A Love Affair with Viognier

by Susan Evans – winemaker, Shadow Run Vineyards & Winery

My assessment of any winemaker’s talent is always enhanced tenfold when I discover that she or he can create a beautiful white wine.  Creating a luscious, nuanced white is a thin cord balancing act built on both science and art.  The natural delicacy of a white wine quickly reveals flaws that cannot be smoothed away by time in oak, or softened with age.  Guiding a white wine to maturity requires a refined approach:  a constant vigilance to retain the delicate flavors and the fruit and floral nose that are the hallmark of a great white wine.  And when the flavors are layered and complex, with each sip revealing yet another hue, then I am in white wine heaven.

I have the great fortune to work primarily with Viognier, also known as the winemaker’s grape for its elusive qualities.  A great Viognier should reveal layers of stone fruit including apricot, white and yellow peach, perhaps lychee, or honey.  The characteristic Viognier nose is floral, with scents of honeysuckle and white flowers.  My favorite wine writer, Karen MacNeil describes Viognier as “Chardonnay’s ravishing exotic sister.”  So true.  But when Viognier grapes are allowed to ripen too long on the vine, the result can be a wine that is oily, with high alcohol and insufficient acid to balance the rich flavors.  Harvest too early and the resulting wine shows more citrus and acid, resembling a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from California’s Monterey County (a lovely wine, but not the flavors we want in a Viognier).  That precise harvest moment seems to arrive and depart very quickly, and missing that perfect balance of flavors and acid can leave the winemaker with less than ideal grapes and dreaming about the next vintage, another chance for the dream wine.

Viognier’s fame originated in the tiny appellations of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet located in the Northern Rhone region of France.  Combined, these two appellations cover about 280 acres.  Today, California is the largest producer of Viognier, with approximately 3,000 acres planted.  Compare that however to the acreage of Chardonnay planted in California (approximately 93,000 acres) and it is quickly apparent that Viognier remains a rare find.

Violinist Viognier - Shadow Run Vineyard - Paso Robles

Frankly, I work harder and spend more capital on our white wines, specifically our Viognier.   I think about them more, I worry about them more, I love them more.  Our Viognier is fermented in huge French oak puncheons in a cold environment and then aged on the “lees” that is, on the spent yeast cells.  While the wine is aging in barrel, we stir the lees three times a week to enhance the body and mouthfeel of the wine, hoping to again capture that creamy mid palate that has become a hallmark of Shadow Run whites.

Viognier is my passion.  And the search for the best expression of this beautiful wine never ends.  Each year I have the chance to try yet again to create that wine that will satisfy my dreams of the perfect Viognier.  Happily I will never make the perfect white, so I am driven to try again and again.

Veraison – the ripening of the berries

early veraison at Rails Nap - Paso Robles
Early veraison of Syrah at Rails Nap Vineyards & Winery

It’s August, and like you, we’ve been enjoying the long, warm, leisurely days. The vineyards in Paso Robles wine country have been kicking back too, soaking up all that glorious sun that allows the berry ripening to happen – the magic of “veraison”. Besides being an indication that harvest is not far off, veraison also provides a spectacular display of color in the vineyard. Each wine grape variety ripens at a different rate, with red wine grapes turning red or purple and white wine grapes turning a golden yellow. Besides the gradual change of color, during veraison the grapes also increase in volume, weight and sugar content.

Knowing exactly when to harvest the fruit depends on the winemaker’s knowledge of and preference for sugar levels, pH and acidity. With each variety ripening on a different schedule, a winery like Rails Nap, which has 16 different varieties planted, can experience the calm of summer quickly turning into the organized chaos of harvest, come end of August and into September.

From the first peek at new growth during bud break, through flowering, berry set, then the berry ripening of summer, any season is a good time to visit wine country. Experience the season with a walk through a vineyard, taste wines from previous vintages and get a glimpse of what’s to come – from vine to glass.

Cabernet Sauvignon

by Michael Mooney – Chateau Margene

“Cab is King.”  And everyone knows it!  (well, almost everyone)

Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant force in the red wine industry and in most years, the most popular choice among US wine consumers.  It makes up 40% of the Paso Robles AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) 40,000 acres.

Cabernet Sauvignon came to life in France (Bordeaux region) in the 1600’s. UC Davis researchers determined that it was a crossing of Cabernet Franc (Father) and Sauvignon Blanc (Mother).  The result was far beyond what the two parents of this newly created varietal could ever achieve.

Cabernet Sauvignon has thick skins, strong tannins, black berry fruit and ages well.  It is also able to develop other characteristics and aromas after spending time in oak vessels. 

Stylistic and regional differences exist between New world and Old world Cabernet Sauvignons.  Generally speaking, Old world Cabs display green pepper/green olive, slate and earthy notes due to the cooler climate.  In the Medoc region (left bank of Bordeaux), Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape.  New world Cabs (Argentina, Australia, Chile, South Africa and the United States (primarily California) are riper, with more pronounced fruit and softer tannins.  They are more drinkable upon release due to the warmer climates.   Winemakers in both regions can have a dramatic influence on a wines style by utilizing different techniques and varied barrel programs.

