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Cabernet in the Vineyard

April 9, 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape in Paso Robles, and for good reason. Throughout the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is almost unparalleled in its ability to make timeless wines notable for their depth, structure, complexity and rich, abundant fruit. Despite its preeminent stature around the globe, and in the hearts of wine lovers, Cabernet is a relatively young grape, with origins dating back to the 17th century. Based on the research of Dr. Carole Meredith, Cabernet Sauvignon has been identified as a chance crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in southwestern France, with the name ‘Sauvignon’ thought to be derived from the French word sauvage, meaning “wild,” referring to the grape’s heritage as a wild vine.
California Cabernet exploded onto the New World wine stage after the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting, when the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon bested a who’s who of great French Cabernets, including Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. Since then, the legend of California Cabernet has only grown, as have the number of plantings. Today, Paso Robles cultivates more Cabernet Sauvignon than any coastal region outside of Napa Valley. In fact, Cabernet represents roughly 40% of all the wine grapes produced in Paso, with over 10,000 acres planted. Some of the first plantings of Cabernet in Paso were in the late 1960s and early 1970s, under the guidance of UC Davis and legendary enologist André Tchelistcheff in the hills of Adelaida. Like many vintners, we were lured to Paso Robles by some of the Cabernets Gary Eberle was producing at Estrella River Winery in the 1970s.

Since then, Paso has proven a perfect environment for growing Cabernet, for a number of reasons. We growers like to say that Cabernet doesn’t like wet feet. As a result, it thrives in the well-draining sandy gravel and loam soils that can be found throughout our region. These thin soils imbue Paso Cab with a concentration akin to the great mountain Cabernets of the world. Another factor in Cabernet’s success in Paso is our diurnal swing (the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures). In fact, data from 14,000 weather stations around the world reveals that Paso has one of the greatest diurnal swings of any winegrowing region. As a result, warm days and a long growing season bring full berry ripeness and produce mature seed tannins, while removing any green flavors from the grapes. In turn, cool nights enhance color and preserve ideal acidity.

With lots of sunshine and very little annual rainfall (roughly 12 to 14 inches), we are able to control growth at every stage of the vine’s development, resulting in the smaller clusters and berries that produce the amazingly concentrated and flavorful Cabs Paso is known for. Thus, our wines have gorgeous black and red fruit, with layers of blackberry, black cherry, and currant. Just as important, our wines often show a soft to medium tannin profile, making them incredibly enjoyable in their youth, while still having the structure to reward cellaring.

Steve Lohr