We had no tasting room in downtown SLO for the wares of a single winery until Shadow Canyon Cellars opened one in May on the busy corner of Monterey and Osos streets. Frankly, that dearth surprised me, considering there are 10 such sampling sites in downtown Paso. The great popularity of that wonderful venture is sure to soon draw other wineries to the heart of town.
The city of San Luis Obispo does have other single wineries with tasting rooms but none within walking distance of downtown. One of the oldest is Cerro Caliente at Via Esteban near Orcutt Road. Windemere started in that same industrial area but it’s now owned by Sextant, which offers tastings of its various brands on South Higuera. The consortium at “Taste,” which opened early in 2006, is operated by the SLO Vintners Association and features their 16 winery members, offering more than 70 wines daily.
“We were the first to open a single winery tasting room in [downtown] San Luis Obispo, and the Chamber of Commerce is very favorable about more wineries coming into the center of town,” explained Gary Gibson who owns the Shadow Canyon brand and tasting room with his wife Armida. He explained: “If we had more tasting rooms here tourists would be more likely to stay downtown.”
Shadow Canyon and Taste are already working together by pointing out to visitors the two tasting rooms are only a block apart. They’ve also created a downtown tasting room map that includes their tasting rooms and directions to We Olive, Central Coast Wines, and Monterey St. Wine Co. Gibson said the maps will be placed in hotels and other tourist-driven businesses in the hope of attracting our many visitors downtown for a day of gourmet food and wine tasting.
Of course, Gibson’s main reason for opening downtown was to become better known locally. When he began producing Rhone varieties in 2001, he had only miniscule amounts of his premium quality wines, which received high praise from wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. who described Shadow Canyon Cellars as, “One of the Rhone Ranger’s up and coming stars.” In his famous newsletter the Wine Advocate (Aug. 2006) he noted: “I’ve been ‘shadowing’ these wines for the last few years, and they seem to go from strength to strength.”
Parker’s high ratings made Shadow Canyon Cellars well known among wine connoisseurs, particularly those who come for the annual Hospice du Rhone event in Paso. “One guy from Phoenix who comes for hospice each year was shocked to find Shadow Canyon downtown,” Gibson remembered. “But he was happy to know he could come here to taste and buy wines to take home.” As the Shadow Canyon Vineyard began producing more grapes he gradually increased his wine production. Now that he’s producing more, though the winery is still considered small, producing just more than 1,000 cases annually, he has enough wines to offer in a tasting room.
Gibson dreamed of becoming a winemaker long before he started planting his first grapevines. An L.A. native, he moved here to attend Cal Poly, graduated in agriculture business management, but returned to L.A. “I spent a number of years looking for the perfect site before moving back to the area,” he recalled. The window of opportunity opened in 1996 when he learned of a remote hillside for sale high atop York Mountain, an extraordinary site in the middle of an East-West corridor known as the Templeton Gap.
He planted five different Syrah clones, which add complexity and the deep, layers of flavors that make Shadow Canyon Syrahs stand out. The average yield is two tons of grapes per acre. Despite the low production Gibson and winemaker Jeremy Weintraub stick to meticulous standards that start with fruit selection in the vineyard and then at the winery where they constantly sort, saving only the finest clusters. Weintraub, a 17-year veteran, started in the wine industry on Long Island and earned a master’s degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. He subsequently worked at wineries in New Zealand, Italy, and Santa Barbara County.
Besides their flagship proprietary Syrah, Shadow Canyon buys other grapes that meet their high standards: Viognier and Grenache from the respected Larner Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley; and Pinot Blanc for the late harvest “Paeonia” from the historic Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.
If you love Rhone varieties, don’t miss Shadow Canyon Cellars at 956 Monterey St. San Luis Obispo, 781-0862.
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