Tom and Dave Nagengast of Cinquain Cellars Photos by Mira Honeycutt

While harvest is still in progress, Paso’s Harvest Wine Weekend celebrations over the weekend of October 19-21 were in full swing at many wineries. Delicious aromas of food wafted from tasting rooms while patios and terraces rocked with live music. Sip & Savor LogoBBQ grills sizzled with tri-tip meat, tacos cradled spicy carnitas, pizzas were tossed and Cubano sandwiches stacked. There was even a bake sale in progress at Zenaida Cellars staged by kids from San Miguel’s Almond Acres Charter Academy, raising money for Life Water.

The weekend was loaded with barrel and new release tastings, educational seminars such as a vertical tasting of picpoul blanc wine at Four Lanterns Winery and grape stomping at Cass, Opolo and Vina Robles wineries.

Beth and Cindy Steinbeck

At Cinquain Cellars, there was much activity going on when I stopped by. Owner/winemaker Dave Nagengast and son Tom were in the midst of cleaning out the traditional barrel press which had just finished pressing malbec. Dave planted 13 acres in Paso’s Hog Canyon area in 2000 and opened the winery in 2008. Assisted by his wife Beth and their three sons at Cinquain, Dave continues his day job as vice president of winemaking at Scheid Vineyards. Cinquain, a small family owned winery, produces just 1500 cases annually of predominantly Bordeaux style wines and are open on all festival weekends or by appointment only.

Amidst all this merriment from Paso’s east side to west side, I managed to get comments from a few winemakers and vintners on the quality of 2018 harvest. In most vineyards, while the Rhônes and other varieties have been picked, cabernet sauvignon is still hanging.

“It’s been an easy harvest, everything coming in at the same time,” reflected Paul Quinn, who oversees Opolo’s distillery project. The season’s early heat gave a bit of a scare, but it cooled off, so ripening was low and slow. “This harvest gives you good maturity and good color development in skin and good tannins, which promises age-ability for this vintage.”

Lineup of Ambyth’s biodynamic wines – white, pink and orange

At Derby, yields were also average to slightly below, Ray Derby noted, on both his east and westside properties. “Everything is coming in nice and evenly and appears to be a good vintage overall.”

Sterling Kragten, on the other hand, called this harvest, ‘random.’  “We are two-thirds of the way into harvest and there’s still mourvedre to go,” he exclaimed. The winemaker at Cass Winery blames the crazy temperature swings. “It’s weeks of cool and weeks of hot, and it’s a lot of hurry up and wait.”

And how does that affect the wine’s quality? “In some ways, it can be a good thing as it gives a longer hang time,” Kragten remarked. Overall, he’s pleased as there’s nothing detrimental and the yields are decent.

At Ambyth Estate, founded by Phillip and Mary Hart, I met with their son Gelert Hart. The east side winery is among a handful of Demeter-certified biodynamic estates in the Paso area. The vineyard is planted to 13 varieties and at their weekend event the staff was pouring a whopping 19 different wines — from white, pink and orange to reds, all produced from estate fruit.

Don Brady and Alysa Hall at Robert Hall Winery

Again, with the super cool spring, it stunted the start and set the whole schedule behind, Hart noted. “This year is the latest we picked,” Hart said of their harvest practice, which tends to be on the early side starting in August.

For a dry farmed estate, Ambyth’s yields have been low for the past few years. “We got a ton more this year,” Hart remarked, pleased with the meager extra tonnage. “For us that’s amazing!”

In the midst of heady aromas of grilled meats rising from Robert Hall Winery’s scenic terrace, winemaker Don Brady commanded two barrels offering samples of the 2016 cabernet sauvignon. The event was the Fishing Pig harvest dinner, prepared by Captain Mark Tognazzini of Morro Bay’s Dockside, a repast that included ribs, sausages, and oysters from the grill along with shrimp tacos and crab cakes.

At Zenaida Cellars, Kai Stoltzfus, Laura Fash, Jack Hamon and Van Ogorsolka selling baked goods for Life Water

About 55 percent of harvest is done, but there’s still lots of grapes to bring in, remarked Brady. Although challenging, it was a good season for fruit set and crop size. “The heat we saw was not really our friend,” he commented. “When it gets to 100 degrees, the physiological process stops,” said the veteran winemaker of the fruit growth. “What we’ve seen so far, quality is amazing,” Brady declared. “The reds are very dark and the sauvignon blanc will be a killer this year.”

When I visited Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery, its veteran vintner Howie Steinbeck had just finished manning the grill with the spicy venison sausages ready to be served. The meat, I was told by his daughter Cindy Steinbeck, was from the buck roaming on the property and shot by Howie. As for harvest at the legendary Steinbeck vineyards, Cindy informed me it started out on a normal schedule, but stalled two weeks ago.

“We have 50 percent of crop still to pick,” she said. But then again there’s no such thing as normal. “Every year we have high heat and the July heat didn’t bother me. Quality is outstanding, the acids right in the wheel house.”

At Locatelli, over a vertical tasting of sangiovese, from ’14, ‘9 and ’08 vintages, owner/winemaker Louie Gregory noted that cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc are still waiting on the vine. “The yield looks promising — but frustrating.”

Although faced with the challenging weather, the consensus of the winemakers I met is that so far it’s a good harvest for Paso with yields overall good though not great.