Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Bodegas Paso Robles

Before her life as owner and winemaker of Bodegas Paso Robles, Dorothy Schuler was in the word business. "I was a writer, journalist and editor, and I don't like it when people make mistakes," she warned. With that thinly veiled admonishment, I pulled a couple of extra pages of note paper out and switched from pen to pencil, just in case anything needed to be corrected on the fly.

With that out of the way, though, we settled into the kind of conversation I like - talking with someone about their big passion. Schuler's big passion is making wines from the grape varieties native to Spain and Portugal. She does this in Paso Robles, California, where it's much more common to find Rhone-style wines at the more than 200 wineries in the region. This came about because she happened to be the only one around to do it. It's called being in the right place at the right time.

Her wine story began in 2002, when she and her husband were living in Washington state. "My husband wanted to move to Gilroy, California, and I said 'No way, Jose.' Let's look at Paso Robles. We had family in the San Francisco Bay area and in Santa Monica, so Paso Robles was just about exactly halfway between the two. I found a house in three days, and we were here, just like that.

"My husband and his partner started a winery, and I did the paperwork. It was a real soap opera, but the short version is, my husband had to go to England for his other job and when I asked what was to become of the winery, he said 'It's yours. Run with it.' So I did."

With a love for Spanish and Portuguese wines already ingrown, she knew which way to run. "My passion is old heritage grapes nobody else deals with. In '02 there was some Tempranillo being grown in Paso Robles, but it had just been planted, and it wsn't ready to be picked yet. I managed to find some from other places, and some Graciano - there are maybe 10 acres of that grape planted in this country - from Tres Pinos vineyard in San Benito. That first year I put out a Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a Tempranillo/Graciano blend. The Graciano is fantastic blended, but it's lovely on its own, too."

Tres Pinos is still a major provider for Bodegas Paso Robles. Schuler says, "Ron Siletto, the grower, says 
Ken Volk and I are his two favorite winemakers." Volk is known for taking the same caretaker approach with Italian varieties that Schuler takes with those from Spain and Portugal. "Ron went to a vineyard in San Benito called El Gavalon," she explains, "where they were plowing under a lot old vines that were planted in 1890. He went in there, got some cuttings from the old vines before they were destroyed and planted them at Tres Pinos. There are a lot of reasons he's a great guy, but that's probably the biggest."

Schuler sources all her grapes from growers like Siletto, who nurture the heritage grapes. "Everybody has found out I'm interested in these odd grapes, and they've started tracking me down to sell them to me. It certainly makes finding these grapes a lot easier when they come to me! Bobal, a Spanish variety, has just found its way to me like that. It's not ready this year, but I'll get it next year. Jack Ranch Vineyard in Edna Valley has some of the best Albarino in the business. I'll probably make another Albarino in the near future.

"Iberia, a dry-farmed vineyard in Calistoga, has Touriga Nacional, Graciano, Tempranillo and Tintacao in a field blend. I may be getting a ton of Alicante Bouchet from Paso Robles that was planted in 1880!

"It's important to keep these varietals going, because each has its own characteristic." Schuler makes the most of her access to these special grapes. Her Graciano and ¡Viva Yo! are winning awards for excellence.

Schuler loves to talk about her varied background. As a writer she covered cycling events in Belgium. She edited six of Timothy Leary's books while living in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles among movie and rock stars. She's quite the art collector, too, which paid extra dividends when she needed a label for her wines. "I called my artist friend, 
Morse Clary, and told him I needed an image to go on the bottles. I sent him some barrel samples and he sent me the face I used on the '02 vintage. I've been using it since." The face - pictured above - is on all her wines, with different background colors for each wine.

The thing she loves to talk about the most, though, is wine. "You've heard of GSM? Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre? I'm doing a GTM - Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell. I call it Vaca Negra, and it will be released soon. The '07 is done without the Grenache - it was terrible that year - but the full '08 blend is on the way.

Schuler is a member of 
TAPAS - Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society - which is an organization of wine producers and grape growers who specialize in the varieties of the Iberian peninsula. She also has a hand in Women Of The Vine Cellars, which is an East Coast label. Schuler produces the Tempranillo for that label.

She admits it's tough to get some visibility in a place like Paso Robles, where wineries are almost to the point of overcrowding. She's happy, though, with her boutique-level production. "We did 2,500 cases in 2008," she say, "but like everybody else, I'm backing off a bit. I'll do maybe 1,500 this year."

The Bodegas Paso Robles Tasting Room is located at 729 13th Street, Paso Robles, CA.  Reach the tasting room by phone at 805-237-3780.  I tasted several of the wines of Bodegas Paso Robles at the 
California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara.

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