Deliciously Different Spanish Winegrapes
Bodegas Paso Robles
To fully appreciate the delicious wines of Bodegas Paso Robles, you would need to understand the cocktail of influences that has guided owner and winemaker Dorothy Schuler. On her father’s side, she is the granddaughter of Presbyterian missionaries, who worked in Iran, attempting to interest Muslims in Christianity. Her father was 15 years old when the family returned to the U.S., and he went straight to Princeton to become a scientist, no doubt to embrace more rational tasks than the ones his parents had chosen. The oldest of seven children born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dorothy was expected to be a scientist too. But like her father, she was “a bit of a rebel” and made other plans.
On her mother’s side, the family was one of the oldest in New Jersey, their name publically documented before the city of Philadelphia existed. Like her grandmother, she is a Daughter of the American Revolution, “raised to be proud,” of her heritage. That same grandmother was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, while Dorothy’s father was running rum for his older cousin Nucky Thompson, famously depicted in Boardwalk Empire, the HBO hit about Prohibition. “I’m the first person in my family to actually pay taxes for making alcoholic beverages.” As a child, she played “on the beach and in mud puddles in Atlantic City,” but soon the family moved to California where her father got a job doing flight research at Edwards Air Force Base, “working with all those great test pilots like Chuck Yeager,” the first pilot to travel faster than sound. Ultimately, Dorothy Schuler’s story is a California story. “Here I had the freedom to be who I was. That’s what California is about.”
Even though Dorothy was a writer and editor for many years, you won’t find her story on the Bodegas Paso Robles website because she says she wouldn’t know how to begin to tell it. In her current winemaking career, which began in 2002, she has been crafting cutting edge California wines, made from Spanish wine grape varieties that even Californians can not pronounce. But current interest in the noble wines of Spain that have lately been exported to the U.S. are reinforcing what she and a developing group of California winemakers and growers are doing domestically. Tempranillo, Garnacha, Touriga, and Albarino are some of the mellifluous names of wines that she makes and bottles. When visitors on the wine trail in Paso Robles ask where they can find “something different,” the answer is always the same, Bodegas Paso Robles.
In the mid 1980s, Dorothy was working as a cycling journalist in Europe, covering bike races for one magazine and triathlon events for another. At the time, she recalls, she had to follow the cyclists in her own car because, in Europe, women were not allowed to ride with male journalists and managers in the “follow-cars” that accompanied the racers. “We were five girls and two boys, and what my father gave all of us was that men and women were equal. There was never any question about that. It was a shocker to me when I found out we weren’t. My father gave me a great gift that way, but he gave me a fight, and I’ve never backed off of it.
“I was living in Europe when the American dollar was stronger than it had ever been, except for right after World War II. We were drinking the very best wine available and eating the very best food. That’s where I learned about Spanish wines. I was drinking high end French wines, but I also learned about the Spanish ones. We’d take weekend trips all the time. We’d get on the train and go somewhere. The other thing about me is that I’m a bit of a rebel. And I can’t believe that I’m still rebelling at 64 years of age. But I’m always going to take on something that nobody else is doing.” In California in 2002, almost nobody was making wine from Spanish varietals.
But today, Spanish wines are finding their niche in the market place. Bodegas Paso Robles is part of a growing fraternity of grape growers and winemakers, who are embracing the wines of the Iberian Peninsula, Bokisch Vineyards, Fenestra Winery, Quinta Cruz, St. Amant among others. “I’m on the board of the Tempranillo Society and last year was the president, so I’m very involved with all that. But you know how long it takes to educate people? It’s tough, but it’s actually paying off now.” In 2011, Bodegas Paso Robles was a top six gold medal winner in the annual Tempranillos al Mundo International wine competition, founded by the Spanish Federation of Associations of Oenologists. Wineries from throughout the world outside of Spain submitted 416 Tempranillo wines for judgment.
Originally, the winery was a project that Dorothy’s husband began with a friend. “I was supposed to be doing the paperwork,” she laughs. The friend, who would do sales, backed out first because he was working for another winery, whose owner considered the project a conflict of interest. Then Dorothy’s husband, an engineer, was offered a job in England to work on the rehabilitation of the London underground transit system. “That’s why we’ve stayed married forever. If you’ve got something you want to do, go do it. I said, ‘Honey, what am I going to do?’ And he says, ‘It was going to be yours anyway from the get-go. I just didn’t tell you.’ He’s a lot older than I am, and to this day, he says, ‘I knew you would be a good winemaker. I just didn’t know that you would be great.’
“After he went off to England, I freaked out for a few months, and then thought, okay, I’m going to move with this.” Dorothy hired Alan Kinne, a local winemaker, to teach her the craft. “I worked with him for a year and a half. He was so generous with his knowledge. Basically, he does not discriminate against women, and this business is like every other business that I’ve been in. Only 8% of the winemakers in Paso are women. I think Napa has 12% and Sonoma 10%. But I’ve always been in male-oriented businesses, so to me it was just same-old, same-old. And I’m still dealing with it today. He taught me well. The first thing that he said to me was, ‘Winemaking is not rocket science, Dorothy. You either have a feel for this, or you don’t.’ And I have a feel for it.
