Monthly Archives: September 2014

Paso Robles Pioneer Day Is Pure Americana

Every year since the Depression, the town of Paso Robles relives its heritage.

The northern half of San Luis Obispo County (North County), California, is represented in this example of what I like to call real or pure Americana. Paso Robles itself is about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with the Coastal Range between the city and beach. It’s roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Free

Mentioned this briefly last year, but “Pioneer Day” started at the beginning of the Depression when obviously most were struggling. The community geared up the day to celebrate what people did have back then and that was friendship. So they tied in the commemoration of the cities heritage with a community day and incorporating the theme “Leave Your Pocketbook at Home”. The town got together organizations, churches, businesses along with individuals and gave a little something back to the citizenry.

So this big “thank you” to the town folk has occurred every year since.

About mid-morning, a parade starts going around our city park, which is centered in the middle of town. This parade is a story unto itself. When I first saw this, it was almost surreal – giant steam-powered tractors which are the biggest stars of the show, come puffing down the street. I mean giant; like a couple stories tall. I can’t really describe it because it feels like you stepped back in time.

Coming from not just North County but far beyond, these are museum pieces and you have to realize that these behemoths, a few with one-cylinder, yes one cylinder, are actually still running over 100 years after they first were built. It’s hard to believe these vehicles can run and some of them are absolutely beautiful.

Every tractor you can imagine drives by along with lots of bands and of course the town’s officials and business people. Classic cars, steamrollers, harvesters and fire engines of different sorts also parade around and there are some cool horse-drawn vehicles and they too might have dignitaries on them.

There’s more

After the parade, the lines form for the bean feed – it’s free so you can imagine what it looks like when all of a sudden several thousands people stand in line in our city’s park. Then you can mill around downtown or go to the Museum (Pioneer Park) and look at some of the vehicles up close. There’s also a horseshoe throwing contest. Don’t forget, there are tasting rooms in every direction.

There are all kinds of things to do like watch wood carvers, shelling and grinding corn, make butter, watch a smith shoe a horse and basket-making. There’s probably more but you get the picture.

If you’re into antiques and friendly socializing the way it used to be, this event is perfect. It truly is everything that a small town or community can offer. The atmosphere is fun and special … pure Americana.

Additional source – Check out some great pics here

See ya ’round pardner,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Wine Month

Everything and everybody has a month nowadays but certainly wine should have at least one month in California considering the growth of the industry here in the Golden State. September has been Wine Month in California for 10 years now and here are some reasons to celebrate aged and fermented grape juice.

Harvest

Indeed this time of year is the most active along with being the most important season when it comes to wineries. This is harvest season and vineyard and facilities don’t have a busier time than the picking, destemming, crushing, pressing, fermentation and finally storage period of the year. This is immediately followed by harvest festivals and dinners.

It’s a great time of year for customers or fans of wines to meet the winemakers while having a little fun either helping with harvest and wine processes or enjoying the beautiful view of a vineyard with vines full and lush. The saying goes: ‘Come for the view, Stay for the wine‘. Often wineries will have special events including concerts and of course, who can go to wine country without wine tasting.

Commemorating the states huge investment in the wine industry with its own month is the perfect example of just how important vinification is in California. Producing upwards of 90% of the United States wine production is impressive in itself.

As a major food supplier to the U.S., California also is one of the food destination regions in all the world. A signature example of that is the just concluded Savor The Central Coast in Santa Margarita. The event celebrates food and wine merging two activities that are a huge draw to the area.

Paso Robles, on the California Central Coast, was named the world’s number one wine region. Like the Savor event with food, entertainment is becoming more and more the norm in wine country. For instance Crosby Stills and Nash are performing September 30th at the Vina Robles Amphitheater. The spectacular center is in its second season.

Number 1

As the number one agriculture in the state, viticulture brings in over $50 billion a year from nearly half a million acres. $3 billion in taxes are generated and the wine business has created well over 300,000 full-time California jobs (source: PRWCA).

From the North Coast highlighting Napa and Sonoma, out to the Sierras, down through the Central Valley and across to the Central Coast and beyond, the array and variety of grapes and wines from California is unmatched in the world.

If you missed it, you don’t have to only come here in September and in fact, once Harvest is done, as briefly mentioned before, festival and dinners, mostly in October, adorn hillsides after valleys after hillsides throughout the state. And the change of colors starts to appear in fall giving the countryside, in almost any wine region in the state, a golden glow, showing once again why California is such a special place … and surely offers another reason to call it the Golden State.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Cork Versus Screw Cap

The magic of wine and how it’s stored is obviously up for debate. Certainly when it comes to storing wine in a receptacle, there are multiple ways to do it, not the least of which is using oak wine barrels for aging. Even when not stored in wooden casks, oak chips or other forms of oak are introduced into the container to offer that unique taste and smell that give wine an inimitable and exquisite aroma.

