Through Our Wineglasses

August 18, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Tasting with Wolves

The wineries of San Luis Obispo were sounding awfully enticing while we were enduring triple digit temperatures in the northern parts of San Luis Obispo County.  We checked out the SLO Wine website to see if any of the wineries were having any fun events on Sunday.  We discovered that Wolff Vineyards Winery was having an event they called “Meet the Wolves”…we’re not talking about meeting the Wolff family but actual wolves.   They were also having a popular food truck there called The Grilled Cheese Incident out of Los Osos, CA.

We expected to find some cooler weather, a typical Sunday afternoon crowd and some delicious wines.  Well we only found one of those things there at Wolff Vineyards Winery!  (I am referring to their delicious wines of course).  The temperature was in the 90’s and we didn’t see an open seat anywhere, for that reason we decided amongst ourselves that we would come back another time.  At that moment a really nice guy came up to us who must have seen the bewildered looks on our faces and offered his table to us as they were just leaving.  We settled in to our chairs close by the outdoor bar and were almost immediately greeted by a tall handsome gentleman (I believe his name was Ken)to get us started on our tasting.  He started us off with a delicious and refreshing 2012 Old Vine Chardonnay and an equally delicious 2013 Dry Alsatian Style Riesling.  These were followed by some wonderful cooler climate red wines with the exception of a delicious blend from our favorite region–Paso Robles-the 2012 Red Wolf comprising of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  We also made a new discovery of a varietal that none of us had heard of before, the Teroldego and we had a difficult time pronouncing (tehr-AWL-deh-go)which is an ancient varietal from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. We were also informed that they only grow about 3 acres for this grape and it’s grown in only about 100 acres in the America and about 600 acres worldwide – the point is that it is a somewhat rare varietal.  The wine was a deep garnet color and had a lively feel on the palate and bold yet soft tannins.

Wine glass at Wolff Vineyards in san Luis Obispo WolffGlass-1

The 2012 Pinot Noir was as expected from this region, a nice Burgundian style with delicious flavors of strawberry and cherry and one flavor that I always tend to appreciate in a good Pinot Noir, just a hint of cola. It was rather superb.  The 2012 Syrah and the 2012 Petite Syrah were great and it was cool to experience a wine produced in San Luis Obispo that is so prevalent in the Paso Robles region.

The whole atmosphere at Wolff Vineyards was really friendly and upbeat in spite of the oppressive heat and large crowd.  Every staff member that we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful which says a lot under those conditions.  We look forward to our next visit.

We finished off our visit  of the wolves that WHAR Wolf Rescue brought to the event.  She was a beautiful animal and seemed to have a sweet disposition as she was petted and admired by children and adults alike.  We went on our way in search of a cooler environment and Avila Beach was sounding really good!


August 6, 2015
by Ray Dienzo
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Talley Vineyards

It’s good to be reminded of our diverse wine region in San Luis Obispo County. On a beautiful SLO County Sunday (7/12/15), we visited Talley Vineyards mainly to get a change of pace and spend some time with friends from San Luis Obispo. We know that Talley puts on good Sunday afternoon events with wine, food and music.  The winery is perched above some beautiful agricultural landscape which makes for an awesome view from their tasting room.

Talley Vineyards Tasting Room

By the way, all that agriculture down below is part of a great program that Talley Farms Fresh Harvest operates which delivers boxes of fresh produce directly to consumers throughout the county.  We love our bi-weekly box of fresh vegetables and fruit!

This did not disappoint. The weather was perfect and the band Triple Down Theory provided some of the best covers of classic rock songs I’ve ever heard.  Their lead guitarist was shredding!  It was pretty moving also when they played the National Anthem and the crowd stood up and a guy walked around waving a huge American flag!

