Category Archives: Francis’ Adventures

Francis’ Wine Country Tour 2014, Day Two

On the 2nd day of this incredible wine-centric experience, we traveled farther north to Paso Robles, where our 1st visit was to a very interesting and exciting tasting at Field Recordings Winery. These wines are creatively blended using very uncommon varietals like Tannat, and a Portuguese varietal called Touriga Nacional. We were treated to a very entertaining tasting through the portfolio with the winemaker, Andrew Jones, an animated and quite talented person. He explained his new concept of producing and selling wine in barrel kegs, much like beer is served. This new trend seemed to be taking off for larger chain restaurants. Andrew’s winemaking techniques created bold and non-traditional styled blends that are bright, complex and well balanced. I was most impressed by their flagship and best seller, Fiction Red. This wine was rich with dark fruit, lively acids and nicely framed tannins. It consist of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petite verdot, 14% cab franc and finishes with 13% tannat. We also discovered that Andrew was not only a winemaker, but is one of Paso Robles most sought-after viticulturalists. He regularly consults for many of the area wineries. His French-trained knowledge of growing techniques and his innovative, obscure ideas are very well respected among his industry colleagues.

We were treated to a parting gift of Cane and Fable 373 Cabernet Sauvignon, a joint venture between Mr. Jones and Curt Schlachlin, winemaker at Sans Liege. This wine is very indicative of big, heavily extracted Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paso Robles region. We graciously accepted the gift and decided to bring the bottle back to Texas and enjoy it at a future date. After more research (we drank the 2nd bottle), it is now available on The Classic’s wine list.

Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room


Our next stop was a beautiful winery called Bianchi. We were treated to a private tour and tasting by the winemaker, Tom Lane. The property and the facilities were stunning. We were met in the tasting room by Tom and started with a sample of Bianchi’s 2011 Moscato. This bright vibrant Moscato had lively flavors of orange blossom and kumquat which was a refreshing cleanse of the palate after the big red wines that we just finished on our last tasting. The tour began with an informative stroll to the vines. There Tom treated me to some scientific and technical processes of determining how to measure the sugar content (brix are the units of measurement) of the grapes that were on the vine. He picked a single grape from the uppermost cluster and squeezed the juice onto this kazoo-looking apparatus, called a refractometer. This meter had a scale that went from zero to 100 brix. This reading, along with the acidity level(ph), are the indicators to the winemaker that the fruit has ripened to the desired levels and is ready for harvesting. This process is performed frequently, by Tom, to all of the 20 planted acres on the property, which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Petite Syrah and Moscato. Total production for the winery is about 8,000 cases, 1500 of which are the Cabernet Sauvignon that we currently serve at The Classic.

Bianchi Winery front counter

Tom, Francis and Jen at Bianchi Winery

As the tour continued, we learned about some sophisticated equipment, like the bladder press. This piece of machinery is used to press the juice out of the grapes. They are placed in a huge metal cylinder that has a ballon-like material lined on the inside. Air is then pumped into the tank expanding the balloon and gently pressing the grapes until the juice is extracted. Pressing is done several times until the desired richness is attained. Moving to the barrel room was our next stop. Here we tasted chardonnay that was being pumped from a tank and headed to the bottling room. We also got the opportunity to taste petite syrah from the barrel, and learned how they use a variety of yeast strains to start and stop the fermentation process. Our tour ended by visiting the lab where they perform a variety of tests on the wines to ensure that they are balanced and ready for bottling. We enjoyed our visit and the learning experience that Tom and the entire Bianchi staff afforded us. We also REALLY enjoyed the “HAPPY” state of mind we had achieved, all by noon. Wooohooo!!!
Stay tuned for more.
“Cheers to liquid love!”

Francis’ Wine Country Tour 2014, Day One

As many of you know, I take an annual wine trip to various areas of California. This year, I was very fortunate to visit Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles. This was my 1st time seeing Southern California. WOW!!! It was as beautiful as I was told. I traveled with my favorite wine companion, personal Chef and best friend, Jennifer Stiver. We had the priviledge of lodging at one of my guest and friends’ home, John and Mary Pat. The hospitality and generosity that were provided were far beyond 5 Star. Everything from warm and comfortable bedding to the thoughtful picnic lunches that were packed for us every morning before we were awake, INCREDIBLE!!!

Francis in the vineyards

Francis in the Vineyards

Our first venture was to the small, quaint town of Solvang. There we visited the Peter Stolpman Winery and were given a private tour by the winemaker and President, Peter Stolpman Jr. and his black Labrador, Baron von Stolpman. The tour included an educational stroll through the vines of this plush 152 acre vineyard, vine samples and in-depth information about the growing methods and the terroir of this newly designated AVA (American Viticultural Areas) called Ballard Canyon. We were also treated to an extraordinary tour of Peter Stolpman Sr’s dream home. This 12,000 sq ft Italian Villa was breathtaking!!! Keep your eyes out for a possible January visit to The Classic from Mr. Stolpman.

Stolpman Estate on Hill

Stolpman Estate

Next, we arrived in the beautiful rural town of Los Olivos to have a tasting at The Byron Tasting Room of Jackson Family Wines. We were enthusiastically greeted by Bird, the cute little Jack Russell that welcomed everyone. This turned out to be Pinot Noir heaven!!! There were 9 different styles of pinot noir offered from all over the California Central coast. Most of these offerings were 200 cases or less made, with the lone exception being the 2011 Santa Maria Valley, which is about a 2000 case production. Each of the wines were extremely well crafted and had unique characteristics. The most intriguing of all was the 2011 Monument. The fruits used in this wine are the premier barrels produced on the Nielson Estate in Santa Maria Valley. This rich pinot has flavors of dark blackberry and ripe plum, a silky mouthfeel and pleasant, but not overpowering, smokey finish.

BarnWe were so impressed with the warm feel of this little village of tasting rooms, that we decided to picnic in a little park across the street from the Byron room. We asked some local folks where we could find a sandwich shop nearby. Much to our delight, there was a small deli just around the corner that made gourmet sandwiches and specialty meats. We asked the young man behind the counter for his recommendation and he offered us a turkey melt with spiced provolone cheese, made locally, on rye bread that was not on the menu of the day, but was his favorite.

Our afternoon would not have been complete without some bubbly!!! As we walked over to the cooler, there was a single bottle of 2003 Roederer Brut Reserve that magically appeared like manna from heaven. Our day had just taken an unimaginably awesome turn for the better. If I had to rate this day, I would say that this was the BEST 1st day ever of all my California trips.

Stay tuned for more stories of my exciting wine journey.

Cheers to “Liquid Love”!!!