Cork VS Screw Cap

Once the wine leaves the winery and becomes part of the landscape of someone’s home or business, then the debate arises as to whether cork or screw caps should be used. We won’t argue the merits of boxed wine – I think you know how that discussion will end. This is a short and simple dialogue, plus I need to make clear I’m not a wine connoisseur, but my research into the world of wine and wine barrels has brought a lot of facts to the fore.

Classic cork

Cork is the classic answer to any query about how wine bottles should be enclosed. However, with wine becoming more and more popular and cork a limited resource, screw caps have made major inroads. Even amongst cork-style preservation covers, synthetics, rubber and other forms of non-cork products are being used. Still, we’re sticking to cork versus screw caps for this debate.

Cork comes from the bark of a particular cork oak (quercus suber) and has been used as wine stopping material for roughly four centuries even though the Roman Empire first introduced cork as a stopper over a 1,000 years prior. Rags were often used before cork – yes, not very presentable. With limits, cork is a renewable resource and biodegradable.

Cork Oak

Being permeable though, has made corks imperfect with a slight bit of oxygen sometimes able to ooze into the wine. This means that a very small amount of corks can taint wine, although a few experts say sometimes a little breathing can be good for more full-bodied wines, allowing them to level out. Although maybe not scientific, there’s something symbiotic about wine coming from an oak barrel and being corked with oak.

Modern-day caps

Screw caps were first prominent as a closure with ignominious jugs of wine a half century ago. However, the turn of this century saw newer winemakers using screw caps regularly as closures on better wines. Though not biodegradable, with advent of wines popularity growing at ever higher rates around the world and limits on corks availability, screw caps have become more and more the norm with wines.

However, without the capacity to offer any redeeming qualities other than keeping a wine the same as it was when it entered the bottle, screw caps are simply a cheaper and easier application for wine bottles, especially those wines that should be consumed earlier rather than later. Of course, a supposed advantage of screw caps to cork is the fact wine doesn’t need to be stored on its side – corked bottles will dry out if not left on their sides. It should be noted that the manufacturers of screw caps have designed a product that will breathe.

VinPerfect liner and cap in a bottling line capper

Screw caps are the norm down under and are now popping up all over the United States, while Europe has been slow to change. Screw caps are easier to open although yours truly has had to mangle a few caps that would not come off without a visegrips. Another more anomalous thought is: Does the formality of opening a bottle with a corkscrew matter?

Conclusion?

In the end, the screw cap is here to stay; it’s just the issue as to which and how many wineries will change over from the traditional and erstwhile cork to the modern and contemporary screw cap. There will likely be a place for both as some traditions die hard and modernity be damned.

For my own personal opinion, the creaking shrill sound of a screw cap isn’t very remarkable. Plus, there’s something special about the ‘pop’ of opening a bottle of wine … don’t you think?

Additional source: To Cork or Not To Cork

Saluti,

Daryle W. Hier

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Saving Wine With Coravin: Is It Worth It?

I may or may not have mentioned it in prior stories, but there’s a wine stopping and preserving system that when used, can keep wine for up to a month … or longer. The stainless steel device is made by Coravin and cost a tidy $299. Is it worth it?

Alright, here’s the part where I once again state that I’m not a wine expert and don’t plan on playing one anytime soon. However, since my business is of the wine barrel persuasion, I do pay attention to what is happening in the world of wines.

Incredible invention

Greg Lambrecht is the Coravin inventor and entrepreneur who came up with this contraption that has silenced many gadget-phobes who usually cringe at such New World contrivance. The Coravin 1000 Wine Access System came out last year and although priced for only those serious about wine, the market obviously includes businesses such as restaurants who are opening bottles of wine all the time and forced to lose part of a very good bottle of wine or sell a whole bottle when maybe the customer wants just a glass.

Simply stated, the apparatus is set on top of a wine bottle and a surgical-style needle is plunged inside the cork and extracts the liquid while not allowing oxygen into the wine – the ultimate deathnell to any wine. The Coravin fills the empty space with Argon – an inert gas used to displace oxygen. Check out this quick 15 seconds demo here. By the way, the gas tubes last for several bottles of wine with the replacements running  $10.95 each.

