Wine bottles in winery

International Cabernet Celebration August 31, 2023

A group of women and men holding a wine bottle in a winery

Panel – Victor, Randy, Joel, Libbie and Tom

Man in jacket outside

Photo Of Joel Peterson – Courtesy of Joel Peterson and the Paso Robles Country Wine Alliance

Cabernet is one of the world’s most popular wines and on this day one gathers with friends to sip and toast this remarkable red wine. It is a day of appreciation and tasting of a number of local and international cabernets. You may choose to celebrate with Cabernet Franc which is the heritage grape from Bordeaux that is grown around the world. Or you may celebrate the birth of Cabernet Sauvignon, born in a French vineyard from parents Cabernet Franc (red grape) and Sauvignon Blanc (white grape) which occurred in the 17th century. The natural cross between these two grapes was not verified by researchers until 1997. It should be noted that Cabernet is now the most reviewed red wine variety in the database of the Wine Spectator Magazine.

Cabernet is also the most planted wine grape in the world. France, the largest producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, is home to 126,000 acres of vineyards. Yes, everyone loves Cabernet, the thick skins of the Cabernet grape produce a deep red-purple-black wine that pairs beautifully with meats and protein rich foods. According to recent research on the effects of taste and food on the tongue, the tannins found in Cabernet act as scrapters for fats and proteins that collect on the tongue so these foods are enhanced by pairing them with Cabernet.

Chinese wine drinkers also love Cabernet and it is one of the most important varieties planted and produced in China.

A brief history of Cabernet finds the first mention of the wine found in the 1600s so it is much younger than many other grape varieties we drink today.

We have Rick Bakas to thank for initiating this day of celebration in 2010. He organized the first celebration with a group of wineries in Napa.

In SLO County, the celebration was held by the Paso Robles CAB Collective at Broken Earth Winery by director Linda Sanpei.

Celebrating With The Cab Collective And 50 Years of Cab

Libbie Agran, director of the Wine History Project, organized a panel of major growers and winemakers who have shaped the wine history and wine culture of Paso Robles over the last 50 years. This panel shared their personal experiences with the CAB Collective Members at the celebratory tasting.

Panel Members

In the early 1970s, Gary Eberle designed and developed the first modern (state of the art) winery, Estrella Winery, with his family. This remarkable winery became the gathering place for young winemakers and included the first scientific laboratory in the county. Gary planted the vineyard, studied and installed a modern irrigation system and focused on making quality wine with plans to produce 100,000 cases a year. He hired the first scientific winemaker, Tom Myers, as his assistant winemaker. Panel member Tom Myers, scientist and winemaker, has filled over 225 million bottles in SLO County as winemaker both at Estrella and Castoro Cellars, Vineyard and Winery. He has mentored many local winemakers. Panel member Victor Hugo Roberts came to SLO County in 1982 and was instrumental in founding the Paso Robles AVA with Gary Eberle, Tom Martin and Herman Schwartz. Panelist and viticulturist Randy Heinzen moved to Templeton in 2013 after working for 10 years in Napa. He is President of Vineyard Professional Services, a Paso Robles-based vineyard management company farming over 4,000 acres across three counties. He has been farming the old “Continental Vineyard” since 2014 and has replanted over 500 acres of the property purchased by Herman Schwartz in the early 1970s and now farmed by Broken Earth Winery. Panelist Joel Peterson, Director of PRWCA, highlighted the most significant people and events contributing to Paso Robles becoming a critically acclaimed wine region.

Joel Peterson highlights Paso Robles as a critically acclaimed wine region at the International Cabernet Day Celebration. Here are the significant highlights.

The 1990s

By the early 1990s, winemakers and growers Gary Eberle, Doug Beckett, the Hope Family, Jerry Lohr, Tobin James, Niels and Bimmer Udsen, Tom Myers, Victor Hugo Roberts, Tom Martin and Ken Volk had thriving wineries with tasting rooms, wine clubs, producing wines that were noticed, served in restaurants, sold in wine shops and purchased by wine lovers across California. These pioneers are all alive and well in SLO County with the exception of the late Tom Martin.

Justin Winery (1981)

Justin Baldwin purchased land, planted his own vineyard and established Justin Winery with Deborah Baldwin. Justin worked with local vintners on building a marketing strategy OUTSIDE the Paso Robles AVA to achieve national recognition. They worked with  PRWCA touring with road shows, media tours, county fairs and tasting events.

In 2000, Justin Baldwin’s 1997 Isosceles was ranked as the 6th Best Wine in the World in a list of the Top 100. This Cabernet Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah continues to have critical and commercial success.

