Carl Kanowsky: France’s loss is the United States’ gain

Carl Kanowsky

You must pity Guillaume Fabre of Paso Robles’ acclaimed Clos Solene. His obvious handicaps might hamper his rise in the competitive wine industry. After all, he’s merely fluent in three languages, has a lengthy heritage of French winemakers in his family, is charming as a snake, and is so handsome that my wife did a double take when she met him. Oh, and his wine is outstanding. See what I mean – he doesn’t stand a chance.

Terry and I met up recently with Guillaume at his vineyard estate in the somewhat remote area of Paso west of Highway 101 in the Willow Creek District. Our visit began with a rollercoaster ride with Guillaume in an off-road vehicle traversing the hills and valleys of his approximately 20 acres. Up until quite recently, all Clos Solene wines came from sourced grapes.

Things are changing for Clos Solene, however. Over the past year, he and his assistant have personally planted more than 8,200 vines, some on relatively flat land to hillsides so steep I envision that you will need a harness to the upper slope to safely harvest the grapes. He’s also re-grafted many vines to get the grape variety he wanted.

Guillaume (who is a sixth-generation winemaker) clearly believes in a hands-on approach to viticulture and enology. He cleared the upper terrace of fallen trees and massive shale boulders and drilled his own well.

But, as he cautioned us, you must watch out for mountain lions (he discovered paw prints during our sojourn of his vineyard). But to Guillaume, worrying about being mauled while working the vines is merely another challenge to be overcome.

Guillaume Fabre, kneeling, shows Carl Kanowsky the soil challenges with the thousands of new vines in Paso Robles. Courtesy photo

And that’s the thing about him. He has a vision of and for the future. He’s building a future for his family.

In 2004, he came to Paso to work for Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Wines. Asseo, also an import from France’s wine business, couldn’t abide the strict French rules and customs about making wine. He wanted to blend cabernet sauvignon and syrah. California offered him the opportunity to do exactly that. And Guillaume (the product of generations from the Languedoc-Roussillon region) gravitated to the concept of free-thinking and independent wine making. His three-month internship stretched to 11 months.

His plan for the future called for him to own his own winery, but not in France. So, he came back to California in 2007 to do exactly that. And he learned to his delight that his connection with Asseo could not have been better planned. Asseo introduced him to Justin Smith at Saxum and the folks at Epoch (Jordan Fiorentini’s stomping grounds), both of whom agreed to sell him some of their fruit. Quite an achievement for a recent émigré.

But that’s Guillaume. He takes nothing for granted and works like his life depended on it. And good things happen as a result.

His wife, Solene (another transplanted French native and the inspiration for the winery’s name), and their three children live and work at the estate. Together, they are going to fulfill their dreams of the future. And, at 41, he’s going to be around for a while.

I will discuss his wine in the next column.

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