Jim Norman takes over family-run Norman Vineyards
Norman Vineyards, established in 1971, was one of the original vineyards to be planted in Paso Robles, on a cool stretch of the west side on Vineyard Drive, an area now bursting with vineyards and wineries. The late wine pioneer and “Godfather of Zin” Art Norman and his wife Lei grew their vines and business from the ground up, researching and fine-tuning as they went to create the best quality grapes possible.
After twenty years of premium grape growing, they decided to start their own winery in1992. Though they had envisioned a small operation, producing perhaps a few thousand cases of wine per year, the instant success and acclaim they achieved led them to grow.
And grow they did.
By the time Art’s son, Jim, returned home from his career as a chef in order to help his ailing father with the winery in 2005, the operation had vastly expanded, and Jim’s marketing prowess helped keep them on that path, reaching 24,000 cases and 18 different wines.
“I really bumped up the level of Norman Vineyards. I was on the road eight months a year. I was dubbed the rock star of the wine industry,” he says, explaining that he was touring and doing rock ‘n’ roll wine events.
After Art passed away the following year, Jim took over the reins, but soon he decided the time had come to return Norman Vineyards to its earlier winemaking roots.
Making the tough decision to sell the vineyard, he says he has decided to downsize and get back to their original focus on using small lots of the highest quality grapes to make smaller quantities of premier wine.
“I went back to the way we started,” Jim says. “I wanted to be more hands-on with the wine and produce the best wine possible. My dad’s been gone a little over seven years now, and I want to bring the craftsmanship and quality back to where he would be proud that his name was on it. I’m focusing on the legacy of Norman Vineyards and producing the kind of wines that our customers have enjoyed for the last 20 years.”
Returning the focus to quality instead of quantity, he scaled production back to just six wines including their sought-after Zinfandels which will continue to come from Paso’s west side. Jim now handles the winemaking from their new winery and tasting room facility at 3502 Dry Creek #1, Paso Robles, which opened in April.
Having grown up on the vineyard and in the business, Jim says he’s literally had a hand in every aspect of the wine industry—”I’ve farmed it, pruned it, picked it, crushed it, pumped it over, racked it, bottled it, poured it, scrubbed tanks, re-coopered barrels—and I’m really good at cleaning the toilets in the tasting room,” he laughs. But by taking his time and energy away from farming the vineyard, he says he’s able to concentrate on the wine. “I believe the quality of the product is in direct relation to the amount of respect you give to the fruit, and when you have to farm and make wine you can’t dedicate your time to both,” he says.
“I am trying to follow in my father’s footsteps making the wine our customers love. Also, I am building a legacy for my son,” he says.
Granted, his son is just four years old, but given his roots, it wouldn’t surprise us if this Grandson of Zin became the next generation’s pioneering winemaker.
Visit Norman’s new tasting room at 3502 Dry Creek #1, Paso Robles, and get a taste of their famed Monster Zinfandel and the equally monster-sized legacy of one of Paso’s first grape growers. For hours and more information, visit normanvineyards.com.
— Jamie Relth