Specializing in Italian varietals
Tucked away on the east side of Paso Robles in the small town of Creston, August Ridge Vineyards specializes in Italian varietals.
“California’s tradition is really Italian,” answered John August Backer, winemaker/proprietor. “And my wife Jill is Italian.” Jill Zamborelli Backer’s family is from a small town outside of Rome, Italy.
John’s family has grown grapes in the California’s Central Valley for four generations dating back to the 1800s. The Backers purchased the 32-acre ranch in Creston in 2001.
“It’s a little hidden parcel and the community is a blend of cattle and wine tradition,” said John.
On the rolling hillsides, the Backers started with plantings of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Italian clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on an eight-acre vineyard in 2003. “I picked this site with the fore-knowledge of the east-facing slope,” noted John. August Ridge released its first vintage in 2007 with a small production of 250 cases which has now grown to approximately 1,500 cases annually.
Handcrafted, aged wines
August Ridge wines are handcrafted in small lots. The Italian and Super Tuscan-style wines reflect Paso’s robust structure layered with restrained and classic elegance of wines reminiscent of Central and Northern Italy.
“Our goal is to make wines that you can drink every day,” said John.
However, John also makes wines that show aging potential. The 2009 Jovial, a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is aged in barrels for 40 months and bottle-aged for one year. The Ingenious, Nebbiolo blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a complex wine with firm tannins.
“We don’t make these wines to drink young,” advised John.
The site’s five different soil types are posited in three layers. The Nebbiolo is planted on the site that is sandy, gravely clay on top with a rocky middle and calcareous at the bottom. “Calcareous is good for Nebbiolo, it drives the mineral taste character and undertone,” said John. The 2009 Nebbiolo planted on this site has a dominant character that is evocative of rose fragrance and distinct minerality, indicative of this site.
The three-acre Sangiovese vineyard also sits on three soil types, the two top layers are the same as the Nebbiolo vineyard, but the bottom layer is loamy, giving the wine earthy aromas and good complexity, John explained.
Tasting room offerings
Both John and Jill are ever-present in the intimate tasting room tucked away in a barn-like winery that sits adjacent to the family’s farm house-style home. The tasting line-up begins with two whites — the aromatic 2011 Arneis and the refreshing 2012 Pinot Grigio, both excellent summer wines and perfect pairings for fish and soft cheeses.
The Italian reds are clearly made to pair well with Italian food and grilled meats. With hints of cherry and anise, the 2010 Barbera is an excellent everyday pasta wine. The 2009 Nebbiolo is a riot of floral and spice aromas.
The 2009 Sangiovese, a wine John calls “the crowd-pleaser,” is layered with aromas of dried cherries and spice. A 2010 Primitivo, Zinfandel’s “Sexy Italian Cousin,” has a firm peppery backbone with hints of black cherries.
In addition to the Italian wines, there are two Reserve bottlings of Bordeaux varietals. The ruby-hued 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is lush with aromas of plum and cassis while the 2009 Merlot is layered with notes of licorice and dried plums. Both have well integrated tannins that give the wine age ability.
Then there’s Rocco’s Red, named after Jill’s great-grandfather. The red table wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Primitvo. “It’s your everyday Italian food on a Tuesday-night-I-gotta-a-headache-and-we-have-leftovers wine,” laughed John offering this wine-pairing tip.
August Ridge Vineyards tasting room, located at 8790 Highway 41 East, Creston, is open Fridays, Noon to 5 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, go to www.augustridge.com or call (805) 239-2455.
–Mira Advani Honeycutt
August Ridge stages ‘Sip Swirlin’ Saturdays’ on the fourth Saturday of every month – a food, wine and live music celebration that takes place from 1 to 4 p.m.