Any place that could arouse the level of visual and literary passion in “The Winemakers of Paso Robles” has most certainly arrived.
Signs abound that Paso Robles has come of age as a winemaking center. Glossy magazine spreads and “Wine Region of the Year” coverage proclaim it as the next big thing. Serious critics compare Paso wines to those of Napa and Sonoma – occasionally even France – and each year sees new fine-dining options and fancy lodgings. But a coffee table book that pays homage to Paso Robles winemakers and vintners may be the surest sign yet. Any place that could arouse this level of visual and literary passion has most certainly arrived.
Photographer Julia Pérez (in lead photo), writer Paul Hodgins, and journalist Mira Honeycutt, who’s credited as curator, collaborated on The Winemakers of Paso Robles, a love note to the large Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area). Encompassing more than 600,000-plus acres – about 40,000 planted to grapes – the AVA was subdivided a few years ago into 11 subappellations.
Vitality and Joy
I’ve encountered a fair number of the people depicted in The Winemakers of Paso Robles, and in each case I can attest that Pérez captured her subject’s vitality, individuality, but most of all joy—the bright enthusiasm of Steve Anglim of Anglim Winery, the layered intensity of Lebanon-born engineer-turned-winemaker Daniel Daou of DAOU Vineyards, and the gentle determination of Janell Dusi of J Dusi, the first of her grape-growing family’s four generations to open a winery. I’ve never met Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure, who moved to Paso from France two decades ago, but his several portraits convey the combination of grit, glamour, and iconoclasm I’d expect having tasted his wines (and heard a thing or two).
Varied and Evocative
From the varied and evocative close-up images, it’s clear Pérez knows how to put people at ease. Sometimes, though, the candid, less perfectly lit shots reveal the most: Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars in the lab (“She’s most comfortable there,” Pérez told me); Eric Jensen of Booker playing basketball with his son; Justin Smith of Saxum at one point stacking fossilized whale bones – many Paso wineries sit on land once part of the sea before volcanic eruptions – and later, in soft black-and-white, skateboarding through the winery.
A Thing for Hands
Pérez has a thing for hands, covered with grapes or deep purple in folds and crevasses. In the case of Jerry Lohr, who founded one of the area’s largest producers (J. Lohr), they’re thrust pristine at a slightly downward angle, wise with four-plus decades’ experience.
A striking photograph depicts the hands of Christian Tietje. A showman with a flair for design and marketing, he makes bold wines, especially Zins. Pérez’s close-up focuses on his hands – cut, scabbed, and slashed following the punch-down process, part of fermentation. But for the warm yellow light coming in from the right, this contemplative shot might seem out of the morgue. Here it graphically illustrates the physicality winemaking involves.
Visual biography is Pérez’s gift, but Hodgins supports the imagery with equally vivid profiles. In one he describes the epiphany that led Gary Eberle, since the 1970s one of Paso’s most influential players, to winemaking. In another he muses on the interplay between the artistic sensibility of Epoch Estate’s Jordan Fiorentini, whose tasting notes include her line drawings, and her schooling in engineering and viticulture. Pérez’s photos make you want to know more about her subjects; Hodgins obliges with the salient facts.
One after another these profiles dazzle both spirit and eye. A marvelous glimpse at contemporary Paso and some of the people who contributed to its ascent, The Winemakers of Paso Robles is essential reading for anyone who loves this California appellation or wants to understand what makes it worth investigating.
What to Do
Where to Eat, Drink, and Sleep
Facts and Info
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2020. Daniel Mangin is the coauthor of The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Central Coast.