- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- ARDENT ARTIST : Coby Parker-Garcia has gained a reputation as one of the hardest working, most successful local winemakers.
I recently got to know their talented winemaker, Coby Parker-Garcia. At 33, he’s passionate and ardent about his work. He started professionally in the wine industry only seven years ago and his winemaking career is unlike that of most of his peers. In fact, he readily admits he never planned on becoming a winemaker. “I had some luck pushing me toward winemaking,” Coby said straightaway. “Like my father, I’ve always loved gardening, growing tomatoes, that’s why I became interested in viticulture.”
Coby’s major was Agricultural Business at Cal Poly, so he signed on for viticulture classes with Professor Keith Patterson. That led him to an internship at Claiborne & Churchill, where he experienced his first hands-on training with owner/winemaker Claiborne “Clay” Thompson, a veteran who’s worked 28 harvests since he moved to SLO County in 1981. When Coby started there in 2002, Nathan Carlson was the winemaker (Carlson moved on to make wine at Tolosa and is now at EOS in Paso Robles). Most winemakers, like chefs, move among wineries frequently when starting their career. It provides an opportunity to work with more varieties, and to gain insight from different winemakers. Coby, on the other hand, has always loved his job at Claiborne & Churchill. Although he graduated from Cal Poly in December 2002, he has stayed with this winery since he was an intern. After five years, Coby was named winemaker in 2007.
Few small family-owned wineries provide the opportunity to work with so many different varieties each harvest like the classic wines they’ve offered for many years. Coby noted, however, that they don’t just produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Alsatian wines. They look for what he described as “fun wines,” like Tempranillo and Malbec to add to their diverse portfolio.
“I work with a walking wine encyclopedia,” Coby said of Thompson. “When I got an internship here, it really got me hooked. I learned the old-school style of winemaking from Clay, and new-world winemaking from Nathan. It was nice to be able to learn the best of both worlds.” Then he corrected his first statement to me. “People assume it was luck to get into this position but it’s also about putting yourself into the position you want to be in. Younger people don’t realize, you have to spend time learning, and that hard work really pays off.” When Thompson came over to talk briefly, he described Coby as the hardest working winemaker in the valley. They were still going through the arduous work of this year’s harvest. I never doubted Coby’s work ethic, especially when he said: “I walk around taking it all in, gaining as much information as possible. I love doing this. It’s not work to me, it’s second nature.”
We tasted through the 2007 Riesling and Gewurztraminer, the latter Coby described as one of the drier vintages. I agreed with him about the lovely balance of spice and acidity. The Riesling, with a tad more residual sugar, seemed an excellent choice for the sweet and savory dishes served on Thanksgiving. “The 2007 vintage was a really good year, we could do no wrong with white or red wines,” he noted. Currently, they’re pouring the 2008 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Coby praised the quality of the 2008s, which he admitted was a spotty vintage. Both wines were classic in style, expressing elegant aromas and flavors.
Among my favorites was the 2007 estate Pinot Noir, so forward in rich fruit yet balanced and impressive, a California style that’s a good choice anytime. The intense ’07 Pinot Noir Runestone Barrel Select will appeal to everyone who loves a Burgundian Pinot. “I pick a few barrels of different clones, we work with eight clones each year, to create a blend. Like a cook using spice, the wine becomes more complex and layered in flavors.” Lastly we enjoyed the Syrah, classic in its meaty, smoky notes like a Rhone Valley Syrah, ending on a long spicy finish. It’s a great lineup well worth visiting them to taste. Coby concluded: “A lot of younger winemakers are taking over their family’s winery. Younger people are realizing that this is a great way of life, but it does take a certain kind of person.”
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