Now for the wine. Talley Vineyards is in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA.  Their specialties are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  All of the wines were good. But the 2013 Bishop’s Peak Pinot Noir was my preference. Typical fruit forward strawberry nose and overall good easy drinking.  The 2013 Estate Pinot was good, but it was a little on the acidic side for my palette and would be a good with food.  It could probably lay down for about a year.  What wasn’t on the the pictured tasting list was the option to buy a growler of wine which is essentially a jug they fill with their wines on tap. You buy the jug and wine on the first visit but you can bring the jug back to buy a refill of whatever wines they are offering on tap at the time and you need only pay for the wine.  We ended up buying a jug of the 2014 Super Argentinian, which is a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  The jug is equivalent in volume to about 2.5 bottles of wine.  We paid I believe $35 for the jug and wine.  Next time we can get the wine for $30. But if we were to become members, the price would be $25.  Sounds like a good deal to me!

Filling a growler with at Talley Vineyards Winery



July 20, 2015
by Ray Dienzo
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Cass Winery Wine Class – Intro to Wine

One of the fun privileges of living in wine country and belonging to a wine club such as Cass Winery is the availability to attend classes and workshops to learn more about wine beyond enjoyment of tasting.

Glass of red wine inside Cass Winery library room


Laura and I attended a wine class at Cass Winery that was taught by Katie Gebauer, a Certified Specialist of Wine and Level 1 Sommelier.  It was held inside the winery at a huge table surrounded by shelves of wine and a nice small crowd of friendly people also there to learn about wine.  Katie was very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and most importantly approachable and non-snobbish.

Katie Bay and Laura Dienzo in Cass Winery library room

The title of the class was Intro to Wine -Deconstructing Wine. And the focus of the class was to learn to identify the 5 main components of wine – water, alchohol, acid, sugar, and tannin (phenolics). Katie had a wealth of technical knowledge but presented the class in fun format that stirred up vibrant class participation. The main thing I learned was the importance of balance (acid, alcohol, tanning, sugar) that comprises good quality wine. You can have a wine with elevated alcohol level (“hot”), but still be good because the other components keep it balanced i.e. you can’t tell that it’s high in alcohol. We also learned about “legs” but also learned that nice legs doesn’t necessarily mean good wine. We also got to taste good wine that highlights each of the components discussed.

The class was very “hands on” and interactive and it was fun to be in a class of people who enjoy wine and learning more about it. The next offering of this class is on July 26, 2015. We highly recommend all wine enthusiasts, no matter what your level of knowledge to attend this class.

June 15, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Into the Woods

Living in San Luis Obispo County means you can’t drive far without seeing a vineyard either right by the road or in the distance.  But over Memorial Day Weekend we drove up to the Santa Cruz mountains where all you could see were Redwood trees and windy roads.  The drive from Atascadero to the Santa Cruz mountains brought us past the vineyards, fields of strawberries, apple orchards and plenty of other vegetables growing in the endless acreage.  As the GPS was telling us we were approaching the winery we couldn’t imagine that a vineyard would find a place amidst the redwoods.  The entrance to the winery is rather non-descript and easy to miss but once you drive up the winding driveway you know you’ve arrived as you see the vineyards along the road.

Wine glass at Windy Oaks Estate winery in Santa Cruz mountains.

We drove to meet my cousin Kristin who flew in to CA for a wedding and is a Pinot Noir enthusiast and a Sommelier.  She chose Windy Oaks Estates Winery as the place where we would meet and we were more than happy to oblige.  The owner, Judy Schultze greeted us and invited us for a walk up the hill to see the vineyards. The winery is definitely a family run operation as we passed the the owner’s son and a friend cleaning out tanks and Judy’s husband, owner and winemaker, Jim up in the vineyard carefully trimming the vines.  We learned about the history of the planting of the vineyards and the unique locations of the blocks.


Vineyards at Windy Oaks Estate Winery

Walking through the Windy Oaks estates vineyards with owner Judy Schultze








We returned to the tasting room after our stroll through the vineyard and opted for the Premium PINOT NOIR Tasting which was a selection of four amazing Pinot Noirs. The tasting list is very informative and is a clear indication of the level which the Schultze’s take their involvement in every level of the winemaking process. The tasting notes describe the terroir, how long the wine was aged and how many cases were produced.