Dating back to my classic car restoration days, I’m familiar with Argon which is commonly used used to weld. When I became involved in wine bottling, I learned it was shot into a bottle just before the wine was added, displacing some of the oxygen in the bottle. So the idea of this plunger adding argon into the bottle makes sense. Still, while the product initially swept everyone away, earlier this year, there was a recall due to the product exploding glass. Since then, they have added a protection sleeve to slip over the bottle prior to accessing the wine. And now, they also issue a warning.

Worth it?

The question is, is it worth the $300? For any sommelier, this gadget is priceless. Now you’re able to open a great bottle of wine and close it right back up after one glass. It’s been argued what or how long is the length of time one can actually reuse a bottle of wine before the acidic and vinegar taste starts permeating the wine. Some have said the technology doesn’t allow a bottle of wine to last more than a few weeks while others say wines have kept their taste for several months.

For wine connoisseurs and aficionados, Mr. Lambrecht’s piece of equipment will allow you to dabble through your cellar of wines without having to drink the entire bottle. Even if the wine does turn after weeks instead of months, just the fact that you could go a period of time after opening and still have the quality and taste of a just opened bottle, is likely worth the price of the unique device. As for the rest of us regular folks, we’re better off just drinking the whole bottle – hey, isn’t that what we do with ease anyway?

300 bucks is a lot of money, but if wine is what you are all about, then this Corazin appliance is a must have regardless of the price. And hey, the rest of you quit snickering about the fact that people don’t finish a bottle of wine right away after opening. Yea, you know who you are.

Additional source: Amazon.com

Daryle W. Hier

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Historic Cayucos Pier To Be Rebuilt

The relatively unknown and quaint little town of Cayucos has been around for almost a century and half. It’s 138 year old wooden pier is nearly as old but had been closed recently due in part to its age, lack of maintenance and storms. Although technically owned by the state of California, the County of San Luis Obispo operates the pier along with being responsible for repairs. It appears those repairs will be made.

Cayucos Pier - Morro Rock

Cayucos Pier with Morro Rock in the background

The County Board of Supervisors voted for approval to spend nearly $2 million to rebuild and repair the aging pier that is one of the oldest structures on the California Central Coast. Several hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been spent from different entities including donations, to keep the venerable pier from coming apart. Pilings are missing and structural braces are bent or broken under much of the revered pier. Due to safety concerns, the pier has been closed since last summer.

And it should be noted that there’s over a quarter of a million donated dollars that will be used to keep up the repairs in the years to come.

Small town, big history

With less than 3,000 citizens, the sleepy small town of Cayucos is unincorporated and sits on the Pacific Ocean about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Located at the northern end of Estero Bay, the area is more of a south facing beach than west and therefore is typically warmer than their compadres to the south in Morro Bay – which is roughly 10 miles away. Including Morro Rock to the south, the views are stunning and lucky for them, Cayucos is one of the those beach towns that never grew up. To the east, Whale Rock Reservoir sits just above the town.

Cayucos, CA

Cayucos – viewed from the pier

The Cayucos Pier was built in 1876 by the cities founder, Captain James Cass, who was originally from New England (go here for more on Cass). Considered a shallow bottom pier, it’s now nearly a thousand feet long.

Construction should begin next month with completion by May of 2015. The pier was repaired after major damage in the 1980’s and again a decade later. It’s thought some of the wood pilings could be over 130 years old – much of the pier will be demolished with new timber pilings added.

Source: KCBX-FM

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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A Short On Cork

Some comments pop up every once in awhile about how cork should be replaced with screw caps or some other receptacle topping container. The argument typically goes to the fact that cork (quercus suber) comes from trees and is not necessarily a renewable product. That would be wrong.

Cork Oak TreeThe product that makes itself most popular as a wine stopper, comes from the bark of an evergreen oak tree called the cork oak. After the tree is established for a couple decades, the cork can be carefully stripped off the tree and then every decade or so afterwards.

If you are ever on either side of the Western Mediterranean, such as the Iberian Peninsula or Northwest Africa, that’s where you’ll find this unique tree. The cork oak lives a very long life that can encompass well over two centuries – a renewable resource for sure. Now about that cork versus screw cap debate …

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Peachy Canyon Winery – One Of Paso Robles’ Premier Producers

We don’t normally do stories here on individual wineries because one, we’re not necessarily here to promote one winery over another and two, I’m not exactly a wine expert so my taste are truly my own and don’t reflect an experts more in-depth knowledge. Ah, but with that said, this particular establishment has always had a soft spot with us.