“There are different kinds of winemakers,” she says. “There’s the winemaker who goes with all the scientific stuff. And then there’s the winemaker who goes with all the artistic stuff. But I’m the one who combines the two. I was raised to be a scientist. My father was a scientist. But I combine the two, I think. And I’m also willing to take risks. When I first started, people would come into the tasting room and say, ‘What is this Tem-pra-nillow stuff (instead of Tem-pra-nee-o)? Someone in the tasting room actually said that the other day, but now it’s a rare occurrence.”
Dorothy compares winemaking to writing and editing, her longest career. Although she published under her own name, she worked mainly as an editor, including editing six books for Timothy Leary, known for his controversial advocacy of psychedelic drugs. “Timothy was an absolutely remarkable man. He was brilliant and a delight to work with on many levels, but I will tell you that he was also a lunatic. I met many of his wives, and they were very interesting as well.” She also worked for large corporations, managing major proposals for government contracts. “I needed money to support children, and you know how that works. You’ve got to take work you hate sometimes. You want the children to go to a good camp.
“Editing is a hard skill,” she adds. “It’s all about being able to figure out what works well with what.” And editing is incredibly detail oriented, which she carries over into winemaking. “It’s all about attention to detail. And I really think that’s what good winemaking is about, especially whites. Reds are easier to make than whites, by the way. You can adjust reds, but whites are unforgiving. So I check things a lot. I spend 10 hours a day at the winery during harvest. I’m checking everything all the time. I’m tasting this. I’m checking that, how the yeast is doing there. I’m deciding whether to go with wild yeast or do yeast additions, depending how the fruit comes in. It’s all attention to detail.”
Another characteristic of Bodegas Paso Robles wines is that they communicate a range of flavors from subtle to intense. Dorothy picks her fruit earlier than most before subtle flavors are baked out of the fruit and sugars reach high levels. Whites can be below 13.5% alcohol and most of the reds between 13.5% to 14.5%. “We’re cowboys in Paso Robles. The Rhone blends hit you in the face. They want them to be over ripe because they don’t get the leaner side of things. I strive to make lower alcohol wines even though it’s hard here because of the weather. But first I’m a woman, and we metabolize alcohol differently than men, regardless of body weight. It stays in our bodies longer.” She goes on to say, “The other thing is that I love French Pinot. California Pinot is too overblown and doesn’t have the subtleties and nuances and lower alcohol that French Pinot has, no comparison. French Pinot is light. It’s got earthiness. It goes with every food in the world. In California, they’re overdoing it. Now they’re over-blowing Grenache, making it too dark. And I think they’re doing the same thing with Mourvedre as well. And it’s not necessary. Guys, it doesn’t have to be 25.5 brix (the measure of sugar in the fruit) when you pick it. Everybody laughs at me. I’ll pick at 23 brix for certain grapes.
“But yeah, I love my life. I love what I do. I totally love what I do. And I would never, ever have thought that I would be doing this.”
California Wines of the Month
Bodegas Paso Robles – 2007 ¡Viva Yo!
Winemaker Dorothy Schuler’s Notes
¡Viva Yo! is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Tempranillo was harvested from the Santa Ana Valley Vineyard in Tres Pinos, located in San Benito County, and from the Starr Ranch on the Westside of Paso Robles. The Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested from Rancho Encino Vineyard on the Westside of Paso Robles. Aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, the wine is redolent of black cherry and currant with a long, rich finish and a hint of almond. The tannins are soft and the wine well-structured (alcohol 14.5%, brix at harvest 24.5, pH 3.8).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Dorothy Schuler made 501 cases of this wine, which she calls her crowd-pleasing work-horse because everybody can relate to it. With just 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the flavor becomes a bit more familiar than it would be if it were entirely Tempranillo, which people are still learning to love. Serve this delicious wine at cool room temperature.
Bodegas Paso Robles – 2011 Galicia
Winemaker Dorothy Schuler’s Notes
The Galicia is 100% Albarino, harvested from Edna Valley. Made in the traditional Spanish style, the wine has a bouquet of peach and pear with a crisp finish of apple and citrus (alcohol 13.2%).
Anna Maria’s Notes
This wine has a bit of residual sugar, just enough so that you can taste it. Dorothy says that the fermentation stopped before all of the sugar in the fruit had fermented to alcohol. They wrapped an electric blanket around the tank to heat the wine and hopefully restart fermentation. When nothing happened, they added more yeast, at which point fermentation transformed all sugar to alcohol. But as soon as they turned their backs, the sugar popped back up to where it had been before they restarted fermentation.”You know what? This is where this wine wants to be,” Dorothy said. “The bottom line is that sometimes you just have to go with the grapes. The interesting thing about Albarino is that it should have that tart grapefruit finish. I was afraid that if I kept mucking with it, it would loose the finish. So now it’s got a little residual sugar in the middle, and then it has this great Albarino tart finish. And people loved it.” If you want to eliminate any suggestion of sweetness, I suggest that you serve this wine with spicey, peppery dishes, for instance Mexican or Thai. I drank the wine with turkey breast that had been roasted with a lot of paprika, and the wine was delicious. Serve chilled.
