The Paso Robles brigade of the California Rhône Rangers group joined Grenachistas around the world on September 20, designated as International Grenache Day, to celebrate one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world.
The International Grenache Day merriment was staged at scenic Bovino Vineyards in Templeton and brought together 23 Paso wineries for a two-hour tasting. Paso is noted, of course, for its Rhône style wines leading with the popular syrah and the GSM blends (grenache, syrah and mourvedre). However, in recent years, grenache (both noir and blanc) has emerged riding high on its own.
Grenache noir (popularly known as grenache) is the second most widely planted grape in the world. In Spain’s Rioja region, it’s known as garnacha and commonly blended with tempranillo. The varietal is a driving component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines produced in France’s Southern Rhône. Meanwhile, in Australia and California, grenache is an essential grape for blending with syrah and mourvedre. I notice in Paso many winemakers are now adding a splash of petite sirah to their grenache for a deeper richer wine.
To get acreage statistics on this varietal I reached out to Kim Murphy-Roderigues, executive director of Paso Robles Rhône Rangers chapter.
In an email response, she provided this information: total California acreage of grenache noir amounts to 4,150 acres (the majority planted in San Joaquin Valley and used primarily for bulk wine) of which 1,997 acres are for premium wine production. San Luis Obispo County leads the way with 481 acres planted for premium wine production. Comparatively, total California planting of grenache blanc is a mere 298 acres for premium wine production of which 113 acres are planted in SLO County.
For Bovino, the evening’s host and a new addition on the Paso wine trail the event was a perfect way to welcome other local wineries on its ranch. The winery’s elegant tasting room, scenic hilltop terrace and outdoor courtyard were filled with some 200 attendees sampling red, white and rosé wines of Central Coast grenache
Bovino’s owner Dan Souza acquired the 83-acre property (formerly Burbank Ranch Winery) in 2018. However, he is not new to the Paso wine region. In 1997, Souza purchased a vineyard on the east side primarily to sell the fruit. He did dabble in garage winemaking. “From two barrels now it’s a bit bigger,” he mused.
Souza makes weekly visits to Paso, from his base in Fresno, where his family roots date back to 1949. “The family has been in farming for 71 years,” said Souza.
While Souza was busy attending to guests, his tasting room staff offered a selection of three wines from the 2015 vintages. Bovino’s Joludi grenache was lush with red fruits and a hint of spice; from the gen-er-os-i-ty label, the grenache blanc showed bright stone fruit flavors; and the Rosé of grenache and mourvedre soared with fragrant strawberry notes.
The excellent representation of grenache wines reflected Paso’s diversity with this varietal ranging from ruby-hued to deep inky color and from spicy to berry-loaded.
Powell Mountain Cellars’ owner/winemaker Bill Powell crafts small production (mere 70 cases of each of the 2014 and 2015 vintages) of grenache sourced from Adelaide district — a wine as light in color and delicate as a pinot noir, offering ripe raspberry fruit balanced withe traces of earthy minerality.
Aged for 15 months, Amor Fati’s 2015 grenache, sourced from Santa Maria Valley’s Murmur vineyards, was lively with black cherry notes balanced with elegant tannins. Sculpterra’s 2015 deep-hued estate grenache was blended with 10 percent syrah. Nearby at the Steinbeck table, I found a refreshing 2018 Rosetta, a delicious rosé of grenache, blended with 20 percent syrah.
I’ve always enjoy Four Lanterns Winery’s Rhône whites so it was a delight to savor the 2017 Still Light, an aromatic grenache blanc-driven blend with picpoul blanc and clairette blanche. In the 2017 blend, grenache blanc was joined by ugni blanc and a touch of viognier that gave the blend the seductive floral aromatics. “It also adds a roundness and a broad mid-palate,” commented co-owner Jackie Gleason.
Ranchero Cellars’s owner/winemaker Amy Butler, who’s been a big proponent of red Rhône varietals, is also known for her Chrome, a fresh and fruity grenache blanc. Butler offered the 2017 vintage that rocked with lively acidity balanced with notes of ripe pear and delicate honeysuckle.
At Niner Wine Estates, I sampled two grenache wines side by side. Both 2017 vintages had syrah added for color and tannins: the cool climate grenache from Jesperson Ranch in Edna Valley showed delicate floral notes while the one from the estate Heart Hill vineyard in Paso was richer and heavier on the palate.
Anglim Winery’s Steffanie Anglim also offered her 2015 vintage of grenache from two different appellations: the Willow Creek district grenache was rich and concentrated with a kick of tannins and reflected the Paso garrigue (scent of wild brush and herbs). The Adelaida district wine was lush with red berries with a touch of spice.
Also from Adelaida district, Brecon Estate’s 2017 grenache was a party in a glass blended with syrah, tannat, malbec and viognier: a burst of strawberry flavors led to a rich mid-palate ending with a memorable finish.
Jack Creek Cellars, known as a pinot house, has been producing small lots of grenache (200 cases annually) from its five-acre vineyard that was planted in 2005, noted Kelsey Lemstra, its tasting room manager. She poured a deliciously aged 2010 grenache as the 2015 is sold out and the 2016 vintage will be out later this month.
Other participating wineries included Broken Earth, Caliza, Derby Wine Estates, J. Lohr. Kaleidos, Leverage, MCV Wines, ONX, Red Soles, Thacher, Vigo and Zenaida Cellars.
The tasting of grenache wines was highlighted by Chef Jeff’s mouth-watering lamb pops on a bed of quinoa. A taste of sorbet dessert added that satisfying finale to the celebration of grenache.