Paso Robles Uncorked: Change is the Only Constant

“If you're in a bad situation, don't worry it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry it'll change.” —John A. Simone, Sr.

This famous quote from Heraclitus in the headline and the updated quote from Mr. Simone, Sr. is far truer now than the familiar quote stated many, many years ago. The story of how Halter Ranch wine quality took a sudden leap forward is pretty impressive, from both a 'gossip' and business perspective. As many of you now know, Justin Wines was sold to Fiji Water. A move which I thought was odd, I mean what possible interest could Fiji Water have in acquiring a winery, especially one as iconic as Justin Winery and Vineyards in the now 'famed' Paso Robles winemaking region of central California.

When new ownership comes in, typically no matter how strong the business model and the brand, the temptation to make changes is just too hard to resist. It's likely because of those changes the lead winemaker at Justin moved on, packed up his cardboard box and headed down the road to take a position with Halter Ranch. Like a set of tried and tested tools, he (Kevin Sass) brought those winemaking skills honed at Justin and in my opinion turned the program around at HR, for the better. So much better, in fact, the difference was stark enough that I realized something must have changed.

Before receiving samples the other day from a PR group representing Halter Ranch in Paso Robles; we were all-but strangers. While it's true, that Mrs. Cuvee and I had stopped by there a couple years ago, but we left a bit dissatisfied and really never wanted to re-visit. But now, based on the changes in winemaking practices, we'd relish an opportunity to re-visit, to get to know them better. We did, however, take a bottle of their 2008 Cotes-de-Paso, which I reviewed earlier this year, it really “wowed” me. Whether they knew it or not; I think it could be said, there was a mutual thirst for a change in direction—a primary factor in their selection of their new winemaker, Kevin Sass who has recently come on board after spending eleven years with the wine-savvy folks at Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles.

Kevin commented on his new position as the winemaker of Halter Ranch “I’m excited to be involved in this amazing, long-term project at Halter Ranch. My previous experience with the Halter Ranch estate fruit, combined with a new [soon-to-open], state-of-the-art facility, will allow me to showcase what this property has to offer.” After sampling their Halter Ranch [$28] 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon; a tasty blend with just under 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and nearly equal parts Malbec and Merlot rounding out the flavor profile, I'm really digging their new direction.

Meanwhile back at the ranch. As soon as this wine is uncorked it's dressed to impress, no decanting is needed [but is still recommended] as the wine spilled into my glass beautiful aromatics escaped easily, filling the air with black/red fruit essence, a subtle crème de cassis, slapping my nose with exotic spice, rich earth, and enticing florals. After getting my first big-gulp, delightful and elegant flavors engulf you taste-buds, you'll easily find rich blackberry, currant, anise and subtle oak fla­vors that are dry and complex. This is a great food wine, which will easily pair with many styles and types of food; especially great for summer backyard barbeque's, stylistically a wine made in a drink now and drink often style. I scored this wine 91 points and highly recommend that you give this wine a swirl for yourself.

I asked winemaker Kevin Sass, what he might suggest pairing with the newly released 2010 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon? Kevin’s suggests the wine would best be paired with grilled steak, lamb, prime rib, venison stew, and any other hearty meat dish; it will also age beautifully for another 10-15 years.

If you're interested in visiting for a tasting, they are easily found on Paso's west-side at 8910 Adelaida Road near the intersection of Vineyard Drive, just a short drive from downtown Paso Robles. I'd also invite you to follow them on Twitter, catch up with on Facebook or if you want to see what else they are up to, check out their easy to navigate website, where you can also purchase their wines.

They also sent me a sample of their 2011 Halter Ranch Rosé, which is light, lean and has an appealing crispness, dried rose petals, strawberry and cherry flavors dominate, a wonderfully refreshing wine, well suited for a warm afternoon on the back patio, while tending to barbecue duties. And word has it from the "Ranch" that this wine has been featured in an August 2016 issue of Sunset Magazine alongside seven other, "California-Pinks." Have a great weekend everyone; until next time folks continue to sip long and prosper cheers!


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