Derby Wine Estates

Supporting the Community, Farming the Land, and Making Delicious Wines

Derby Wine Estates

Since Ray Derby purchased the Farmers Alliance Building in Paso Robles, he has become a hero in the town of over 30 thousand people. The building is highly visible from both directions of US Highway 101 and is located at the periphery of the downtown area of Paso Robles. In the 1920s, the town was known as Almond City. At that time, local growers were cultivating the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world. Farmers built the 11,250 square foot Farmers Alliance processing plant out of reinforced concrete and in 1922 completed a 60 foot-tall tower that could store 1,000 tons of almonds. After production declined in the 1930s, grain growers purchased the building and retrofitted it for grain processing. When that boom ended, various industrial businesses came and went over the years without impinging much on the consciousness of the townspeople. But when the food warehouse chain Smart & Final Inc. purchased the property with the intention of demolishing the building, the good people of Paso Robles were shocked into action and organized to prevent the destruction of what they realized was an iconic expression of the agricultural history of the area.

Paso Robles beamed with satisfaction after Smart & Final left town and Ray Derby purchased the building, committing himself to restoring it. He is installing administrative offices, a winery that handles 20,000 cases of wine, a room in the tower for wine club members only, and a tasting room that will be open to the public. “It [the building] follows the agricultural history of the community,” Ray told KSBY-TV. “Back at the turn of the century, Paso Robles was almond country. During the Depression and afterwards, it was grain country. And now it’s wine country.” The project has consumed him for two years and will be completed in the spring of next year. “Quite frankly, it’s been a labor of love for me, and it’s getting very close to completion. It’s going to be a credit to Paso Robles, a credit to our industry, and it’s really going to be good for Derby Wine Estates as well. It’s a real landmark for the city and one of the most well watched projects in the City of Paso Robles. I’ve had more people walk up to me and thank me for taking the project on.”

Ray Derby is primarily a grape grower, selling most of his 400-acre harvest to other wineries and reserving just six percent of the fruit for his own winery, which has been located in a rented facility where he has been making between 2,500 and 3,500 cases a year. His first land purchase in 1991 was the 635-acre Derbyshire property, one mile from the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon. This cool climate location is planted with 52 acres of Pinot Noir and 11 acres of Pinot Gris. Within two years, he acquired the Laura’s Vineyard property on the east side of Paso Robles in a much warmer climate where he planted 278 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. In 2006, he added Derby Vineyard, at first planting the Rhone varieties, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Counoise, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah and later the Spanish varieties Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Carignane, Graciano, and Tempranillo. Finally in that location, he planted Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Grenache, Malbec, and Mourvèdre. The entire project is impressive and includes over 23 different grape varieties in three locations and marks him as one of the most important grape growers in Paso Robles.

“The total for the ranches is about 1000 acres,” he says. “We have a lot more land that we could develop into vineyards, but I’ve been cautious from the standpoint of not getting too far ahead on our growth curve. I want to make sure that whatever we plant and develop, we’ll have market demand for it.”

Ray Derby has good reason to hold back on further vineyard development. He has planted a lot of unusual grape varieties and says that he’s learned “a couple of things.” He might have been a bit more adventurous than the wineries that buy his fruit and are looking for grapes that are more popular in the mainstream. For instance, he did not plant Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, but he may be augmenting his vineyards with those grapes. “My wife and I spent a couple of weeks in December in Willamette Valley, and concentrated on the wineries there that specialize in the Dijon clones. We got a lot of information, and I think that very possibly we’ll think in terms of some vineyard development that will include the Dijon clones of Chardonnay, and perhaps some Sauvignon Blanc too.”

Ray is also finding that the market might have leveled off for Rhone varieties. ”I don’t want to say that the Rhones are not popular, but the growth of their popularity is tapering off.” He may be ahead of the curve with Spanish varieties. While they might be the latest enthusiasm for boutique wineries and sophisticated consumers, mainstream wine buyers, prefer the Chardonnay that they know to the Albarino that they’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce.