We tasted the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Diane’s Block;  the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, 100% Whole Cluster, Limited Release, the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Wood Tank, Limited Release and the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Proprieter’s Reserve and a special bonus taste of the 2014 Rose, Bastide La Cambe a 100% Grenache rose which was delicious and we purchased a bottle.   We loved all of the wines and had a hard time deciding between the Whole Cluster and the Wood Tank Pinot’s but we agreed on the 2012 Wood Tank Pinot Noir.

Judy gave us some wonderful suggestions for dinner and had a delicious meal at Cafe Cruz in Soquel after a nice stroll along the beach Pleasure Point in Capitola instead of waiting for 45 minutes to be seated.  It was an excellent finish to an afternoon “in the woods”.

The beach from the cliffs at Pleasure Point in Capitola, CA


June 2, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Paso Robles Wine Fest — Day Two

It’s difficult to visit all of the wineries you want to over a festival weekend!  Thankfully we live close enough to the wineries that we don’t have to try to squeeze them all in.

We started off day two of Wine Festival weekend at Olivas de Oro Olive Oil Company in Creston.  We brought a bottle of wine to enjoy with our picnic food and some of the delicious fare that Marti Menacho shares in the tasting room and I bought a bottle of their delicious Fig White Balsamic Vinegar which tastes amazing on salads with their olive oils.  We also got to see the four new Great Pyrenees puppies they recently got to guard their sheep.

Olivas de Oro wine glass

Four Great Pyrenees puppies under at tree at Olivas de Oro

Our next stop was to  Sarzotti Winery and which was recommended to us by a reader, (thank you Bruce Wallworth) and it was a great find!  They had a very festive set-up with tents and tables and a guy singing and playing guitar and some amazing smells wafting over from a BBQ.  The festive atmosphere continued in the tasting room as we were cheerfully greeted by the owner and his family members.

Owner and winemaker of Sarzotti Vineyard winery in Templeton, CA

Row of Wine bottles at Sarzotti Vineyard winery tasting room








The winery offers a wonderful selection of Italian varietals and they were all delicious !  or should I say “delizioso”?  Their 2012 Zinfandel is estate grown and handpicked and a real treat for the tastebuds.  The 2012 blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Primitivo that they call Bellumore is an Italian Festival in a bottle with a splash of Pinot Noir.  Their other 2012 blend called Tre Magi is a scrumptious GSM, 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah.  The 2012 Pinot Noir and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve have no problem standing alone, the Pinot Noir has delightful cherry and raspberry flavors and the Cab which was aged in the barrel for 36 months with lovely berry flavors and of course oak, will truly enchant any Cabernet lover’s palate!
The winery has a deep Italian history of growing grapes as the owner’s grandfather immigrated from Tuscany to Rancho Cucamonga and the tradition carries on four generations later in the rolling hills of Templeton.

We enjoyed our first visit and it definitely won’t be our last.

If our visit during Wine Fest weekend was any indication of what their event are like than I can only imagine that the next event on their calendar is going to be awfully fun.  They are having a Wine Poker & Cigar Night night this Saturday, June 6th.

May 21, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Wine Fest Weekend in Paso Robles

Festival weekends are a lot of fun at Paso Robles wineries!  Many of the wineries have events during the weekend that include live music, barbecues and even tours.  The Wine Festival in May also has a one day event held at Paso Robles city park where the wineries set up booths and pour there.   It’s a great event where you can get a glimpse of a lot of wonderful Paso Robles wineries in one place.  Since we visit these wineries regularly we prefer to visit the actual wineries on the festival weekend.

This weekend we had the privilege of going to the new Burbank Ranch tasting room in Templeton.   Burbank Ranch winery was located in downtown Paso Robles until the end of March 2015.   We really loved the tasting room downtown, it had a great atmosphere, great food and really good wines.  I had been enjoying following the progress of the new tasting room on Instagram and Facebook and was excited to hear that they were going to have a sneak preview opening on Wine Festival weekend.   I also got really excited when I heard that my favorite local guitarist, Jon Stephen, was going to be performing in the tasting room on Saturday.

