Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The barrell room at Volk

When I dropped in at the Kenneth Volk Vineyards tasting room, I was met by two busloads of people who looked like escapees from a school for rodeo clowns.  Their manner of dress appeared to be specifically designed to get attention, and it worked.  The buses they arrived in were whitewashed school buses, so there was no indication as to their point of origin.  I was relieved to find the noisy bunch was egressing as I arrived, and their visit appeared to have left the tasting room crew wide-eyed and breathless.  I think they were glad the attention could now be focused on the nice, quiet wine writer.  I'm sure I looked a lot more manageable than they did.


Ken Volk founded Paso Robles' Wild Horse Winery and jumped at the chance to open his namesake winery in the Santa Maria Valley.  The winery and tasting room are located among the vineyards at the northern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, which runs from Los Olivos to Santa Maria.  Volk produces wines utilizing Burgundy and Bordeaux grape varieties, and he also has a penchant for the odd, forgotten or under-appreciated grape.  So do I, so I was particularly interested in finding out about what Volk calls his "heirloom" wines.

Missed Connections

There were two disappointments on my visit to the Volk Santa Maria tasting room this day.  First, the winemaker was at his other tasting room, in Paso Robles.  Second, two of his heirloom wines - which are to be released soon - are "not quite ready," as the tasting room crew told me.  They also told me that had Volk been present, he would most surely have poured me a sample of both the Touriga National and Alicante that are in the works.  I will patiently await my opportunity to try them.

A New Friend

Happily, there were plenty of wines I could taste.  The red wines were being poured in the barrel room, but I began with the whites, which were being poured outside in the "backyard."  Jerrett, my pourer, was quite affable.  Denise was with me, and we encountered Jarrett separately.  When we were leaving, she asked me, "So how long have you known Jerrett?"  Perplexed, I told her I had just met him.  She explained that he had so many good things to say about me, she just assumed we were friends.  Well, now I guess we are.

As Jerrett introduced me to the Volk whites - all the while regaling me with the story of his involvement with Ken's company - I imagined that he must have gotten along nicely with the busloads of rodeo clowns that had just departed.  He probably gets along well with everyone.  He's that kind of guy.

Wine Tasting, The Whites

It was a perfect, sunny day for sampling some chilled white wines in the great outdoors.  I started with one of Volk's heirloom wines, the Malvasia Bianca 2008.  The fruit is from the San Bernabe vineyard in Monterey County.  It's an off-dry wine with a lot of character, smelling and tasting of lychee and flowers.  The '08 Verdelho was next.  Verdelho is a grape from the Portuguese island of Madeira.  The fruit for this wine comes from the El Pomar Junction vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA.  The wine is big in the mouth, displaying a tropical feel both on the nose and palate.  The citrus flavors turned into guava at mid-palate in a very interesting transformation.  The '07 Viognier also sports a guava profile, as well an interesting green apple flavor that is right up front.  Santa Maria Valley grapes are used for the Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2006.  This wine has a very pungent nose that shows the influence of the wood dramatically and layers spicy notes - notably nutmeg - on top of the tropical flavors.

Wine Tasting, The Reds

Gary was pouring the red wines in Volk's big, cool barrel room.  I saw four wines on the list which immediately grabbed my interest.  The tiny grapes used in the '08 Negrette come from the Caleri vineyard near Hollister in San Benito County.  Brambly blackberry on the nose shows plenty of complexity on the palate, as the fruit joins up with leather, anise and earth in what the winemaker describes as "Syrah meets Pinot."  Volk's '05 Cabernet Franc is produced from Paso Robles fruit and shows a perfumy lavender nose along with a very nice earthiness.  It's a big, full mouthfull of plums.  The '05 Tempranillo from Starr Ranch vineyard in Paso Robles has a bright nose with a taste that makes me think of the old west, full of licorice and sagebrush.  The '04 Claret is a blend of 39% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Sauvignon.  At once it is juicy, plummy, dry and grippy with a bit of medicine bottle on the nose.

A Lot Left On The Table

There were about ten wines I didn't taste including three Pinot Noirs, a Zinfandel, a Syrah and a Petite Sirah which got compliments from several others while I was tasting.  By the way, the grounds at Kenneth Volk are perfectly suited for a picnic.  There are a couple of tables in a beautiful garden setting in front and some picnic tables in the backyard that would be suitable for a group.  Just call and make sure the rodeo clowns aren't scheduled there, too.

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