The Rhóne Influences Tablas Creek Winery and Hospice du Rhóne introduced the Rhóne grape varieties for planting and winemaking. Hospice du Rhóne provided educational and promotional opportunities.

The partnership between Robert Haas and the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel in France’s Rhóne Valley changed the landscape in Paso Robles. These pioneers launched the California Rhóne movement by planting cuttings imported from Beaucastel in France and setting the standard for farming the vineyards organically and biodynamically. The partnership of two of the international wine communities’ leading families founded a nursery to propagate thousands of cuttings, which were both given and sold to growers around Paso Robles and the Central Coast. Their support of local growers is legendary. Jason Haas was recently featured in American Fruit Growers Magazine, where he makes it clear that working together with other producers makes good business sense because neighbors are not competitors. Jason states, “The nice thing about wine is that it is not a zero sum industry. A neighbor who makes great Syrah doesn’t make customers less likely to buy our Syrah, it makes them more likely.”

John Alban, one of the most influential American Rhóne producers, has worked with people around the world to educate them and support Rhóne grape growers and producers. He bought his own land in the Edna Valley in 1989 and planted his vineyards with a focus on creating wines from Rhóne Valley varieties. He recognized the importance of planting Viognier in California to save it from extinction. He is known as a pioneer in the Rhóne Rangers Movement. He founded Hospice du Rhóne which operates as a non-profit business to serve as an international vintners association with the specific purpose of improving business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhóne variety wines and grapes throughout the world. Educational seminars and trade-focused events are held annually and every two years the event is hosted in Paso Robles, which has attracted notable producers from around the world.  An endorsement of these producers around the globe helps legitimize Paso’s wines as it places our region on an international stage.

SAXUM Accolades – 100 points – Utter Perfection In 2009

Justin Smith, winemaker of his small brand SAXUM, receives the first 100-point score for Paso Robles. His wine 2007 James Berry Vineyard was described by Robert Parker as “Utter Perfection.” The following year, 2010, the same wine was named the Spectator’s Wine of the Year.

Justin Smith is featured on the cover of Wine Spectator with the headline, California Rhónes Riding High, Paso Robles Sets the Pace with Big Red Blends. The six-page article is followed by four pages featuring seven more producers.

Paso/Advocate Jeb Dunnuck later declares in his publication: “that Cabernets and Bordeaux varietals from Paso Robles are a match for the best wines from California’s North Coast.”

Wine Spectator Video Contest

Paso Robles produced videos are submitted to the annual Wine Spectator Video Contest. THESE VIDEOS WIN IN 2009, 2010, AND 2011. Joel Peterson states that these videos made by Justin Winery, Joel Peterson and PRWCA resonate in an evolving digital landscape which is reaching thousands of viewers. Note that Joel’s 2010 winner is titled What is Wine?

Paso Robles’ First Wine Star – 2013

Paso Robles is awarded WINE REGION OF THE YEAR by Wine Enthusiast, earning a Wine Star award. This international award recognizes Paso Robles as an international best overall region.

Austin Hope Cabernet

Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon achieves a rating of 97 points from Matt Kettman in Wine Enthusiast. This is the highest rating ever for a Paso Cabernet.

Top 52 Places to Go – New York Times – January 2020

The New York Times compiles the list of the Top 52 Places to visit in the world. Paso Robles is named as #6 on this list and this makes the national news!

The American Wine Legend – Gary Eberle

Gary Eberle is awarded Wine Enthusiast’s American Wine Legend Wine Star in November 2020 for his lifetime of work in shining light on Paso Robles and winemaking. He was one of the applicants for the Paso AVA granted in 1983, and promoter of the Paso Robles Wine Festival founded in 1983. He focused on welcoming the public personally to his winery, encouraging guests to join wine clubs and attend wine dinners, and offers free tastings in a tasting room staffed with educated and well-trained professionals in hospitality. He shared flights to cities around the United States with his friend Tobin James in Gary’s small plane to market Paso Robles wines.

USA Today – Paso Robles voted #1 Wine Region in the World

This is the newest award for Paso Robles, as of July 2023. The article highlights three places to visit in the award: Allegretto Vineyard Resort, DAOU Winery and the Serial Wines Tasting Room on Park Street in Paso Robles.

Joel Peterson’s Closing Comments

Above all, it is the people and personalities behind Paso Robles wines that have helped put us where we are. For 30 years, they have put Paso first and their brand second. I’ve seen it happen for 25 years and it continues to work. We need to continue this as we grow and progress as a region. It will only make us stronger.