An Incredible Sense of Place

by Molly Shaugnessy, Supervisor at Neuman Hotel Group, Medford, OR

In today’s saturated marketplace, where standing out is paramount, we can see winemakers reaching to the far edges of fermentation theory to create something unique. But what if the goal was simply to help develop a sense of place?

When I was selected for CAB Camp Paso Robles, I had to wonder how the region’s Cabernet Sauvignon could stand up against the great and mighty Napa Cab that we all know and revere. As someone who lives in a burgeoning wine region myself, I know that the media and public are constantly insisting on a varietal on which a place can hang its hat. But was Paso Robles so bold as to commit to Cabernet Sauvignon, given its close proximity to Napa? I had reservations and a notion that it would be too similar to its more famous neighbor.

After arriving at Eberle Winery, however, I quickly took note of the passion Gary Eberle showed for his wines. The fact that he mentioned Robert Mondavi as his mentor and enological guide suggested my theory might be right, but upon tasting his wines, I noticed a plushness and approachability that I have not found frequently in Napa.

Continuing our journey through Allegretto and Opolo Vineyards, I really started to see what sets Paso apart. At the latter, we were told to check our pretense at the door and come enjoy the wine, food, and company without the stuffiness of technical data and winemaking stats. This was something I and my fellow camp participants struggled to comprehend: Most of us are sommeliers, certified in one way or another, and we live and breathe élevage requirements, maps, and yield data (just to start). But eventually we all let down our hair and relaxed into lively conversation and good wine: This was how Opolo was meant to be experienced.

In the following days, we visited several other properties, including Ancient Peaks Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Hope Family Estate, and JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery. At each of these places, I noticed a breaking down of the snobbery associated with wine. We sat down with producers to eat family style and drink their wines in ample amounts. It was relaxing and engaging. I didn’t feel as though I had to flex my knowledge to fit in.

During the panels we attended with winemakers and owners who talked about their house styles, I noticed the emergence of another theme: As I’d seen at Eberle, Paso wines lean into the plush, fruity, friendly style of Cabernet. Think of a good friend’s house, where you don’t have to knock to come in or get out of your pajamas for breakfast: Paso Cabernets are meant to be enjoyed in comfort.

On the final day of camp, we celebrated a wonderful trip to DAOU Vineyards. Here I expected the highest level of pomp and circumstance; we all dressed up and felt excited driving up to the hilltop estate. But again, we were greeted with such a wonderfully relaxed environment. The beautiful wines were bold but highly drinkable in the current vintage. For a large-format tasting, DAOU welcomed multiple wineries to join the festivities, signaling the last (and most important) underlying theme of Paso Robles: a sense of family.

Local producers worked together through the Paso Robles CAB Collective to put on this incredible event. We witnessed a continued sense of community as they all discussed their struggles, successes, and a shared passion for their location. If you’re wondering the secret to making a winegrowing area a true wine region, this is it: The community must come together in times of strife as well as share in the pride for their accomplishments. I see this in Paso Robles and can taste it in their Cabernet Sauvignon. It makes them unique and able to rival what we might know as the United States’ premier Cabernet region.

When I returned home from this memorable journey, I sat down with an unpretentious bottle of LXV Rosé, having not had a chance to try it on the trip. I had just finished emphatically describing the details of my adventure to my husband and sunk into my lazy chair for a respite. I poured myself a glass of the wine and took a whiff: There it was. Paso Robles came swirling back into the front of my mind. It has an incredible sense of place.