Unlike the vineyards, the winery has a very small production. That will change to some extent after it moves to the new building where production can increase. But now Ray sells locally and to his wine club and can appeal to people, who are more adventuresome drinkers. “The large production grapes, the Cab, the Merlot, the Zin, the Syrah, the Petite Sirah, those grapes we sell in bulk to some of the major wine producers. I’m thinking that the winery will feature the Rhones, the Burgundy from the coast, the Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir, and it will probably continue to feature the Bordeaux blends, although our winemaker Tiffany is convinced that she needs to make a stand-alone Cab, which is what we’ve got in the pipeline right now. Once again, we have the capability of producing some of the stand-alone Bordeauxs, the Petite Sirah, the Merlot, the Cab, but whether we do a stand-alone single varietal or a blend depends on where we see the market going. We’re making the Spanish varieties, too.

“We’ll try to satisfy a need for people, who are not particularly adventuresome, but at the same time, we’ll make unique wines. For instance, we’re probably not going to produce a run-of-the-mill Chardonnay from California clones, but we’re thinking in terms of the Dijon style Chardonnay. We’re still going to maintain uniqueness with what we do, but at the same time recognize that many people do have a comfort zone, and we’ll try to accommodate them.”

In terms of how Ray Derby farms his vineyards, he explains that he looked into organic viticulture but felt that it didn’t produce better tasting wine. He is satisfied that his agricultural practices sustain the land in good condition. “We have done a lot of work in terms of using owls for rodent control. We have a policy of no more application of herbicides or pesticide than is absolutely necessary. We’re getting very close to the point that we’re going to be completely free of any herbicides, and we’re cutting down on pesticides wherever we can. But in terms of acquiring an organic certification, we’re not particularly active. I told our vineyard manager Steve Vierra that we’re stewards of the land, and let’s make sure that we maintain proper stewardship. But at the same time, stewardship really implies sustainability, so let’s make sure that whatever we do, we’re maintaining the land in a productive manner. In terms of organic or any other specific designation that might be out there, we’ll continue to concentrate solely on being good stewards of the land.

“As a grower, and that’s what we are primarily, it’s a very important thing for me. As I said, I have a responsibility to be a good steward. When I pass on and that land is acquired by somebody else, be it my heirs or somebody else, I want them to be able to look at this land and say that it was well cared for, that it was responsibly farmed, and that the vineyards are sustainable and have been sustainably farmed. They won’t necessarily have a certification, but in fact, we have employed best practices.”

California Wines of the Month

Artisan Series

Derby Wine Estates – 2009 Pinot Noir

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra’s Notes

The focal point of Derby Wine Estates is the significance of place. Each of our three vineyards is located within a very distinct geographical region, representing three viticultural extremes in San Louis Obispo County. Derbyshire, our coastal vineyard in San Simeon, is located just one mile from the Pacific Ocean and is the coolest of the three. Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris thrive here. The 2009 Pinot Noir shows concentrated black cherry, currant, and rhubarb flavors, with a streak of minerality. We aged the wine for 22 months in 21% new oak barrels and the rest in older and neutral ones that won’t transmit oak flavors (Alcohol 13.7%, pH 3.66, TA 6.13 g/L).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Derbyshire is a remarkable vineyard as this Pinot Noir demonstrates. “The fruit is getting some excellent reception from a lot of different wineries here, and I’m thinking that Derbyshire is going to be a showpiece in a few years,” Ray says. He produced just 721 cases of this delicious, smooth, and mouth-filling wine with spicy cherry aromas and flavors. Serve at cool room temperature.

Derby Wine Estates – 2011 Pinot Gris

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra’s Notes

Like our Pinot Noir, this wine was harvested from the cool climate Derbyshire vineyard, just one mile from the Pacific Ocean, where strong winds sweep the vineyards during most of the growing season. In 2011, we were able to harvest enough fruit to make 144 cases of this amazingly distinctive wine. You’ll taste poached pear and honey on the nose and palate, which is plush and refreshing with good length (Alcohol 13.1%, pH 3.52, TA 6.80 g/L).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Pinot Gris fruit glimmers in the glass and imbues this wine with crisp clean flavor. Tiffinee Vierra aged the wine for eight months in stainless steel tanks, long enough to stabilize the wine’s fresh flavors. Serve chilled with appetizers, light first courses, and fish.