What do we like … it’s a lot

Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel 2011

The power of Paso Zin reaches across the Pacific with Peachy Canyon’s 2011 Westside Zinfandel

Why is that? Before moving here permantly, going back well over a decade ago, we use to visit Paso Robles and one of our favorite wines became Peachy Canyon Winery. My parents used to come up here regularly from Los Angeles and Peachy Canyon was usually on the list of revisits.

The company has also been a supplier of a lot of barrels to Paso Wine Barrels this past year and we’ve developed a good relationship with the company thanks in part to their assistant winemaker Brian Pruett. By the way, Brian always seems busy doing quite a variety of things around the winery.

One other reason that Peachy Canyon Winery has been a favorite of ours is that they specialize in Zinfandel. As you may or may not know, we are particular fans of Zin and therefore the quality of wines at Peachy Canyon was a natural for us.

The Becketts

In any regards, the business was originally established by Doug Beckett along with his wife Nancy. Doug was born in West Virginia but went to school and lived the first part of his life in San Diego. The family moved to Paso Robles in the early ’80s and by the end of the decade, the Becketts were in the wine business.

peachy_lawn_small

Sitting just west of Paso Robles – their tasting room is off 46 West not far from the 101. They have established quite a set of vineyards with production of nearly 100,000 cases a year. Yes, their Zins are great but don’t take my word for it. Wine Enthusiast recently rated their 2011 Zin a 90 and the California State Wine Competition awarded the 2011 Zinfandel with a 95-point rating and the prestigious Best of Class. Also, that same Zin was chosen over 1,000 other wines as Japan Airlines choice of red wine on their airline business flights. Said Doug Beckett of the partnership:

“With this partnership, Peachy Canyon and Japan Airlines will together bring the finest of the Paso Robles, California AVA to clients both in the sky and around the world.”

World-class winemaker

Though the entire Beckett family has been very hands on with their vineyard, two years ago they hired world-class wine producer Terry Culton, formerly of Adelaida Cellars, to be Peachy Canyon’s winemaker, with son Josh Beckett stepping away from winemaking duties but still staying on as a consultant – and no, this isn’t the same guy who pitches for the L.A. Dodgers.

Peachy Canyon Winery

It’s obvious that Terry and Brian are doing one heck of a job for the Becketts so far. It should be noted that Peachy Canyon also has an excellent Petite Sirah from 2011 and a 2012 Viognier. Peachy Canyon wines are sold in 49 states and internationally as well.

A pioneer in Paso Robles’ infamous Zinfandel, the Becketts, Peachy Canyon with Terry Culton leading the way, are certainly front and center when it comes to being one of the premier wine producers on the California Central Coast … and the world.

Additional source: PeachyCanyon.com

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Paso Robles History: Farmers Alliance Building

A large reinforced concrete grain mill has stood on little more than an acre of land in Paso Robles for almost a century. It was built by local almond orchard farmers to help process a booming industry that had created a self-proclaimed Almond Capital of the World. Called the Farmers Alliance building, it holds a lot of history and thanks to a city that wants to preserve its heritage and a company willing to work with state historical standards, the past and present live on.

Farmers Alliance Building rundown

Farmers Alliance Building was rundown and an eyesoar for decades.

After the Civil War, a large group of small and hard-pressed farmers (caused by drought in the MidWest), along with ranchers, formed a national populist organization named the Farmers Alliance, which was started as a way of uniting non-land owning cultivators against the railroads. They had strong family bonds and believed in mutual cooperation.

In Paso Robles, the Paso Robles Almond Growers Association (PRAGA) was formed (it was a co-op) after the turn-of-the-century. By the beginning of the Roaring 20s, a building was needed by a burgeoning industry that had escalated to the point of having more acres of almonds planted than anywhere else in the world.

Almonds to grain

Almond Ad 1919 - Paso Robles

Almonds were king in Paso Robles during the first part of 20th Century

However, with the advent of the Great Depression, production was down and the building was eventually sold to the Farmers Alliance Business Association (FABA) to process grain. They continued ownership of the popular pink building for several decades but with smaller ranches moving in along with the advent of grape-growing, the need for a grain building waned and the organization finally dissolved in the mid-’70s.

Having been unused for almost 30 years, it was believed that food and supply chain Smart & Final purchased the property, but the deal never came to fruition, in-part due to our current Great Recession. One of the oldest commercial buildings in town, the place was run-down and an eye-soar with weeds, a faded rusty exterior along with broken concrete and dirt.

