Paso Robles has made quite a name for itself with red Rhône-style blends, but they’re not the only game in town. From the friendly face of Viognier down to attractive strangers like Clairette Blanche, white Rhône varieties are increasingly quenching this region’s warm-weather thirst. Here are five producers to watch.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Winemaker Jason Haas’s family not only has a partnership with famous Rhône winemakers the Perrin family, but plantings in the Haas nursery also included some of the first in California from the French region. Today, he’s got some tricks up his sleeve: “I’m excited for Bourboulenc, which we hope to harvest for the first time this year.”
Owners Steve and Pam Lock add citrusy Grenache Blanc to floral, stone-fruity Viognier in their Prelude bottling. “These white Rhône blends tend to be more full bodied, complex and more interesting on the palate than other whites,” says Lock. “We have a lot of visitors who come in stating that they aren’t interested in white wines then end up being very pleasantly surprised to find Prelude to their liking.”
Winemaker Kevin Sass offsets his zesty Grenache Blanc with a splash of Viognier, but the grape he’s most excited about is Picpoul Blanc, which makes a stunning sparkler. “It maintains its acidity in our warm Paso climate while, but it also has great mouthfeel and weight,” says Sass. “Picpoul Blanc is a colloquial term that loosely translates to ‘Lip Stinger’ in French, an homage to its great acidity!”
Owner/Director of Winemaking Bob Tillman has been growing Marsanne and Roussanne for 14 years. He emphasizes their richness with barrel fermenting and lees stirring. “Marsanne offers delicate, appley notes with a rich, viscous palate and acid backbone that goes great with winter fare like creamy soups or roasted vegetables,” says Tillman, who pitches the variety as a Chardonnay alternative. Roussanne, he says, is much richer with “a hint of honey after a year or so. We position it as a white wine for red wine lovers.”
Barton Family Wines
Joe Barton, owner and director of winemaking at Grey Wolf Cellars and Barton Family Wines, makes two Viogniers from cooler locations in the Templeton Gap, but he’s also exploring the fringes with Picpoul Blanc and Clairette Blanche. “Through my travels in Châteauneuf, I had many opportunities to try Clairette, and my hope was that we could achieve that same texture in Paso,” he says of the grape, which combines acid with an oily texture. “I feel like there is a similar vein coming through, but only vine age will give the full story.”