Winemaker Series

Derby Wine Estates – 2010 Implico

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra’s Notes

Implico is Latin for “intimately connected” and is comprised of fruit from vineyards in both east and west Paso Robles. The 2008 Implico is a blend of 37% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, and 13% Merlot. The Cabernet and Merlot were grown on Laura’s Vineyard in East Paso Robles, and the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from neighboring Jada Vineyard in West Paso. We planted both Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot on our own Derby Vineyard in 2008 and 2009, but the grapes are not yet ready for harvest. Each varietal was vinified and aged separately in mostly new French oak barrels for 26 months. The wine was then blended and returned to barrel for an additional six months. The 2010 Implico has oak-spiced aromas of dark berries, vanilla, and licorice, along with a smoky top note. Lush and broad on entry, it offers sappy blackberry and cassis flavors, displaying good length that tenaciously lingers (Alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.51, TA 7.20 g/L).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Tiffinee made 196 cases of this elegant Bordeaux style blend. Although the winery makes single varietal wines, it’s enthusiastic about blends, and the Implico is a fine example of the effort that it puts into them, to the extent of buying grapes from a neighbor to create the balance of flavors that Tiffinee and Ray envisioned. The result is impressive. Enjoy this delicious wine with autumn stews and roasts and with lentils and sausages. Serve at cool room temperature.

Derby Wine Estates – 2011 Project Espanña Red

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra’s Notes

The grapes for this blend were harvested from our warmer Derby Vineyard. Tempranillo is 63% of the blend and contributes spicy cherry flavors. The 15% Grenache contributes aromas and mouth-feel, while the 14% Carignane provides earthy flavors and tannins. Graciano is just 8% but marks the wine with elegance, spice, and acid. Each varietal was made separately and aged in 63% once-used barrels and 37% in neutral ones for one year, then blended, and returned to barrel for another year. Altogether, the Project España Red is an elegant, flavorful, and wonderfully food-friendly wine (Alcohol 14.5%).

Anna Maria’s Notes

The Project España Red is a mouthful of spicy Spanish aromas and flavors that you won’t want to finish. The wines of Spain have lately drifted into the US and caught the imaginations of domestic growers and winemakers along with consumers. Tiffinee and her husband Steve Vierra, who manages the three Derby Estate Vineyards, both inspired the plantings of Spanish varieties at Derby Vineyard. The 2010 was just the second harvest of very small numbers of these vines, whose wines are sold only in the tasting room. The wine is a delicious privilege for your table. Tiffinee made only 172 cases.

Derby Wine Estates – 2011 Project España White

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra’s Notes

This 100% Albarino was harvested from the warmer Derby Vineyard. We have planted only a quarter of an acre of the variety and this was the second harvest. We aged the wine in stainless steel tanks followed by two months in neutral oak barrels to create aromatic complexity and a richer sensation in the mouth although the wine remains crisp and refreshing (Alcohol 13.3%).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Albarino (Al-ba-reen-yo) is as fun to say as it is delicious to taste. This one has a smoky, vanilla, citrusy perfume and flavors to match. Spanish Albarino is usually high in acid, but Tiffinee’s version has a rounder and richer mouth-feel than its Spanish cousin, perhaps from the two- month aging in oak barrels. She made only 100 cases from a small harvest, and the wine is sold only in the Derby tasting room. Viva la España!

Menu of the Month


The Colors of Fall

First Course

Roasted red bell pepper bisque

Main Course

Grilled squid and pan roasted potatoes and onions, served with Swiss chard, braised in olive oil with red onions


Grilled fig and Mache salad


Apple cake with a dollop of freshly whipped cream

Recipe of the Month

Golden Delicious Apple Cake

Fall has arrived in all its glory, winemakers working around the clock, harvesting grapes and making wine. Inside, the markets reflect the colors of deciduous trees, red bell peppers, orange squash, and apples, red, yellow, and green piled on platforms. This month’s recipe is apple cake, beautiful, healthful, and delicious and is adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume N 7, La Dolce Vita.


6 tablespoons butter at room temperature, plus more for the pan

1.5 cups flour, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for the apples

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 pinch of salt

1/2 cup milk

Grated zest of 2 lemons

3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and thickly sliced

Powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until fluffy, then beat in the egg. Add the vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the flour to the butter mixture gradually, alternating with the milk in thirds, beating well after each addition. Stir in the zest. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Starting from the outside, arrange the apple slices in a circle, standing them on end with the narrow point in the batter, filling in the center with as many slices as you can fit. The apples should be quite close together and cover most of the batter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over the apples. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake (not the apples) comes out clean. Place on a rack, remove the outer ring, and allow the cake to cool. Dust the cake with powdered sugar just before serving.