Like extra sharp cheddar or a handsome man who will make you morning tea with just the right amount of honey, all experiences worth having in life are worth waiting for.
This is especially true in the wine business, where schedules are based on the glacial growth of grape vines, the subtle art of aging, and an often unpredictable Mother Nature. If these hurdles don’t set you back, building permits probably will.
Bob and Lynn Tillman never rushed it. Their 40-plus year marriage took a while to foster; so did their dream of opening a dedicated Alta Colina Winery tasting room.
- PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
- ALTA COLINA: From left, Alta Colina Winemaker Bob Tillman, along with wife Lynn, and daughter/General Manager Maggie Tillman pose for a celebratory photo. The family is crafting world class estate-grown Rhône wines in Westside Paso Robles with the help of their green, grand tasting room and winemaking facility, which opened its doors in late November 2014.
The trick, according to Lynn, is in savoring the process.
“It’s a progressive set of realities,” Lynn said while poised behind the glossy bar of the new Westside tasting room. “Suddenly, you’re planting a vineyard. Then you have grapes. Then you have harvest. Then, you’re popping open a bottle of champagne in your own winery.”
The open, high-ceilinged tasting room and adjoining state-of-the-art production facility materialized more than 10 years after the Tillmans first founded their dream vineyard off Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.
Safe to say, when the doors opened in late November, fans of the winery’s elegant Rhône offerings rejoiced with glee. No longer would Alta Colina share a production space and small tasting room at nearby Villicana Winery (although they remain close friends of the family).
The new 8,600-square-foot facility, which includes an additional 1,600-square-foot crush pad, was designed and built by NK Builders of San Luis Obispo, and my goodness, does it shine in the Paso sun. Yes, it promises a spot for winemaking, but it also provides a much-anticipated hub for club members and friends to mingle, taste, and catch up on each others’ lives.
“This winery has renewed our enthusiasm in a way that we could have never expected,” said daughter Maggie Tillman, who runs the winery alongside her father, Bob. “Having our winery on property—and closing the loop of our estate vision—is downright exciting.”
Many in the wine business know the Tillman family as go-to growers of high quality Rhône varietals. Although Alta Colina will continue to sell a large portion of its yield to other producers, they can now funnel more blood, sweat, and tears into crafting and promoting their own estate boutique wines.
Bob, a tenacious and methodical winemaker, is especially pumped for the New Year. After retiring from a long career with Hewlett-Packard two decades ago, he mused over the thought of growing a few wine grapes. That daydream has now ballooned to 1,500-plus cases per year.
“My dad’s approach is really about making a world-class product,” Maggie said. “In the vineyard and the winery, he always says, ‘If you know how to do it better than me, teach me.”
Although the 30-year-old never could have predicted she’d one day be taking on “the family business” on the Central Coast, she’s an integral part of the legacy. The youngest of four kids, Maggie moved with her parents to San Luis Obispo in 1996.
- PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
- THAT NEW WINERY SMELL: The Tillman family has built a marvelous, modern tasting room and winery in Westside Paso Robles to house its estategrown Rhône wines. It only took about 10 years, but the wait was well worth it.
“My Dad has always had an interest in wine; he’s been home winemaking and home brewing on and off since 1971,” Maggie said. “We always joked about maybe planting some vines, but we never lived anywhere where it would work. When we moved here, my father got to know Paso Robles and the wines. It was a great fit in terms of what he wanted to make—a real right-place-right-time scenario.”
After finishing high school in San Luis Obispo, Maggie set off to New York City. She graduated from NYU with a major in linguistics and tried her hand at nabbing a job in San Francisco. After a bit of soul-searching, the youth went rural: She landed in Templeton. Around that time, 2007, Alta Colina had just produced its very first vintage.
Maggie, who had been working at other nearby wineries, decided to help her parents out.
“It’s so crazy to me that I live here, work here, and do this,” Maggie said. “One of the things that makes this family work is we are all ‘newi-sh’ to wine. We are all on the learning curve, attempting to make the very best wines we possibly can.”
Maggie’s prior winery experience certainly helped guide her parents into creating a truly 21st century tasting room and facility. The building itself is very “of the moment,” with its rust-treated corrugated metal siding and Big Ass Fans. However, you only need to view a label to see the mom and pop warmth that lies beneath.
A fitting example: Alta Colina’s 2012 Claudia Cuvée is named after Bob’s 93-year-old mother—known to enthusiastically “kick back” with a glass of white wine.
“Because it was the first white wine we ever produced, grandma had dibs on the name,” Maggie said, adding that other wines reference “geeky” Alta Colina vineyard facts.
Another white, Alta Colina’s aromatic and flirtatious 12 O’Clock High Viognier, pays homage to a special portion of the 31-acre vineyard, planted vertically on a steep section of the 130-acre property. The placement allows the vines to soak up an incredible amount of sun at high noon.
The property is mountainous, also plated to marsanne, roussanne, grenache, grenache blanc, syrah, mourvèdre, and petite sirah. Those grapes aren’t sprayed with pesticides, you should know. For the past two years, the Tillmans have farmed with an emphasis on upholding organic practices.
“Our commitment is not only to our family, but to the land and the grapes,” Maggie said. “Every Alta Colina wine is estate grown and produced. That means we personally grow every grape and craft every wine. The wine never leaves our premises until you purchase a bottle and take it home.”
The winery is also big on green technology. Alta Colina boasts the first Tesla charging station in Paso Robles Wine Country, a nighttime cooling system, native and drought tolerant landscaping, LED lighting throughout, and a gray-water system for sustainable irrigation.
“Because this is a family operation, a lot of what we do is about legacy,” Bob said. “Before we poured 9,000 square feet of concrete, we knew we needed to be mindful and cognizant about doing that as thoughtfully as possible.”
At Alta Colina, perhaps the most thought goes into the people who drink those gorgeous, sustainably produced wines. On Nov. 21, the winery received its occupancy permit. The very next day, the Tillmans invited every one of their friends, wine club members, and longtime supporters to big boisterous party at the shiny new headquarters.
This is truly the Tillman style of doing things.
“We really wanted our club members to be the first to share the space with us; we want them to love what they are drinking and feel like they are part of Alta Colina,” Maggie said. “We value the people side. We couldn’t do what we do without our friends.”
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