Bodegas Paso Robles – 2008 Pimenteiro
Winemaker Dorothy Schuler’s Notes
The 2008 Pimenteiro is a blend of 67% Trousseau (Bastardo) and 33% Tempranillo from the Siletto and Santa Ana Valley vineyards in the town of Tres Pinos, located in San Benito County. The Bastardo, which is this varietal’s name in Portugal, is known by 27 different names. In the U.S., the approved name is Trousseau. This varietal is perhaps the rarest in this country, with only a handful of winemakers producing this wine alone or in a blend. The budwood for these vines came from the El Gavilan Vineyard, planted in 1890, and obtained by Ron Siletto before the original vineyard was removed and replaced by new root stock and different grapes. The 2008 Pimenteiro, which means “pepper pot” in Portuguese, is a blend of the intense white and black pepper of the Trousseau with the spicy berry fruit of Tempranillo. This unusual wine was crafted for any food that loves pepper, such as lamb, steak, cured meats, paella, and pasta (alcohol 14.2%, brix at harvest 26.0 and 24.5, pH 3.7 and 3.68).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Aged for 22 months in tight-grained French oak barrels, this wine is smoothly textured and loaded with slightly unfamiliar fruit and spice flavors that are richly delicious. Dorothy Schuler made just 250 cases, and we’re fortunate to get some of them. Enjoy!
Bodegas Paso Robles – 2008 Graciano
Winemaker Dorothy Schuler’s Notes
Graciano is now considered a rare Spanish grape. At one time it was one of four major red varietals in the Rioja region, where it was blended with Tempranillo to produce well-aging, complex and sophisticated wines. Graciano is even rarer in California. In the annual Department of Food & Agriculture grape purchase statistics, only two counties reported sales in 2008. Most viticulturists who grow this varietal use it in their own blends, and it’s been difficult to find any grown commercially. Bottled by itself, Graciano is medium bodied and fruity. During fermentation, it exudes berry-red cherry and, at times, the aroma of a cherry Lifesaver! I love this varietal for its strong stone fruit flavors and brightness and for how it magically blends with Tempranillo to make a long-lived sophisticated wine. In 2008, there was enough of a very small crop from the Santa Ana Valley Vineyard to bottle a few cases on its own, the second time I have had this luxury (alcohol 13.5%, brix at harvest 24.0, pH 3.58).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Dorothy Schuler made just 75 cases of this versatile and highly unusual red wine, which she calls “a little bit of nectar from the gods.” Perfectly balanced with fruit, acid, and smooth tannins, the wine was aged for 23 months in tight-grained French oak barrels. Serve at cool room temperature.
Menu of the Month
Father’s Day Festivities
Heirloom Tomato Flat Bread
Grilled organic chateaubriand with grated carrot & beet salad,
dressed with seasoned rice vinegar & olive oil
Baby arugula, topped with shaved zucchini,
and dressed with fresh lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil
Strawberries marinated with fresh mint and triple sec,
served on a bed of lady fingers and topped with fresh whipped cream
Recipe of the Month
Heirloom Tomato Flat Bread
At least for me, watching dough rise is one of the longest waits in the world with all the attendant anxieties, almost as bad as waiting for money or parking. Here’s a delicious and elegant version of pizza that avoids the angst and delivers gorgeous warm-weather flavors. I have adapted the recipe from Organic Marin, Recipes from Land to Table by Tim Porter & Farina Wong Kingsley, an inspired collection of recipes from Marin County restaurants just north of San Francisco, every recipe made with organic ingredients farmed within the county. You can serve this pizza as an appetizer, main course, or first course as I have chosen to do in the menu above. It’s as delicious as the finest pizza, made by the best restaurants.
1 1/4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra-birgin olive oil
Hand full of minced fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves or more of garlic, very finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3 cup shaved pecorino romano cheese
For the dough: Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk to blend. Combine the water and oil in a cup and stir into the dry ingredients. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half, cover with a damp towel, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. This dough may be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F with a pizza stone inside if you have one. Flatten each dough ball into a disk and roll into an 8-inch round. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until just golden. Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
Sprinkle half of the Parmigiano and mozzarella on each baked bread. Place the breads in the oven on the pizza stone or a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until the cheese melts and just starts to brown. Remove from the oven and layer each with the tomato slices in a single layer, drizzle evenly with olive oil, and sprinkle with the garlic and basil, reserving a bit of the basil for garnish. Finally, sprinkle with salt. Top each pizza with half of the pecorino cheese shavings and return to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the pecorino turns slightly golden. Remove from the oven and garnish with a little basil. Use a pizza wheel to cut each bread into 6 slices and serve right away. Umm… Can you smell the aromas?