|Merlot grapes growing at St.Hilaire Vineyard.|
I was recently approached to write a story for a new San Luis Obispo County publication focused on Templeton. Located halfway between Paso Robles and Atascadero, the Templeton region is full of rolling grassy hills, giant oaks, fertile vineyards, windy breezes and plenty of stories.
I found my story several years ago when I visited Templeton's St. Hilaire Vineyard as part of a field trip for a wine tasting class that I was enrolled in. During this excursion I discovered the well-balanced, expressive, fruit-forward wines crafted by winemaker John Anderson of St. Hilaire.
Over the years I tasted many of his wines, enjoying his meritage blends, as well as straight varietals of zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. I've always considered his wines some of my personal favorites.
But not until recently, upon revisiting the vineyard for my upcoming article, that I learned the why. Why are John's wines so darn good? At the risk of spoiling the upcoming story that is yet to be released, I'll share a few tidbits with you.
John's got one of those hobbyist winemaker stories. A dentist by profession, in 1994 he and some of his tennis buddies started making wine at home. They received gratuitous, overripe wine grapes and John's realization that free grapes don't always make the best wine was right on the mark. As time went by and his winemaking skills grew, he knew that in order to produce quality wines he needed to start with quality grapes, but in the late 1990s had a hard time finding any available for purchase.
Eventually, he and his wife, Laural, decided to embark as viticulturists and purchased a 20-acre property east of downtown Templeton where they could grow grapes in North County's famed Templeton wine gap. With a hot growing season offset by cool afternoon and evening marine breezes, coupled with rich, fertile, loamy soil, they found the perfect spot to grow high-quality grapes.
But there were a few details: even though John was an avid gardener and had worked briefly in a friend's vineyard, he didn't actually have any farming experience. So he learned. By doing.
The Andersons brought in a vineyard consultant and John designed and developed the vineyard from scratch. His laborious, hands-on approach to growing, irrigating, fertilizing, grafting, pruning, training, "shoot thinning," controlling rodents and everything else that goes into raising flourishing grape vines ultimately contributed to the success of St. Hilaire.
In 2007, they were bonded to make wine commercially and John retired from dentistry to focus on their vinous endeavors. Each year they transport their freshly-harvested and crushed grapes to a commercial winery in Paso Robles and produce around 170 cases.The Andersons continue to tend almost 6 acres of red varietals and sell directly to the consumer and to wine club members. Although they don't have a tasting room, you can find their wines on their website at: http://www.sthilairevineyard.com/.
"The wine is made in the vineyard," John said. "Winemaking is important, for sure, but 60 - 80 percent of the wine that you're tasting is from the vineyard."
|The well-tended, dry-farmed zinfandel vines at St. Hilaire Vineyard.|
|Many of the vines in St. Hilaire Vineyard grow quadrilaterally; a downward-growing split canopy system.|