Marc Goldberg. Credit: Julia Perez, from The Winemakers of Paso Robles.

Award-winning Wines. Credit: Libbie Agran.

Marc Goldberg’s Legacy

Marc has left an indelible legacy in San Luis Obispo’s North County. He’s an outlier yet one who is very much a part of Paso Robles’ wine tapestry. While Dr. Hoffman planted the region’s first Pinot Noir, Marc took it several steps further eventually founding the Paso Pinot Producers, a group that has now grown to over 25 member wineries. The organization launched the Pinot and Paella Festival in 2003 held at the Windward winery. The annual June festival is now staged at Templeton Park to raise funds that benefit the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.

Sabrina Kruse, co-founder of Jack Creek Cellars, is a Pinot grower in Paso and a long time participant of the festival. “The fact that this happens is a testimony to what Marc has always sought to share with others,” Kruse commented in an email to me. “Beautiful Pinot Noir is indeed produced in the Paso Robles region, without Marc’s passion to show this to the world, and his generous efforts to promote all Paso Pinot producers, of which there are more because of Marc and Windward showing it can be done, there would be a lot of wine lovers who would have missed out on amazing local Pinot,” Kruse continued.

Agreed that Paso is not going to rival Sonoma’s Russian River or Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But there is a solid minority of winemakers dedicated to this varietal. They are protégés of Marc, inspired by his unrelenting passion and dedication. If it wasn’t for Marc’s encouragement, Krumal probably would never have planted a Pinot Noir vineyard.

Yet as Marc carries the Paso Pinot flag, there are those who are hesitant to embrace Marc’s belief on Pinot Noir grown in such a generally warm climate.

Among them is Roger Nicolas of RN Estate, a transplanted Frenchman and Pinot lover who applauds Marc’s contribution in promoting the world of wine in Paso. “Marc, Maggie, and I became instantly close friends since I moved to here 18 years ago,” Nicolas noted in his email to me. “I love Marc’s personality, limitless humor and love and perseverance for Pinot Noir. However, I do not share Marc’s approach to growing Pinot Noir here in Paso Robles.” Nicolas is indeed a Pinot producer yet one sourcing his fruit from Santa Barbara County. “We both love Pinot Noir, there is no doubt about that, and that is what we have in common.”

More than anyone else, Marc brought Pinot awareness to Paso, a region known for Rhône and Bordeaux varieties. He got emerging winemakers excited to get on the Pinot bandwagon, crafting wine, if not from Paso fruit, then from nearby Central Coast regions. This too along with the emerging Spanish and off-beat European varietals (Tannant anyone?) continue to underscore a significant diversity of a wine region that is carving out an identity distinct from those California wine districts so reliant on one or two signature grape varieties.

Awards: Personal

2015: Marc was named as San Luis Obispo County Wine Maker of the Year in 2015 by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

2012: Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Award as Wine Industry Persons of the Year.

2011: Marc and Maggie were honored as the 2011 Paso Robles Wine Industry Persons of the Year by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance presented this award at the Annual Gala held in January at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom.

2010: Award for Solar-Powered Winery, part of the California Initiative

2009: Best of Appellation Award. Gold Medal 2006 Monopole Pinot Noir, Estate from Clark Smith, Director of the Best-of-Appellation Program, Appellation America. Inc.

2008: Maggie and Marc were chosen as the 2008 Central Coast Wine Classic honorees for San Luis Obispo at the 24th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic and celebrated for their efforts to produce the Great American Pinot Noir.

Marc Goldberg. Credit: Julia Perez, from The Winemakers of Paso Robles.

By Mira Advani Honeycutt

Marc Goldberg’s Passion for Pinot Noir

Harvest 2018 is over, and the wine is resting in barrels at Windward Vineyard’s intimate barrel room. Vintners Marc Goldberg and his wife Maggie D’Ambrosia have uncorked two award-winning vintages, the 2013 and 2014 of Monopole Pinot Noir, to taste during our interview.

Marc & Maggie in Barrel Room. Courtesy Windward Vineyards.

