Paso Underground – Four talented winemakers under one roof, Pt. 1

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Paso-Underground“For The Love of Wine”

The word “underground” is often interpreted as secretive, dark and stealthy. But the Paso Underground is certainly none of the above.  It is the brainchild and collaboration of four talented, avant garde Paso Robles winemakers, who, under one roof, bring their liquid creations to the wine loving public.

  • Aaron Jackson (Aaron Wines)
  • Don Burns (Turtle Rock Vineyards/Westberg Cellars)
  • Ed Sauret (Edward August)
  • Guillaume Fabre (Clos Solene)

The Underground, next to Villa Creek Restaurant, opened in May, and is sure to be a popular addition to downtown Paso Robles.

The wines of each winemaker are quite unique.  What they have in common is that all are low production (under 600 cases) boutique labels, they source their grapes from the best Paso vineyards, and by coming together in this collective effort, they are able to let wine lovers sample their individual brands, and bring them to the attention of the wine community.  Besides their relative youth, ingenuity, passion and winemaking creativity, these four winemakers exemplify what is typical of the Paso Robles wine community.  Simply, they are there to work with and help each other.  To create better wines, to offer wonderful selections with a vision that what helps one, helps everyone.

What better way to spend part of the day tasting the wines of four of Paso’s rising star winemakers.  If you are not there during their normal hours, call for an appointment.  Quite often you will be able to meet up with one or more during the week.

Aaron Jackson
Aaron & Aequorea Vineyards

“Petite” is defined as small, diminutive, slender, little.  Well, there is nothing “petite” about Aaron Jackson’s Petite Sirah.  In fact, Aaron’s motto is:  “Go Big or Go Home.”

And, if you don’t like big, complex, flavorful wines… then it’s time to go home!

Aaron is an avid surfer, and in the California surf scene, surfers have always been regarded to some degree as rebels and non-conformists.  This attitude is exemplified in Aaron’s wines, especially his Petite Sirah.  These are wines with attitude!  And it’s an attitude you’ll be coming back for again and again.

You’ll meet Aaron, always with his smile, and be amazed when you find out that he has been making wine for almost half of his 29 years!  Aaron knew from the time he was a teenager that he wanted to make wine.  A combination of hands-on experience and formal education have definitely made him a Paso rising star.  Aaron breaks rules and pushes the envelope.  He is creative, risk taking and when you sip any of his wines, you’ll end up with the same smile on your face that Aaron seems to continuously have on his.

Aaron’s flagship wine is his Petite Sirah.  Grapes are sourced from several different West Paso, and Templeton vineyards….and then Aaron’s magic begins.  He has recently added four other wines under his new Aequorea Vineyards label.  Aequorea meaning “of the sea.”  Aptly so, these newly introduced wines are sourced from several prime coastal vineyards in San Luis Obispo County, and they include a Viognier, Pinot Gris, Riesling and blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Total current production is about 500-600 cases, with the bulk being the original Petite Sirah.  Wines sell out quickly to his club members, and through the Paso Underground tasting room.

Aaron is committed to find the best Paso vineyards for his Petite Sirah, and with his new Aequorea Vineyards label, he intends to show the wine world that world class wines can be produced using grapes from the coastal area of San Luis Obispo.

In his own words, Aaron expresses his winemaking philosophy:

“I want people to see, to know, and to taste that I am someone striving within every moment of each day to create wines with a sense of focus and authenticity. Each wine I make has a purpose, not made simply for the sake of making it or because it’s what “sells.” I start with a vision and then create a wine that will embody that vision from start to finish. I think both my brands express that”.

Don Burns
Turtle Rock Vineyards
Westberg Cellars

Don Burns is no newcomer to the Paso wine scene.  He grew up in the area, and at the age of 14 was shooting at birds in the James Berry Vineyard.  It was more about the noise than actually shooting the birds, because that kept the birds away from the grapes.  Little did Don know that one day he would become a winemaker.

Don is a tall, affable guy, and when you speak to him you’ll find his background took a slightly circuitous route to winemaking.  Working for his uncle at Westberg Vineyards, Don entered the hospitality industry.  After leaving Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Don then sailed from Southern California, through the Panama Canal ending up in Florida where he went to work for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, opening stores, developing their wine list and creating signature cocktails, while also completing the Gallo Wine Academy course,  Then at some point, all roads led back to Paso… And it was time to make wine.

Having forged a close friendship with Saxum’s Justin Smith (producer of the 2010 Wine Spectator Wine of the Year) at a young age, Don works with Justin at Saxum.  He sources grapes from West side Paso vineyards, including his Aunt and Uncle’s Westberg Vineyards and also purchases grapes from the James Berry Vineyard for his own label, Turtle Rock.

Five wines are in the current lineup:  A Light rose, Willow White which is a fragrant blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, a Zinfandel, Willow’s Cuvee, an intriguing blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Zin and Turtle Rock’s Maturin, a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Mourvedre from the James Berry Vineyard.

Don’s first release was in 2008, and since then he has developed a cult following.  Don experiments with his blends, and derives special pleasure from “doing things that haven’t been seen before.”  Obviously, his 120 or so wine club members approve of this philosophy, as his 500 cases are snapped up by members and the rest sold out of the Paso Underground.

While having the advantage of working with Justin Smith as one of the assistant winemakers, Don’s goals are to continue to produce quality wines, with an objective of 750-1000 case eventual production.  Longer term, Don would like to have his own vineyard and raise grapes and his family on the soil that has given him and so many others such a fruitful life.

Paso Underground is located at 1140 Pine St., Paso Robles. They are open Friday and Saturday:  1pm-7pm, Sunday  1pm-5pm, or by appointment. Call (805) 237-0799 for more information.

— Don Sonderling

Next Issue: Clos Solene’s Guillaume Fabre and Edmond August’s Ed Sauret


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