ADELAIDA, AS THE ALLUSION to boxing goes, punches above its weight.
It may be one of California’s less familiar wine regions, but this mountainous, oak-studded viticultural area just outside of Paso Robles boasts a couple of the Central Coast’s signature wineries, along with a major industry player. About three dozen others comprise an eclectic roster of Adelaida wineries.
The district is home to Tablas Creek Vineyards, the innovative grower-producer of Rhône and Mediterranean grape varieties I’ve written about previously. Several scenic miles up the road is the more mainstream Daou Family Estates (stylized “DAOU” on their labels), which specializes in Napa Valley-ish red wines. With their respective national footprints, each winery serves an ambassadorial role for Paso Robles as an important source of California wine.
In my travels, Daou has often seemed to show up as a grocery chain and steakhouse standby, while Tablas Creek’s Rhône focus makes it more of a mom-and-pop establishment brand (if mom hummed along to Edith Piaf and pop sported the occasional beret). Each produces a hefty 30,000 cases per year, enough to satisfy distributor and direct-to-consumer needs many times over.
“BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.”
When I’m taking my last sips out of the last glass poured from my last bottle of Paul and Jackie Gordon’s Halcón Vineyards wine someday, this is what I hope to remember to tell myself. Though I managed to miss the boat on a decade’s worth of Halcón vintages, I’m grateful that I came across this excellent, Rhône-centric label when I did. The truism above certainly applies.
I’m also glad to have had a chance to meet the Gordons, the now-former owners of this Yorkville Highlands vineyard, on a cold, rainy night in early 2019, while we all poured wines for a group of wine competition judges in a funky Cloverdale art gallery. Paul and Jackie had their Yorkville syrah to show off to the judges; I had a few library vintages of my bosses’ wine from the same AVA. Since then, I’ve become a bit obsessed with the English couple’s syrahs, along with their equally intriguing mourvèdre.
“Far-roving pioneer vintners from Europe carried with them the desire to create vinous echoes of their homelands.”
—Robert Lawrence Balzer, The Joys of Wine, 1975
ALMOST SINCE I STARTED drinking wine, I’ve thought of the mourvèdre grape in superlative terms.
Across borders in Spain and France and time zones in Australia and California, this thrilling, complex variety makes some of the wines—on its own and in combination with syrah and grenache—that I most enjoy putting in a glass.
Before that even happens, there’s the splendid fact of its name. Or, rather, all three of them.
The vine, which is best known in France and internationally as mourvèdre, started out as mataro in Spain before getting rendered into French. Then, somewhere along the line it became monastrell—a possibly neutral name created by, and for, the Spanish. Oz Clarke notes this in his Encyclopedia of Grapes.
According to the English wine writer, the name split the difference between Valencia and Catalonia, two Spanish regions closely identified with the vine—and whose respective towns of Murviedro and Mataró give a pretty strong toponymic clue to its dual identities. “Perhaps,” Clarke writes, “local pride meant that both areas claimed the grape so fiercely that Monastrell was chosen so as not to offend anyone.”
OVER THE YEARS, I’VE WALKED, trudged, and even climbed through my share of vineyards, but I can’t recall bringing as much of one home on the bottoms of my shoes as I did in late January, when I met up with Joel Peterson in Oakley.
In an unassuming place near the edge of the Delta, it’s all about the sand.
The morning after an atmospheric river flowed across the Bay Area, I headed out to eastern Contra Costa County and followed Highway 4 along an actual river—the San Joaquin—to get to my destination, an eight-acre vineyard near the Oakley-Antioch border. This unlikely viticultural spot on the suburban map doesn’t have a formal name, but Joel has designated it Oakley Road Vineyard for the wine he produces from its old-vine mataro grapes.
While his relatively new Sonoma-based label, Once & Future, isn’t nearly a household wine brand in the tradition of Gallo, Kendall-Jackson, or Mondavi, the wine company he founded in the mid-70’s certainly is. Joel launched Ravenswood in 1976 with the intention, in his own words, of creating “a small, personal project, where I was going to make just fine, single vineyard-designated wines and nothing else” from sites around Northern California.