If you head out onto the De Portola wine trail in Temecula California you won’t be able to miss Leoness Cellars.
The building is statuesque in the rolling hills. The name was originally to be after the two owners wives, but…doubting the success of the endeavor the wives begged out of having it named after them. They settled on Leoness after the Lady Guinevere of Lyoness. The word Leoness means “village of dreams”. Founded in 2003 by Mike Rennie and Gary Winder the founders both came from families in the agriculture business. Many of the vineyards that you see around the valley sport the “Stage Ranch” sign or the Temecula Valley Winery Managementsign. Temecula Valley Winery Management. Together Leoness and Stage Ranch began the TVWM in June of 2007. This facility near Old Town allows smaller wineries a place to produce and store wines as well as having a winemaking lab. In this way Mike and Gary continue to mentor new wineries.
The tasting room at Leoness is immense which is good. During the weekends it is said that patrons line the bar 2 to 3 deep waiting in line for tastings. There is an outdoor patio with an indoor/outdoor fireplace, a lovely and large seating area inside, vaulted ceilings with exposed beams. The walls are painted in a trompe l’oeil style. We did a tasting and tour which afforded us the luxury of beginning our tasting lounging in the seating area. After enjoying tastings of two of their white wines here our tour took us out on the patio to the restaurant area. Their restaurant is open on the weekends. We walked to the beautiful wedding area and then over the trail through the vineyard to the barrel room down the hill. If you are not doing the tour I encourage you to come out and follow the signs for the self guided vineyard tour! They have over 400 acres of vineyards here in the valley, 20 here at the winery.
Tim Cramer is their winemaker. They use a combination of French oak and American Oak Barrels. The American oak is from Minnesota, which makes me think it is a tighter oak as it is grown in a cooler climate.
The barrel room is lovely and large and cool. They use this for special events and due to the high weekend traffic they also open it as a tasting room on weekends for their club members so that they do not have to wait in line up the hill. The grounds are beautiful and filled with flowers. It’s a perfect place on the weekends for an al fresco lunch and tasting!
Another Wine Maker not to miss while visiting Paso Robles. On our last day this trip in Paso Robles we stopped at:
4:00 pmTerry Hoage Vineyard
Carol at Vina Robles suggested we stop here. She said they have great wines and not enough people get by their tasting room. The tasting room, while small was Beautiful! Terry Hoage played football for GA Bulldogs and then the Eagles, as a safety. His College GPA was stellar and he is a brilliant man. He and his wife settled her to raise their family. They have chickens in the vineyard eating the bugs and a lake. The wines here are lite bodied, but full of flavor, nuance, texture and depth. Evan in the tasting room was warm and knowledgable and filled us with great information on the wines and vineyard! A guy in the tasting room (lawyer) suggested Evernote as a great application for taking wine notes. Michael will check it out. It allows you to take label photos.
Evan was the pourer, and very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their wines. This was a passion not just a job, was encouraging, because we had been at a couple of previous stops where the winery just hired a body, who had no real knowledge except how to pour the wine. We tried 2008 Tranche Cuvee $48, 2008 The Pick, Granche Cuvee $48, 2007 The 46, Grenache Syrah based on the 46 defense of Buddy Ryan, 2008 5 Blocks, Syrah Cuvee $48, all Very good complex wines that had body, structure, taste, and subtle nuances. A great find we never would have tried or put on our list without a recommendation.
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This years crop (2011) was low similar to 2009. But the fruit they did get was high quality. They lost all of their Viognier to a spring frost in late April. They turned on the fans to bring down the warmer induction layer of air, but all the air was cold. There was nothing to be done and they lost a good portion of grapes that had budded out early.
We went down to the old nursery. All the vines here were originally from Chateau de Beaucastel and were grafted here onto American Rootstock. He showed us the grafting machine which cuts and omega shaped cut out of the vine stock, you make another cut into an american rootstock of the same diameter and put them together. They typically wax this connection to protect it while it heals together. They are placed in a callous greenhouse room which is maintained at 85 degrees and 85 percent humidity, then move to other green houses to slowly bring down humidity about 3 to 6 months. These are then planted. The post hole digger goes down about a foot and the rootstock is dropped it with most of the vine underground also so that only the top of the newly grafted vine stock is sticking out from the earth.
We talked about grapes and climate and the microclimates that they have here. Steve mentioned a trip to Spain and his worry that the wines would be big bold high alcohol warm climate wines. He found that they were not! They were nuanced and often aged much longer before release than standard wines.
We went into the winery and looked at the tanks. They have quite a few stainless steel tanks which are 3000 gallons (3.5 times a waterbowl Zu folks!) They also have standard barrels, Cuvee which are 1700 gallon wood tanks, larger barrels at 2.5 times the size of a standard barrel and the Foudres which are 1200 gallons. The 120 Gallon Barrels ar called Puncheons , the 160 gallon size are called Demi-muides, roughly double and triple size of regular barrel, so you get a greater ratio of volume to surface area, which means less oak in the wine, and the barrels tend to last longer then smaller barrels. When we had walked in the girl in the tasting room had mentioned that often it felt like the wines were not put into a container by specific design, but rather by need, as there was no where else to put the juice.
Finally filled with tons of fascinating information, it was time to taste.
Early morning touring Tablas Creek Vineyards with Steve Fascinating, Here are the Highlights. All of the vines were sent from Chateau Neuf de Pape they spent 3 years in quarantine before they could graft them to american root stock and plant them. All were grafted in the nurseries on site. They have a staff that monitor’s the vineyards year round so they do not need to depend on over hire during the harvest. They also use legumes as a cover crop to put nitrogen back into the soil, also oats to bring in lady bugs which combat lace wing bugs. The winery is owned in part by the Perrin family of Chateau neuf de pape in france who own the Chateau Beaucastel and Bob Haas who is a wine importer. Chateau Beaucastel does Rhone varietals and found the limestone and climate here on the westside of Paso Robles perfectly suited to growing these varietals. They found 120 acres here in Paso Robles and also farm in an adjacent farm with 160 more acres. They brought 80 cuttings from France which sat in quarantine for 3 years before being approved. They set up a nursery on site and began grafting the cutting to American rootstock. They are for the most part Mourvedre (they have 21 acres of Mourvedre) based with lots of Syrah.
After walking up and looking at the vineyards we went behind the tasting room to look at the limestone wall, which covers the side of the hill which is basically limestone beneath. There is about 6 inches of top soil and the rest is limestone. The 2 foot shales act as a reservoir for the rain. They are turning much of the vineyard to head pruned plants which they find better reflect the terroir. They typically get 2 to 3 tons of fruit per acre. They work hard to maintain high quality compact berries. Head pruned plants while they take more space, produce the same amount of fruit in the same space as trellised fruit. Steve mentioned that the grape roots secrete and enzyme that dissolves limestone allowing the roots to got deeper for water and nutrients. We discussed that this lets them go through more layers of rock and minerals. It has been chemically proven that the vines take in ions and not minerals. So when we say we taste the slate in the terroir, that is not chemically possible, something else is going on there. The vineyards are certified organic and most is meant to be dry farmed. They do have part of the vineyard that is being grown biodynamically. We discussed the care of the vineyard, that the staff is constantly in the fields, clearing, pruning etc… The trellised vines have yet to be pruned and will probably be pruned in February when they are completely dormant. He mentioned that each place where a leaf appeared last year has a bud at the base, which if sliced open would show you miniaturized versions of 3 or 4 grape bunches plush leaves. So next years harvest is already somewhat determined and sitting there on the vines already!