I inform Marc that this interview is for the Wine History Project’s Legend section. With a serious look he asks, “How long before this story gets published?” I respond: soon. “Wanted to know if I was going to be a living legend or a dead one,” he remarks with his typical deadpan humor.

Marc, who turned 85 this month, proudly sports his bright red shoes, a gift to himself. However, his irreverent free spirit cannot mask the singular vision and unbridled passion he exudes when it comes to crafting Pinot Noir. So deep is this passion that he has produced this varietal exclusively for the past 27 years in the distinctive Burgundian style in Paso Robles.

The signature of a Windward Pinot Noir is that it’s perfectly balanced — a symphony of perfumed violets and ripe bing cherries layered with traces of earthy notes; the soft and sensual mid-palate leading to a lush, full mouth. Marc calls it a peacock tail finish. “If you close your eyes, all the phenolics spread out and give a long finish,” he explains. “That’s why it complements so many foods.”

Marc who has long been carrying the Pinot torch in Paso Robles was bitten by the Pinot Noir bug on travels to Burgundy in the 1970s. His vision, he remarks, was to make a “great American Burgundian style wine.” So Marc and Maggie, both former hospital administrators, started a search for locations on the Central Coast that would support their vision.

“It was a fantasy,” says Maggie, pouring us the 2014 Monople. It was the early 1970s, and the couple was living on a 300-acre cattle farm in Louisville, Kentucky, where Marc was running the University of Louisville Medical Center. Somewhat reluctantly they moved to Southern California in 1983 when Marc was offered a chance to run a Burn Center in Sherman Oaks. Meanwhile, Maggie worked at St. Francis Medical Center for the Daughters of Charity in Los Angeles. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” Maggie says of the move that at least put them in close proximity to the state’s many wine regions.

“We would spend weekends traveling up the coast,” she recalls. “Maybe we can plant grapes here, but it was still fantasy. We were running a hospital.” On one of their trips to Morro Bay, they stumbled onto Paso Robles. “We could see vines growing here,” says Marc. He also noticed the calcareous soil. “I said to Maggie, ‘Hey, this could be for us.’” At the time, there were only 12 wineries in Paso Robles.

In 1989, the couple found a 26-acre barley farm that came with a 70-year-old barn and a 100-year-old house in an enclave on Paso’s westside. “It was a big mess,” Maggie recalls. The couple got working, taking out walnut trees and clearing the ranch. At this point, they still considered this a hobby. “But when we saw how much money we were putting into it we thought we better take it seriously,” Maggie remembers. “We wanted to do it properly and not haphazardly.”

The property was blessed with cool ocean breezes that blow through the Templeton Gap plus the calcareous soils proved to be ideal for Pinot Noir grapes, which inspired the name Windward for their winery.

Courtesy Windward Vineyards.

Marc made several trips to Burgundy, visited vignerons and their cellars to gain experience. Back on the Central Coast, Marc worked with established winemakers such as Ken Volk of Wild Horse Winery. At the 1989 Central Coast’s KCBX wine auction Marc bought a barrel of Volk’s Pinot Noir and had access to several barrels holding 26 different clones of Pinot.

“We got to taste all the clones and selected four,” recalls Maggie, cuttings of which they planted in their Windward vineyard. Volk also offered his winery to them to produce their first two vintages (1993 and ’94) until they could purchase the needed equipment for their winery.

The majority of the production in Paso at the time was Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, most of which were sold to wineries in Napa and Sonoma, Marc notes. Most farmers were growing grapes to sell, not to produce wine.

“When I asked about Pinot, everyone said it was too hot for Pinot here,” Marc says. But he soon learned the history of Pinot Noir planted in Paso Robles at Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) in the Adelaida district in the mid-1964 by Beverly Hills cardiologist Dr. Stanley Hoffman and his consultant, the famed viticulturist André Tchelistchef.

