Two, or maybe three, hours from Silicon Valley, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, lies the hidden Napa, the wine country of Paso Robles.
Here, Nigel Pratt, Chief Technology Officer of a large Bay Area tech company, and his wife Madhvi, own NIYO wines along with their partner, real estate professional Yogesh Khare. “Our 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is from dry-farmed grapes grown in California’s Central Coast – Paso Robles – Willow Creek District,” says Nigel.
Of the 11 appellations of Paso, Willow Creek is close to the ocean and the temperature difference between day and night can be 30 to 40 degrees. The cold marine layer ensures that wines from this area have great vibrancy. The grapes stay longer on the vine concentrating their acidity.
Acidity is the backbone of a wine. It’s what carries the wine from the front to the back of the mouth. Acidity gives wine ageability, stability, and color. If the grapes ripen quickly the sugar builds up but loses flavor. Mediterranean climates in Italy and France have that advantage – flavors intensify as the grape ripens slowly. One hot spell and California grapes shoot up in sugars. We chase the cool climate vineyards that Willow Creek District has, says Neeta Mittal of LXV wines.
“Paso is known as the land of cowboys and wine. Cowboy winemakers make small batches of wine and have a dedicated following. Their batches sell out very quickly,” says Debbie of Thomas Hill Organics Cafe, the best organic cafe in downtown Paso, that is known for the quality and variety of wine it serves.
“Our wines are made on a family-owned and operated estate, featuring limited production, hand-crafted wines that have been fermented using native yeast. This natural process allows the authentic character, depth, and terroir of each varietal to shine through,” says Yogesh, the Yo in Niyo.
Like small winemakers, Niyo also makes less than 100 barrels a year. The limited-edition Dry-Farmed release is made for Club Members Only. Additionally, NIYO has the license to distribute Paso wines to a grocery store near you.
Paso grows over 40 different varieties and is home to 40,000+ acres of vineyards with some 200+ wineries. It is known for its cabernet sauvignon and Rhône varieties.
The secret of wine is the balance of alcohol, acid, and tannin, says Maggie Cameron of Della’s Pizza, which carries a fine collection of liquor.
Paso is making a name for itself in Cabs,” says Neeta Mittal of LXV wines, as she offers a plate of wine-colored cheese cubes. Neeta and Kunal Mittal own a 14-acre vineyard and showcase an intoxicating selection of wine. Their 2500 cases are sold direct-to-consumer.
The cheese cube gets its red color from the spice mix of hibiscus, lavender, hatch green chili, Persian lime, coriander, cumin, black garlic, and other spices that paint it. Neeta encourages you to bite into the cube as you sip “the Secret” of 2019,
The blend of the wine and the flavors is key, Neeta says. It is not cheese or protein as is mistakenly believed, that dictates the pairing of the wine with the dish, but the top note of the dish whether a spice or a herb.
Sam Sharma, Food and Beverage Manager of Pebble Beach Resorts feels that the fat that coats the tongue after a bite of meat has a role to play too as the wine cuts through the fat. “ More acidic wines for more fatty food,” he said.
“LXV stands for the 65th dimension to the Vedas’ 64 dimensions where deities reside,” says Neeta Mittal. The 65th sutra is you,” says the purveyor of what is “named as the top ten wine experiences in the US,” by USA Today. At their tasting room adorned with rolling cushions and inky blue walls, the tasters are transported to the land of the Vedas. Tasters roll little cubes of spice-slathered cheese as they swirl Bordeaux wines.
Bordeaux includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlots, and Petite Verdot. Malbec is the fifth Bordeaux varietal. In Europe, says Allegretto Vineyard’s wine guide, “Malbec grapes are planted around Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as Malbec ripens first and the birds swarm down. The birds never return to the same field. The farmers thus save their gold, Cabernet Sauvignon, from the birds by sacrificing the Merlot grapes. But here in Paso, we do harvest and bottle Merlots,” he says.
The Indian experience of Paso extends from wine to weddings and palaces at Allegretto, a Vineyard Resort that carries enough Indian art to be sister-resorted with the Rajasthan palaces. A life-size statue of Ganesh stands looking at the visitors as they enter the resort.
Down the hallway, an 18th century Buddha statue from Rajasthan towers over the visitors as they make their way through ornate teak doorways purchased in India by the proprietor Douglas Ayres.
Vintage Indian doors open into meeting rooms with royal-purple walls painted on with gold motifs. A white marble Ganesh high fives the tour leader of the hotel’s art tour.
Scattered around the resort and garden are artifacts from India.
In the garden a sonic labyrinth tunes into the thud of your footsteps and whistles an accompanying wind instrument. As a symbol of life’s journey, it leads one along a single meandering to a center point.
As the wine tour leader climbs the vineyard hill, the group spots at the crest, a Buddha flanked with amethyst rocks under the tree.
The spiritual energy is concentrated to make your stay celestial and the wine into som ras. Som ras is nuanced and enticing.
“Atithi Devo Bhava – we welcome you!” says LXV.
Paso, where the Indian is playing the cowboy, beckons.
Ritu Marwah is a feature writer based in Silicon Valley. A Winner of the Taste of Silicon Valley contest she is a gourmand in all things wine, food, and travel. Whether for work or play, she never tires of exploring California wine country. Ritu’s other work: Kamasutra Wine, BBNC Indian Cooking Meetup with Ritu Marwah.
Images: Ritu Marwah