Ray and I took the beautiful drive out to the tasting room on Saturday afternoon and were immediately impressed with the scenery.  The view from inside the tasting room are pretty breathtaking and the large windows makes it easy to see from the bar.

Landscape of Burbank Ranch vineyards

View from tasting room parking lot.

Jon Stephen on guitar in the tasting room








The tasting room had a vibrant crowd and the place was filled with the amazing sounds of Jon Stephen’s guitar.  Robert greeted us and got us started with a crisp 2013 Arneis followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Rose which was the first Zin rose that I remember having.   I really like Rose´and this one has a deliciously prominent zin flavor.

Wine glass at Burbank Ranch Tasting room

Ray and I had the privilege of piling into the Kubota for a guided tour around the vineyard and winery with owner Fred Burbank.  Fred showed us the vines, explained his vine training method to maximize the best fruit for the best wines and with his background in Biology he did a wonderful job of explaining everything.  Fred also took us for a tour of the production area below the tasting room which is so shiny and new and has that “new car smell”.   Ray and I agreed that it was the best vineyard tour we had ever been on.

We look forward to going back soon to taste their wines again and bring home a bottle or two.

View of Burbank Ranch Tasting Room

View of the tasting room and production facility from the vineyards

Laura with owner Fred Burbank on  Kubota

Laura with owner Fred Burbank on Kubota

May 18, 2015
by Kellie Wenzel

Rhone Rangers Varietal Nights

My husband and I got an email from Brecon Estate Winery, were we have been club members since they opened their doors.  The email was about an event with the Rhone Rangers and the event was Hot Tuesdays featuring Mourvedre night.

I thought it would be a fun date night, and since we wine taste every Sunday with our friends and writers of this blog, I thought it would be a great adventure to see what each winery does with their Mourvedre, which is a native Spanish grape.

We were shocked at how many people showed up, probably close to 300!  There were over 17 wineries being represented and upon entering we got a list of the wineries and a place to take notes.  My husband and I did a grading system of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Some of the wineries that were pouring were (to name a few) Anglim, Burbank Ranch, Cass, Law, Thacher, Minassian-Young, Venteux, SummerWood, Tables Creek, Pipestone, Sculpterra and of course Brecon.  It was great to visit with the owners that were pouring their wine and talk to them about this Spanish Grape.

Pipestone, I believe, were the only ones pouring a French style Organic Mourvedre.  Some wineries like SummerWood, J. Lohr, and Thacher added a little Syrah or Grenache to their Mouvedre which made it a nice blend.  Minassian-Young’s Mouvedre was unfiltered and unbinded, which was a term I hadn’t heard of before, but I think it has to do with the sulfur, and they did a great job explaining it, but I didn’t do a good job retaining it.

So, on to which ones, in our minds, won the night.   Drum roll….
Of course, I have to start out to say that my husband and I are polar opposites in our personalities, so I don’t find it ironic that our little taste-buds would be the same, which they are.  So many wineries that scored a 0 in “my opinion” (and yes, some did) scored way higher for my husband.  BUT!  There were a few that we actually scored almost the same between the two of us and of these, I would like to share.

Brecon: We both liked this wine, but then again, that is why we are club members!  Good nose and darker in flavor.
Minassian-Young: Smooth, a peppery ending, tasted great with food, had a fruity nose.
Cass: Really light in color (almost like a Pinot Noir) Vanilla nose, SO smooth! Dry ending with an oak flavor.  This one really caught our eye, and taste-buds!  After we tasted all the wineries (which we did dump a lot too) we wanted to go back and try Cass again, as they got the highest score from both of us, they had run out of wine and left.  But we are also club members there as well, so free tasting any time for us!

The appetizers that Brecon served were fantastic!  Cheese plates with nuts and fruit, Caramelized Onion and Portobello Mushroom Sliders and some sort of yummy little empanadas.

Overall, the event was a hit for my husband and I, we signed up for the Rhone Rangers and will hopefully go to the next event.  It was such a great experience to mingle with friends that we saw there and talk to the wine makers and owners and just rejoice over the fruit of this great area that we live in.