Regarded as the only Pinot in California planted on its own roots, the calcium carbonate-rich vineyard rises to an elevation of 1725 feet above sea level. Marc happened to taste the 1976 HMR Pinot Noir and was blown away. Marc remembers his reaction: “If I can get close to making Pinot that’s this Burgundian, I’d be a happy guy.”

Starting a winery and planting a vineyard wasn’t easy. Marc took up a swing job as CEO of the General Hospital in San Luis Obispo, and Maggie established the Goodwill industries in San Luis Obispo County. The 15-acre vineyard got planted by Jim Smoot in 1990, and the first vintage of 1993 sold out immediately. The vineyard was planted with cuttings from the Hoffman Mountain Ranch and the four cuttings acquired from Ken Volk—Burgundy’s Grand Cru Clos de Bèze, Sanford and Benedict’s Martini clones (which came from Romanée Conti vineyards), Clone 4 Pommard and Clone 13 Bien Nacido.

Marc believes that the most important part of farming is the selection of vineyard and choice of varietal planted to it. “In our case, it’s 100 percent Pinot. On top of that, you try to select the clones that would do well in the kind of soil and climate so the vineyard expresses itself.”

He takes the French approach of terroir—the convergence of soil, climate, aspect, and varietal—very seriously. “It’s a sense of place and geography—its in the relationship to Templeton Gap and the Pacific Ocean, the cool climate and calcareous soil that spent millions of year under the ocean at one point. When we ripped the ground, whale bones came up out of the soil.”

Marc follows the no filtration, no fining, non-intervention practice in shepherding the grapes into the winery. The grapes are cold soaked for approximately five days. During fermentation, they are punched down three times daily in stainless steel tanks. The free run juice is racked off to another tank and the cap is gently pressed.

The two lots are blended together prior to malolactic fermentation. The wine is aged for an average of 14 months in custom-made Seguin Moreau French oak barrels — a one-third combination of new oak, one-year-old and two-years-old. Depending on the vintage, the wines can also get a 12-month bottle aging.

Due to drought and weather changes, the 2018 harvest will yield less than one ton per acre, Marc tells me. “Now we make 1000 cases per year average,” he remarks in comparison to the 3000 annual-case production in previous years. The vines are getting old, so Marc is embarking on a program of inter-planting so the vineyard will represent older and younger vines.

Windward bottles bear the word Monopole, a French designation that signifies sole ownership of a vineyard and wine made from grapes grown only in that particular vineyard. Being a purist about his Pinot Noir, Marc chooses to add Monopole to his bottles instead of the customary “estate grown.”

Windward is proud of its many awards including the recent Double Gold for its 2014 pinot noir from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The winery offers two releases per vintage, Monopole, and the Reserve Gold Barrel Select. Since the winery offers just one varietal, visitors experience a vertical tasting (the same wine but four different vintages) of Pinots from 2012 to 2015 vintages. There’s also a bonus tasting of the special Vin Gris de Pinot Noir, the salmon-hued Rosé, fragrant with rose petals and strawberry aromas. What started off as a personal ‘secret stash’ for Marc, the limited 400-case production is now available for tasting and purchase.

While Marc’s mentors have been Hoffman and Josh Jensen of Calera Winery, he has himself been a mentor to many young winemakers in Paso Robles. Philip Krumal, owner/winemaker of Asuncion Cellars on Paso’s west side, came to Paso with the intention of planting a vineyard when he met Marc in 1999. “He offered me cuttings from his vineyard to start,” says Krumal, who was visiting Marc so often that he ended up working at Windward and learned all aspects of winemaking. “Marc was very encouraging and always funny,” Krumal says, recalling an anecdote. “In the tasting room, Marc would say, ‘Philip is my WIT — winemaker in training.’ And then he would add, ‘He only works here halftime, so that makes him a half WIT.'” On a serious note, Krumal is in awe of Marc’s passion and determination to follow his vision.

It’s that passion that comes through in Windward’s Pinot. “We put in the bottle what the vineyard gives us so people will know from year to year that they are getting grapes from the same exact place,” says Marc.

Courtesy of Windward Vineyard.