Wine, Wine Blog

Spanish varietals y Isole e Olena style come to Paso Robles

Spanish varietal tempranillo, Italian ribolla gialla find home in Paso Robles

His mother and grandmother had intended him for the church. But his siblings said that Enrique Torres, the second son in a large Mexican family, could not be a minister; he was too much the little devil. It was this phase of his life that gave his winery its name: Diablo Paso  or Devil’s Steps. The logo bears a cross.

Stumbled into wine business

The story begins in Ixtapa, Mexico, Torres’s home town, where he met his wife, Nora. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Nora went there to study Spanish and happened upon him in the restaurant where he worked. The rest, as they say, is history. They were engaged and they came to California in 2001, where he had some family.

Enrique and Nora Torres

“I wasn’t expecting to get into this business,” he says. When deciding where in the U.S. to settle, he said that perhaps Paso Robles would be a good move. Before he knew it, he had a job as a cellar rat at a local winery. Working hard, learning the ropes, moving up the winemaking ladder, he soon began to dream of starting his own winery. He wanted to make Spanish varietals. Alan Kinne, who brought tempranillo and albariño to Paso from Spain, taught him how to work the grapes. Torres made his own barrel of tempranillo in 2007. Even from that first barrel it took five years to start Diablo Paso.

Winemaking in Spanish

“l love being around the smell,” says Torres, who uses Spanish yeast in his wines. “You make the wine, the way you want the wine to be. Fermentation is the most important part. It’s because that’s where you decide this wine is going to taste like this.”

His choice of barrels depends on the grape. For instance, for the albariño, he uses acacia for the floral notes and French oak for the more rounded and longer finish. Although at present he uses acacia, American oak, and French oak, he wants to experiment with Spanish oak. This will fulfill his wish of all things Spanish – grape variety, yeast, and barrel. Then one day, when the kids are older, he and his wife will make the journey to the original Spanish-speaking nation, his winemaking inspiration. Once there, he wants to walk El Camino de Santiago Campostela.

Italian varietals in Paso Robles

Brain Terrizzi knew his heart was not in the finance job he took after earning a degree in psychology in college. He wanted to do something else; winemaking presented itself as an explorable idea. He worked at Rosenblum Cellars in Oakland, Calif., where he discovered that he was drawn to Italian varietals.

Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi. Stephanie is a viticulturist.

In 2002, he went to Italy, studied the language, visited producers, and rented a car to drive around. Going door to door, he asked vintners if he could work for them, until Isole e Olena in Tuscany invited him to come the following vintage. For three months the next summer, he did everything at the winery. Then when he met his wife, Stephanie, at Fresno State University where they were studying enology, he started Giornata, a term referring to the amount of work that can be done in a day. The year was 2005.  Now they traveled to Italy together, presenting at conferences, attending nebbiolo festivals. And they continue to go to the country from where Terrizzi’s grandfather came as a young child.

They grow the grapes associated with Italy – nebbiolo, ribolla gialla, friulano, sangiovese, and trebbiano. I asked him what makes Paso Robles so favorable for growing Italian grape varietals. This is especially intriguing since most winemakers work with syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay.

All in the soil

It is the soil, Terrizzi says. The soil here has a very high calcium content similar to that in northern Rhone, Burgundy, or Campania. Also, the high pH in the soil restricts plant growth. Before I started my wine blog, I would never have thought that curbing plant growth was a good thing. But it keeps the berries small and concentrates the flavors.

As for the climate, the hot days followed by the cool air coming in from the Templeton gap make for conditions conducive to keeping the acidity in the fruit high.

Despite all of Nature’s goodness, working as a small winemaker is challenging, Terrizzi says. From planting or picking to sales, the job belongs to Terrizzi and his wife.

But through it all, he keeps the flavors as true to Italy as he can, comparing them continually to see how how closely his product hews to the original. Toward that goal, he doesn’t add yeast and uses little to no new oak. He bought a couple of traditional big casks from Italy, the clay amphora, used in Roman times. He points to a large barrel and tells me it is from the oldest cooper in Italy.

“All my equipment’s from Italy, I’ve trained in Italy. I think the idea is I want to really make the wines like the Italians.”

© 2017 Suruchi Mohan

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  1. Sara Somers

    April 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Makes me want to take a road trip and drink wine in Paso Robles.

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