May 15, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Paso Robles Wineries Come in All Sizes

We finally made it out to J.Lohr Winery in Paso Robles this past weekend.   If you have ever purchased wine just about anywhere in the United States I am fairly confident that you have run across a bottle of J.Lohr wine.  I was at a party in the Hamptons in Long Island, NY and a guest brought a bottle of J.Lohr and I was so excited to see it so far away from home.   So when you think of a winery with that kind of reach you might assume that their tasting room would be a bit prodigious.   Actually their tasting room is quite simple and unassuming and surrounded by breathtaking views of literally hundreds of acres of estate vineyards.  The tasting room is nice and roomy and the staff is very friendly, Lindsay was a wonderfully friendly hostess.  The wines offered in the tasting room are exclusive and not the wines that you will find in a local grocery store.

We are huge fans of Pinot Noirs from Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and we were delighted to see that they offer a very tasty 2010 Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands.  I don’t know of any other winery in Paso Robles who offers a Pinot from there.  That in itself is enough to keep us coming back!

J. Lohr 2012 Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands


View of J. Lohr Winery vineyards










The vineyards consist of thousands of acres on the estate with additional vineyards in Paso Robles and Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County.

Our next stop was recommended by our friends Kevin and Angie who turned us on to Barr Estate Winery.  I will always trust this couple’s recommendations for wineries.  I would also like to highly recommend Mitchella Winery!  Their  tasting room is very intimate and they have a great new enclosed patio out back which we were happy to sit at.  The wines served were accompanied by a cheese pairing that was incredible with these wonderful wines.

I met my favorite winery dog named Bob, an adorable Labradoodle,  who walked right up to me and stood by me for a good 15 minutes soaking up all the pets he could get.

We took home a couple of favorites, the 2011 Tempranillo and the 2012 Shameless which is their Estate Rhone blend of 43% Grenache, 33%  Syrah and 24% Mouvedre both of which are difficult for us to resist.  The owner/winemaker clearly has a passion for well-crafted wines that’s undeniable in every sip.
Cheese paired with Mitchella wines






May 11, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

When in Avila…

When your good friends are vacationing in Avila Beach what better excuse to get together for wine tasting on a warm Sunday afternoon?  There are a few great tasting rooms in the Avila Beach area and we decided to go to one we hadn’t been to before and that could accommodate our group of 10 people.   Biddle Ranch Ranch Vineyard tasting room is currently located in the beautiful old schoolhouse on Ontario Road near Avila Beach.  The tasting room is a great space but we were set up outside on the beautiful patio with plenty of seating for our large group.  After a somewhat comical rearranging of chairs and umbrellas to maximize the shade we settled into our seats in the shade with our snacks and were served a great selection of wines.

The 2012 Chardonnay Classic Blonde was a refreshing start on the list as it was very warm afternoon and there’s nothing like a chilled crisp white wine on a warm day.  This wasn’t just another cold drink on a warm day either, this wine is a winner having won GOLD at both the 2014 San Diego International Wine Competition and 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition!

They offer a nice selection of red wines as well and I had a hard time deciding between the 2010 Sangiovese and the 2012 Evviva as my favorite since Sangiovese is one of my go-to varietals and the Evviva is 66% Sangiovese.  I decided to take home the 2010 Sangiovese which also won a gold Grand Harvest Awards – Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine along with a Bronze in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

So if you are looking for a nice spot to picnic and enjoy some wonderful wines near Avila Beach check out the historic Biddle Ranch Vineyard  tasting room.  Please be sure to check out Avila Valley Barn which is about half a mile away from the tasting room on Avila Beach Drive for an amazing Olallieberry Pie, fresh produce and maybe even a hayride.

