herbal characteristics than fruit.
Merlot is one of the most popular red grapes grown in the world. Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, there are 4,244 acres planted in San Luis Obispo County, 25 of those acres are at Paso de Record. Near perfect growing conditions are a must for a good Merlot crop. Even ripening is important to ensure lush flavors that are not overwhelmed by an herbaceous quality that occurs when the grapes are either under or over-ripe. This traditional varietal is typically soft, fruity and known for its great approachability. There are a range of flavors associated with Merlot, but we like the rich, bright, fruit that is achieved in our wine.
Probably the only more popular red grape than Merlot would be Cabernet Sauvignon. Widely planted throughout the Bordeaux region in France, it is also the most widely planted red grape in California. Currently, there are 9,540 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in San Luis Obispo County, all of which are in the Paso Robles region. Typically more complex than Merlot, this varietal is rich in color and flavor. We will be planting 6 acres this Spring and have not decided yet if we will be bottling a Cab or selling all of the fruit. Other vineyards in our area grow Cabernet Sauvignon and we find them to be delicious!
The lone white grape varietal, we are planting two acres this Spring. Confined to the Rhone Valley in France, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that this varietal became popular in other regions. There are currently 333 acres planted in San Luis Obispo County. This varietal does well in the warm climate of Paso Robles and is more well-suited to the area than other popular white varietals such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (although those are minimally planted in the region as well.) Viognier typically has a wonderful floral aroma and stone fruit characteristics. Sometimes, Viognier is co-fermeted with Syrah to add to the aroma of the wine. We are excited to experiment with this versatile grape!
I hope this quick education on the different varietals on our vineyard provides some insight to what is going on at Paso de Record, today and in the future!