For the Fourth of July weekend, Terry and I went to Paso Robles to visit family and to meet and taste with three of the most highly acclaimed winemakers from the Paso American Viticultural Area, Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines, Eric Jensen of Booker Wines and Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solene and Benom Wines.
My conclusion? Napa and Sonoma ain’t got nothing on Paso. My next five or six columns will recap my visits, establishing this point.
First, let me say that all three winemakers are driven self-starter success stories.
We start with Jordan Fiorentini. The Georgia transplant is a brainiac artist scientist engineer winemaker.
The Dartmouth engineering grad spent some time in Rome (she minored in Italian), where her love and appreciation of wine matured. Then, after graduating, her father decided to open his own winery in Georgia. The snowball that became a wine career started when she went to go help him.
Following that, in 1999, she interned at Napa legend Araujo. Why not start at the top? The wine bug infected her badly. To feed the thirst for more wine knowledge, she enrolled in the graduate program at UC Davis. Which, naturally, led to another semester abroad, this time as an apprentice at the king of Italian wineries Antinori. She then went back to Georgia and ran her dad’s winery.
Fiorentini’s next step? Assistant winemaker at Chalk Hill and becoming director of winemaking in less than two years. An amazing accomplishment all on its own, but then consider that she was only 30, and she was a she. Nine years ago, there wasn’t much of a sorority of winemakers at established wineries.
But two things you can say about Fiorentini – she’s got game, she’s got winemaking down cold and she has amazing timing. She began having some concerns about Chalk Hill’s future, so she interviewed with Bill Armstrong — Epoch’s owner — in 2010. Armstrong apparently knew a star when he met one, so he brought on Fiorentini. She’s been running things ever since.
And she’s a hit. She’s got dozens of 95 and above scores from both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. And the winery is hopping. When we visited, it was supposedly closed for a private event, but several groups were tasting and many of Epoch’s staff attended to numerous functions.
Fiorentini has a signature style to her wines. “I want my wines to live, to be fresh, elegant and bright but to have enough character to age well.” Jordan uses methods that clearly work but she’s also eager to experiment. She has a love affair with cement, using concrete eggs and Italian tulips for both fermentation and aging the wine.
And, she’s out in the vineyard, having eschewed conventional farming methods. She recognized that Paso dirt lacks nutrients, so she went to biodynamics, focusing on soil health, going so far as to create Epoch’s own compost.
Remember how I said she’s also an artist? Using a four-point axis, she transforms her wines’ tastes and aromas into a flowing depiction of how she experiences her wine. Called Vinpressions, it’s scientific art that can visually describe wines to the uninitiated without the crutch of the tired adjectives.
Jordan Fiorentini – a perfect example of the vibrant future ahead for Paso.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.