Welsh winemaker brings cave exploring background to Paso Robles wine region
Whether he’s exploring the world’s deepest, darkest caves or crafting award-winning wines, Brecon Estate winemaker Damian Grindley revels in the excitement of discovery.
“It’s the explorer in me,” Grindley said. “The great thing about being a cave explorer is you can round that corner in a cave where no one else has been and you’re the first footprints; that’s a bit of a buzz. You don’t know where it’s going to go. And that’s why I’m in Paso – there are so many microclimates here and I love exploring emerging varietals in Paso. I get the most excitement out of exploring and trying to make these varietals world class and my international experience helps me to do that.”
Grindley brings nearly 25 years of experience from winemaking regions in Australia, Europe and the United States to Brecon Estate. When it came to naming the winery, he and his wife, Amanda, chose to memorialize the Brecon Beacons in Grindley’s native Wales. “Before I got into the wine industry, I explored, mapped, and discovered quite a few caves in the Brecon Beacons of the wild, windswept Brecon National Park, which are underlain by a big band of limestone.” Caving is how Grindley met Amanda.
Before settling in the area, the Grindleys looked long and hard for their ideal property. “Being a cave explorer, I couldn’t buy a winery that wasn’t on calcareous soil,” Grindley said. “When I return to the caves of my youth, I literally get a tingling down my neck from the limestone. I get the same feeling here. Plus, I have cool British blood, so we were trying to get as close to the ocean as possible for that cooling influence of the fog with our roots in a South facing slope in calcareous soil. Some of the best regions in the world are planted on calcareous soil. If you like wines that come from calcareous soil, the minerality, the great acids and the age ability, Paso is Ground Zero.” With the help of friends, Simon and Anna Hackett of Australia, the Grindleys started Brecon Estate in 2012. Situated on the Westside of the Paso Robles wine region, Brecon Estate boasts calcareous soil and the influence of the nearby ocean fogs.
The influence of the coastal fog makes for long hang times for the grapes allowing the fruit to get past many of those green notes generally found with Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux varietals. About 25 acres are planted on the 40-acre Brecon Estate – 14.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5.5 of Cabernet Franc, 1.5 of Tannat, 3.3 Petit Verdot and 1.3 of Malbec.
“We can make an excellent Meritage from this property. These are old vines so they don’t necessarily have the structure or color of a modern clone but they are way more complex. They have a broader spectrum of flavors because every vine and every bunch is in a different stage of production and the wines come out way more interesting,” said Grindley.
Grindley calls the late Art Norman, the original property owner, a visionary for planting Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. “We have the oldest of both of these vines in Paso,” he said. “We hear about the old Zinfandels, but there’s very little old Bordeaux.”
Award-winners year after year
And just how does Grindley and the team at Brecon Estate manage to deliver award-winning wines year after year?
“The trick,” said Grindley, “is having everything you make be good across the board and that’s actually harder than making one great wine. It’s also about not growing too big too quickly; keeping those small, interesting parcels and not trying to double production every year. We find an interesting parcel, we make it. If there isn’t any more, we make another small, interesting parcel of something else.”
For that very reason, guests will likely find a different lineup of wines in the tasting room at each visit. Grindley makes 12-14 small parcel wines per year. “We always have new releases,” he said. “The tasting lineup changes at least once a month.”
Brecon Estates recently announced that their 2019 Reserve Cabernet Franc earned 99 points, Best of Class, Gold Medal designation at the 2022 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition.
Other recent wins include 98 points and a Double Gold medal for the Brecon Estate 2018 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2021 San Francisco International Wine Competition. The Brecon Estate 2019 Haggis Basher Red Blend also won Best Red Rhone Varietals Blend, 96 points, Double Gold medal from the same competition.
Visit Brecon Estate and enjoy sharing small batch wines with friends. The knowledgeable and friendly tasting room staff is welcoming, with Amanda setting the tone with her laid-back, Australian style. Sitting on couches in the patio area just outside the tasting room, guests are treated to views of the old vines and oak trees surrounding the property.
The Brecon Estate Wine Club offers three wine shipments yearly, discounts on purchases, complimentary tastings, and invitations to exclusive Brecon Estate events.
The Brecon Estate tasting room is located at 7450 Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; reservations preferred. For more information, visit breconestate.com or call 805-239-2200.
–By Meagan Friberg