A New Generation of Winemakers in Paso Robles

Paso Robles

Second generation winemakers are making huge strides in putting Paso Robles on the world map.  The new guard of Paso Robles are innovative, ambitious and passionate about  winemaking.  As children of some of Paso Robles first pioneers, they have large shoes to fill.  The new generation is making cutting edge wines by pushing the boundaries and following their dreams.

Some of the most interesting wines from California are coming from Paso Robles.  I had the opportunity on my recent visit to meet four trailblazing winemakers; Brian Benson, Chris Selkirk, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins and Caitlin Painetta.  Marching to their own beat, they are paving the way for future winemakers. Making wines the way they want to make them, on their own terms,

The meeting of these incredible vintners was held over dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, one of the best farm to table restaurants in Paso Robles.  Kurt Metzger, the Executive Chef paired each course with the individual wine in mind.  The pairings were spot on and absolutely exquisite.

During dinner I immediately sensed a very special and unique bond amongst the four winemaker, some had friendships that went back to high school while others were meeting for the first time.  There was immense respect, pride and curiosity amongst them.  I quickly realized that the camaraderie comes from a shared belief that a rising tide lifts all boats, something I later learned was very evident throughout Paso Robles.  I have never come across a group of winemakers that had such great interest and desire in exploring each others wines.  Each winemaker was open and willing to listen and help one another.

Paso Robles

There is so much freedom of expression and experimentation in the region.  Everyone is doing something different, winemakers trying different grapes varietals and winemaking techniques. Let me introduce you to four second generation winemakers that are making a huge impact on the Paso Robles wine scene.

Brian Benson Cellars – Brian Benson

Brian is one of the top winemakers in Paso Robles making Rhone style wines.  His style, personality and enthusiasm for his wines was inspiring.  A second generation winemaker, he started making wine with his grandfather as early as elementary school.  Brian made his first Cabernet Sauvignon at the age of 13.  His wines are intense and exceptional, making only a small production so that he can maintain the quality.  His tasting room and winemaking facilities are in Tin City, an uber trendy part of Paso Robles.

Brian is an artisan winemaker in the true sense with only a 1500 case production. Not only are his wines a work of art, so are his labels, which are created in house using paint and rifle shooting as his technique.  His wines are intense, complex and concentrated, and yet they are refined and elegant. Be sure to try Brian’s  Syrah(S&M) and Zinfandel.  Probably one of the best Syrah in California.

Brian Benson

Le Cuvier – Clay Selkirk

Clay comes from a family with a history of wine making, as his family owns Cayucos Winery.  Clay has ventured out on his own and now works with the highly esteemed  John Munch(a local legend).  John is an active part of the Paso Robles community.  He  first started Adelaida Hills Winery and then later went on to make Le Cuvier, a highly regarded natural wine label.  Clay’s respect and admiration for John Munch is clearly evident as he recalls his father was hugely influenced by John also.

Clay’s confidence and expertise is evident in his conversations, the same confidence translates into his wines.  The 2014 Chrysos(Viognier and Roussanne Blend)  is an exceptional wine and you immediately realize that it is a rare and special treat.  There is oak, honey and spice on the palate.  This is a handcrafted wine made in very small quantities, only 163 cases produced.  Lookout for Clay’s own venture Devil’s Gate, a micro winery project with an extremely small production.

Clay Serlick

Ancient Peaks Winery – Amanda Whittstrom-Higgins

Amanda is a Paso Robles native and a second generation owner at Ancient Peaks Winery. Amanda states that agriculture is in her blood and her family. A wine that she especially likes to share is The Ancient Peak Sauvignon Blanc which is fresh, vibrant and a great crowd pleaser.  This is not your typical Sauvignon Blanc, this wine has great acidity and nice minerality.

Her love for wine is clearly evident as she aims to empower women in the wine world.  She recently founded Dream Big Darling, a non profit organization aimed at helping women in the wine business, through internships, education, scholarships, mentoring and retreats.  She is helping lay down the foundation for future generations of female wine professionals . Amanda is doing amazing things in Paso Robles to help women and other professionals in the trade.

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins

Pianetta Winery – Caitlin Pianetta

Caitlin Pianetta from Pianetta Winery is a second generation winemaker, making exceptional wines at her family owned winery.  Pianetta Winery is small production making only 3000 cases a year.  Originally the family grew grapes, but in 2002 they starting making their own wines . 2016 was the first vintage that Caitlin made and she is very excited and proud.  Having Italian roots, she is making Sangiovese, something new and different for Paso Robles.  The Sangiovese is made in a California Style with slightly more fruit.  The Pianetta Sangiovese is the perfect pairing for a nice big juicy steak.

Caitlin Pianetto

Paso Robles is a region with many exceptional stories and many aspiring winemakers.  Each winemaker has a unique story to tell.   Winemakers are able to express their stories and style, not just through their wines, but also through their label.  Many designing their own labels with wonderful artistic flair.  There is an exciting level of entrepreneurial spirit amongst the winemakers, each bringing fresh new ideas to making exceptional artisanal wines.  The one commonality that was apparent with these four winemakers was their ambition and drive to make the wines of their dreams.

There was such  energy, camaraderie, and enthusiasm for each others wines. These four winemakers are impactful, creative, and inspiring. They each share a deep passion for the wines they create, but they also share a passion for Paso Robles.  They are determined to see each winemaker in the region succeed.  This sense of community and pride is something that left a mark and will be one of the reason I continue to drink Paso Robles wines with great pride.

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