Biddle Ranch Vineyard wine tasting list

Biddle Ranch Vineyard wine glass on patio

April 23, 2015
by Laura Dienzo

Uncommon Names and Extraordinary Wines

Last Friday afternoon I had a fun Girls Day Out with my friend and her sister.   Ironically we chose three Paso Robles wineries with the most uncommon names in the industry!  We went to Kiamie, Tolo and Kukkula wineries in the Adelaida district of Paso Robles which is pretty “Far Out” there!
Our first stop was at Kiamie Wine Cellars which is on beautiful Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.  Kiamie is on the same property as Tolo Cellars at 9750 Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.  The property has an historic little red farmhouse which houses Tolo Cellars tasting room and Kiamie is located behind it in a quaint little adobe house.  The name Kiamie is a family name of Greg Johnson one of the winery owners.

We were greeted by a couple of  handsome gentleman who happened to be the owners and winemakers Aram and Greg.   My friends brought along a couple of sandwiches and Aram suggested that we sit out at the picnic table and he would pour our wines for us out there.  We had a couple of four-legged visitors who stayed close enough just in case any crumbs fell off of the table.  The property is very rustic and extremely quiet.Kiami Winery Tasting Room

Signs for Tolo Cellars and Kiamie Cellars wineries


Tasting room of Kiamie Wine Cellars


Just beyond us was a pen that kept a goat and a couple of llamas.  There was a dog who was diligently keeping an eye on the goat and llamas.  Aram went inside the pen and the goat began to play with him as though he was a puppy.  He jumped off a little shed, he wagged his stubby little tail, he stood up on his hind legs and playfully butted Aram’s hand with his horns.  It was so fun to watch their interactions.

Goat jumping off box

Standing goat with winemaker

Their wines were delicious and it was very evident that the wines are carefully crafted.  I went home with a 2009 R’Own Style Blend which is a fabulous blend of Syrah, Grenache and a splash of Viognier.   I fell in love with it in the tasting room but I’m pretty sure that something magical happened to it when I brought it home because when I opened it last night it was way better than I remember!  WOW!  Ray is out of town for a coupe of days so he might need to return to the winery to experience it for himself!

After our visit to Kiamie we strolled a few hundred feet over to the historic red house where Tolo Cellars is located and were greeted by the familiar friendly face of the owner and winemaker Josh Gibson.  We’ve been to Tolo Cellars a number of times and Josh is always a wonderful host.  I think what adds to the hospitable atmosphere is that the tasting room is situated in the kitchen of the historic house where you are surrounded by some pretty cool antique kitchen appliances.

Antique heater at entrance of Tolo Cellars tasting roomJosh creates some robust red wines with some pretty interesting names which he says he names after locations in Greece which is also where the name Tolo comes from.  I went home with a bottle of 2009 Asini which is 54% Sangiovese and 46% Zinfandel, a wonderfully balanced blend of two of my favorite varietals.  With such an intimate space for the tasting room its easy to start chatting with your fellow tasters and we met two lovely couples visiting from the Bay Area.  They told us about a great winery that they had just come from named Kukkula.  None of us had been there so we decided to head out there for our final stop.

Kukkula Winery is a relatively short but beautiful drive from Tolo and Kiamie. The tasting room is a stark contrast to the historic property we had just come from.  It was built with some very striking modern architectural features including a Gabion Wall made from rocks sourced from the property.

Tasting room of Kukkula Winery in Paso Robles, CA


Glass of red wine at Kukkula Winery in Paso Robles, CA Gabon Wall at Kukkula Winery



We were greeted by a very  cheerful Nikki in the tasting room who introduced us to the impressive wines and the story behind the winery and the owner and of course the name Kukkula. I sensed a slight east coast accent from Nikki which may go unnoticed by others and it turns out she is from an area familiar to me just outside Philadelphia.


Wine Tasting List at Kukkula Winery

All three of us were utterly astounded by every single wine on the list and we know it was all good because we all loved the 2011 Vaalea which is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussane. I loved how the Roussane gave it just a sweet little kiss. My friend Kellie and I have polar opposite palates for wine and we find it remarkable when we agree on any wines but surprisingly we both loved every wine on the list. We were so surprised that one of us asked if the reason we were liking the wines so much was because it was our third winery we were visiting that day….I don’t think so!

Tune in next blog post as we return to Kukkula Winery and Starr Ranch the very same weekend with my husband Ray and brought along a few others with us!