Chateau Margene 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Stella's Vineyard - Paso Robles, California

Pair Cabernet Sauvignon with ribeye or sirloin steaks, roast or grilled lamb, braised beef, Portabello mushrooms, brie or aged cheddar cheese.

Our 2017 Chateau Margene Cabernet Sauvignon – “Stella’s Vineyard” from the Creston District is inky dark with aromas of black currant, allspice and sweet oak.   It displays unctuous blackberry and black cherry through the mid palette, with silky tannins and a long, lingering finish.  This is the first wine produced off Stella’s Vineyard, which was planted on our estate in 2014.  Release date November 16, 2019.  Will cellar well through 2030.  $84

Listen to The Krush 92.5FM’s interview with Chateau Margene’s Michael Mooney highlighting the distinguishing features of the Creston District AVA of Paso Robles, California

Shamelessly Soused Shrimp Tacos

by Angela Mitchell – Mitchella Vineyard & Winery

Mitchella Vineyard & Winery shares their award winning recipe for Shamelessly Soused Shrimp Tacos

In January 2007, we decided to compete in the Paso Robles Rotary’s Winemakers Cook-Off – both Darren and I like to cook and create new recipes to pair with our wines. Good cooking and winemaking seem to go hand in hand. For months we experimented with BBQ-ing the very best one bite slider. The first time was the charm and we won the Judge’s Choice Award for our Petite Top Sirloin Burgers with Rustic Cheddar Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Heirloom Tomato, Arugula and Cumin Aioli.

The pressure was on and we needed to come up with an equally impressive recipe for the next year. On Friday nights for months we conducted taste tests for the best shrimp tacos, we experimented with blue corn tortillas, flour tortillas, lettuce, etc., but finally decided on thinly sliced jicama. We made multiple variations of toppings, from super spicy to sweet but found that the combination of the Mango Relish and Tomatillo Guacamole was the perfect compliment to bring out the sweetness of the marinated shrimp. For the second year in a row we claimed the title and took First Place in the Judge’s Choice Award with our BBQ Shrimp Tacos. The fun thing about these tacos is that they pair famously with both red, like Shameless, our Rhone Style blend, and white wine, and even a Rose like our Reluctant.

The Winemakers Cook-Off is a tasty and spirited event. Get your tickets for this August 10, 2019 event, today!

Mitchella’s Shamelessly Soused BBQ Shrimp Tacos

Serves 10-15

2 lb Shrimp 21/25 (Approximately 42 per bag)                                

1 Cup Mitchella Viognier

8     Color Tortillas in 1/2” slices, fried (garnish)                

5 Cloves Garlic Minced

1     medium Jicama                                                              

1 tbsp Ground Black Pepper

¼    head Napa Cabbage, grated                                         

1 tbsp Cumin

1     Lemon

1 tbsp ground oregano                                                                             

1     Lime                                                                                

1 tbsp Brown Sugar

Thinly Sliced & Fried Colored Tortilla Strips for garnish.

Clean the shrimp, butterfly, marinate in the zest and juice of the lemon and lime, wine, garlic, black pepper, cumin, ground oregano, and brown sugar for 3-12 hours. Save the marinade for basting when Barbecuing. Thinly slice the jicama using a mandolin or slicer into 22 pieces. BBQ the shrimp, basting frequently, three minutes each side until opaque. Arrange two BBQ shrimp on a slice of jicama, a bit of Napa Cabbage, 1 tablespoon Guacamole, ½ tablespoon Mango Relish, top with three fried colored tortilla strips.

Tomatillo Guacamole

Serves 10-15

Topping for the Shamelessly Soused Shrimp Tacos

½ lb  Tomatillos  Halved Roasted                                         1 tbsp   Lime Juice

6        Cloves Minced Garlic                                                   1 tbsp   Cilantro          

¼       Cup Finely Chopped Onions                                       1 tbsp   Mayonnaise

2        Avocados halved, diced                                             

1 Serrano Chile Chopped

Roast the tomatillos in 425° oven for about 30 minutes until soft and brown. Place tomatillos and chile in food processor or blender. Process until a coarse puree forms. Pour puree into medium bowl. Mix in all remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill, can be made 24 hours ahead. Makes about 2 ½ cups.

Mango Relish

Serves 10-15

Topping for the Shamelessly Soused Shrimp Tacos

 1    Mango chopped                                                             

½  Cup Red Onion chopped
1    Red Tomato seeded and chopped                                 

½  Cup Red Bell Pepper chopped
¼  Cup Cilantro chopped                                                   

1 tsp     Red Chili Flakes                   
1    Lime juiced                                                                      1 tbsp   Honey

Mix all of the ingredients together, season to taste with salt and pepper. Ok to substitute the Red Chili Flakes with fresh chili paste in the produce section, then use 1 tablespoon.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill, can be made 24 hours ahead. Makes about 1 cup.

Shameless from Mitchella Vineyard & Winery - Paso Robles

Pair with Mitchella “Shameless“, our Estate Rhone Blend of 30% Mourvèdre, 25% Petit Sirah, 25% Syrah, and 20% Grenache. It’s packed with fruity aromas of cherry, blackberry, and raspberry and delicately balanced by rich silky tannins with hints of blueberry, spice, and a touch of earthiness.

From our home to yours – enjoy!

Visit our website for more delicious recipes and to learn more about our winery and wines.