However, just about four years ago, Ray and Pam Derby of Derby Wine Estates bought the property from Smart & Final knowing the historical ramifications. With that, a renovated building with enormous local history was preserved with a new chapter. Derby Wine Estates is composed of three properties throughout the North County area of San Luis Obispo County. They were leasing a facility but now produce their wine at their new property.

Heck of a project

Derby_Wine_Estates - Farmers_Alliance

After three years of reconstruction, the Derby’s have done an excellent job of keeping the originality of the building intact including the tower that stands in the middle of the building. The remodel is both a production facility and a tasting room and yet at a glance, it doesn’t look much different than it did many years ago. The tower now has been converted into a VIP lounge called the Almond Room.

At first just grape growers, the Derby’s have been producing their own wine for nearly a decade and now are generating their wines from the former Farmers Alliance Building. It officially opened in April of this year.

The building stands for anyone to see from Hwy 101, as a legacy of a bygone era. From almonds to grain and now finally grapes, this institution of a building’s legacy appears set to continue being a part of the heritage of Paso Robles for years to come.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Cal Poly Producing

There is a giant and spacious campus on the California Central Coast that is home to one of the top state universities in the United States. Roughly halfway between the metropolis’ of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the school sprawls next to hillsides in the northern part of the city of San Luis Obispo as California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly for short.

Less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Cal Poly was established 113 years ago as a vocational or trade school. In the early years of the Great Depression, the state changed the precepts to a technical school. Not long after WW II, Cal Poly began offering Masters degrees.

Big school, big coast, big boasts

The expansive school, nicknamed the Mustangs, is in fact the second largest university or college in California with 9,678 acres. It’s always ranked as one of the Top 10 universities in the West and this past year was rated #1 architecture program in the country. Overall, the prestigious and renown U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guidebook ranks Cal Poly as Best in the West with the #1 engineering program in the country. It goes on-and-on. It is quite a school.

Whether it’s the mild climate, the attraction of nearby beaches, beautiful crystal clear air, the laid-back small town atmosphere or the majestic morros (hilltops) called the ‘Nine Sisters’, the spectacular landscape of the Central Coast seems to serve and add to the quality of learning.

Though not a powerhouse by anyone’s imagination, Cal Poly’s sports produce quality athletic squads.

Sports are all quality level but if you’re expecting a school like USC or UCLA, this isn’t it. Their football team is a decent Division 1AA team that makes the playoffs more so than not and their basketball team, which was always so-so, made the NCAA’s this past year for the first time. Their baseball team has been to the playoffs recently.

Wines where it’s at

However, to those who are in the industry, Cal Poly is now becoming a leader in producing high quality graduates in the wine industry. Their viticultural department has created longstanding and steady flow of vintners, managers and vineyard careers. To be more precise, the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences gets students ready to succeed in the ever-growing wine industry.

Although the California Central Coast as a whole, is well-known and produced a plethora of wine, the North County of San Luis Obispo – Paso Robles – is the world’s number one wine region. This has created a demand, which has given students an advantage of being wanted and needed when they earn their degrees.

Cal Poly makes their own commercially produced wines.

Cal Poly teaches their students all facets of a multidimensional industry, including growing the product, making the product and of course marketing the product. Whether the student wants to farm grapes, make wine or manage and market, all aspects are covered.

Producing ready-to-go graduates 

President of Cal Poly, Jeffrey D. Armstrong, may have said it best:

“In today’s work, college graduates must be able to work creatively and think critically across multiple disciplines. Cal Poly’s graduates can – and do. Employers love our graduates, because they have two hands on the problem and two feet on the ground. They’re ready to contribute on Day One.”

On a personal note, I knew little about the school before I moved here from Los Angeles several years ago. By following sports, that was about the only thing I did know. Now having been around the region for a little while, I can appreciate the quality of schooling and why students want to be here on the Central Coast. When I’m at wineries, it’s a common site to see Cal Poly Mustang clothing being worn, as the influence is palpable.

With about 20,000 students, the school has formed a backbone of high standards that will help assist and shape today and tomorrow’s society in oh so many ways. Those same students are likely drawn by the beauty of the area along with so many activities like biking, surfing or an abundance of hiking to keep the mind fresh – all combined with a topnotch university gives Cal Poly a special place in the hierarchy of higher learning.


 

NOTE: In the fall of 2014, Payscale.com listed amongst public universities, Cal Poly in the Top 15 for earnings made after they graduate. As the number one rated state school in California, Cal Poly graduates were averaging $56,200 early in their careers and $100,100 average during the middle of their careers.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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