I wrote this story in fall of 2009, but the information about the upcoming harvest celebration is about the harvest party that will take place in November.
While reading about winemaker Mike Sinor and his upcoming wine tasting in Edna Valley on November 8th during the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration, he described it as a “Full Circle Tasting with Sinor-LaVallee at Corbett Canyon Winery,” I began reflecting upon the Edna Valley region’s impressive history over the last four decades. Although Corbett Canyon (who can forget those old “canyon, canyon, canyon” commercials?) was a pioneer in Edna Valley, it has been closed to the public 12-years. Recently purchased by Rob Rossi, it re-opened this year as a custom crush facility where Sinor (among other small production winemakers) now produces his wines. For the first time since fall 1997, Corbett Canyon will open to the public for one day during the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration, November 6th through 8th.
The halcyon Edna Valley wine region is among California’s smaller American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at 22,400 acres (Paso Robles AVA is 666,618 acres), but it’s had an impressive history since its start in 1973. Some wine writers still describe Edna Valley as Chardonnay country, but that belief is outdated. The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache grown there have been stellar, and it’s clear the Spanish varietal Albarino can rank among the best in this country, all depending on the vintage, of course. With almost four decades of winemaking in Edna Valley, they haven’t hit the top of the barrel yet. These wineries are still discovering, as proven by its outstanding producers, the potential for wine varieties here.
Established as an AVA in 1987, Edna Valley began with two vineyards planted in 1973. It started when Jack and Catharine Niven planted Paragon Vineyard, and (within weeks of each other) Norman Goss planted Chamisal Vineyard, unbeknownst to each other according to the Niven’s. Both families built their wineries in 1980, but only Edna Valley Vineyard survived nearly four decades. Chamisal, named for a native shrub in the region, was a relatively small operation with only 70-acres of grapevines. During the 80’s it fell into decline due to the lack of interest of Goss’s children.
Andy MacGregor began planting his vineyard at the corner of Price Canyon and Hwy. 227 in 1975; a few years later he planted his larger vineyard on Orcutt Road (now Wolff Vineyards). The fourth in Edna Valley was Corbett Canyon, founded in 1978, but it was sold several times.
Over the last decade, however, Chamisal Vineyard, and now Corbett Canyon has been revived. Chamisal Vineyard was restored in 1994 when Alfred “Terry” Speizer bought the historic property and modernized the declining vineyard. He introduced his Domaine Alfred label in 1998, with Sinor as winemaker and earned critical acclaim. Ten years later, Speizer sold it to the Crimson Wine Group, who renamed it Chamisal Vineyards early in 2009 in tribute to its past as an Edna Valley pioneer. Like their other ultra premium wineries, Pine Ridge and Archery Summit, Crimson will keep Chamisal Vineyard focused on high quality.
The Niven Family has the longest record for continuous production in Edna Valley from Paragon Vineyard with over 500-acres of premium winegrapes. Originally they sold grapes to Napa wineries, among other regions. Today, under the third generation the highly respected, pioneering family has established the Niven Family Wine Estates, which includes: Baileyana, Tangent, Trenza and Cadre. Only the Niven’s first winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, was a partnership with the renowned Dick Graff of Chalone Vineyards. Edna Valley Vineyard is still a co-owned but now the Niven’s are partnered with Diageo North America.
From the beginning the Edna Valley region attracted attention over the quality of its premium winegrapes, which lured renowned Napa Valley winemaker Chuck Ortman, a consultant for Beringer. Naturally, Ortman relocated to here when Beringer bought Meridian (which Ortman originally founded under his name in 1979) and moved it to Paso Robles in 1984. When Ortman retired in 2003, he put his energy into his family label, Ortman Family Vineyards, for which his son Matt is winemaker in Edna Valley.
The event at the old Corbett Canyon site is sure to be interesting. Mike Sinor and his wife Cheri LaVallee, hence the label Sinor-LaVallee, both started their wine industry careers at this winery. They met at Cal Poly while studying chemistry, to which he laughed: “We like to say we had chemistry.”
Like France’s great wineries, handed down through the original families for centuries, Edna Valley’s second and third generations have taken over their families wineries. And it’s clear their sons and daughters have also inherited the passion of their fathers before them.
Friday & Saturday, November 7th through 9th
The 2014 Harvest on the Coast
This popular weekend festival features most of our great South County wineries with a few guest wineries from the north and south appellations. This year the weekend event kicks off, November 7, Friday night, with the third annual collaborative winemakers’ dinner at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort Gardens of Avila Restaurant. Chef Gregg Wangard will prepare a menu that’s Edna Valley wine friendly. The SLO Vintners Association is offering a package deal for this dinner and the grand tasting the next day, which you can order from their webpage. I’ll provide the link at the bottom of the page.
On September 8, Saturday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m., the grand tasting and wine auction takes place at the Avila Beach Resort from 1 to 5 p.m. With over 60 wineries and restaurants to keep you sated, live auctions and live music to keep you entertained, it makes for a great afternoon near the beach. They offer discount pricing for designated drivers.
Whatever you do, don’t lose your grand tasting ticket! It will make you a VIP who gets free admission on Sunday when traveling the Edna, Arroyo Grande and Avila Valley wine trails to visit participating winery tasting rooms. The wineries will be offering open house parties with wine, food and entertainment. Of course, if you’re a club member at any of these wineries, you always get the VIP treatment.
This is a great weekend event whether you’re a wine collector or an occasional imbiber, there’s something to please everyone. Get all of the details about who’s offering what, reservations and tickets by visiting www.slowine.com.