The dramatic terrain of westside Paso Robles will be the setting for an epic wine battle on June 12 pitting Old World varietals against New World, male winemaker vs. female, and established vineyard vs. newcomer.
June 2021 marks Sixmilebridge Winery's one-year anniversary, and just as the summer weather is heating up, so too is the competition between this small boutique winery off Peachy Canyon Road and Epoch Estate Wines, perched nearby on historic York Mountain.
Sixmilebridge's Bordeaux varietals will face off against Epoch's Rhone selections in a comparative flight tasting hosted by their respective winemakers: Anthony Yount and Jordan Fiorentini.
Who will win? Well ... everybody.
Yount adores Fiorentini, and Paso isn't Napa.
"I've been friends with Jordan for over 10 years," Yount said. "In fact, we worked in the same winery for four years. Epoch made their wine at Denner from 2008 to 2013. I've always considered her like a sister—someone that has your back, but also always keeps you honest."
- Photo Courtesy Of Sixmilebridge
- TASTING NOTES Sixmilebridge proprietors (left to right) Barbara and Jim Moroney and winemaker Anthony Yount sample their varietals at Denner, where they currently produce their wines.
The feeling's mutual. Fiorentini said Yount "is one of the smartest and most daring winemakers I know. He's also an incredible human being. I'd adopt him as my brother in an instant."
According to Rosie Behrens, Sixmilebridge's direct-to-consumer manager, supporting one another "is what makes Paso Paso." She said being removed from major metropolitan areas gives Paso "a special community focus, which you find in small-town and middle America."
"As you're approaching the Napa area, or if you're near LA or San Francisco, there's a bit more of that competitive drive—a less community-centric attitude," added Behrens, who previously managed nearby Brecon Estate's consumer experience for five years. "I think that's something very charming about (Paso). Everybody helps everybody. Anything that's good for the region is helpful for everybody. So why wouldn't we do that."
Sixmilebridge Winery owners Jim and Barbara Moroney, who split their time between Dallas and Paso, wholeheartedly agree.
"Barbara and I just fell in love with Paso Robles. It's such a beautiful area. The people are authentic, genuine, just wonderful. We love the collaborative spirit," Jim Moroney said.
In fact, he added, they get the bulk of their referrals from some of their closest neighbors, Villa Creek Cellars, Law Estate Wines, and Torrin.
Moroney, who retired in 2018, was publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News and presided over its parent company, A.H. Belo Corp. The couple's love of Bordeaux wines and the desire "to make a wine we would enjoy drinking every single day" inspired them to take plunge into the wine industry. He thinks that goal has already been achieved, "and I don't take any credit for that."
He attributes the wines' success to the talented team of Yount and his wife/vineyard manager, Hillary Yount, combined with Behrens presiding over consumer marketing. The group began assembling in 2012, but they didn't open the tasting room until June 2020.
Yount—who juggles multiple jobs, including principal winemaker at both Denner and Sixmilebridge, winemaker/owner of Kinero Cellars and Royal Nonesuch Farms, and parent to 1- and 5-year-old girls with Hillary—offers three pointers to novice vintners.
"First and foremost, do something that you're passionate about because it's going to be a ton of work. And if you're not passionate about it, the work at some point is going to feel overwhelming," he said. "Pick a grape and a region and a style that is true to you, and that way you're not shooting at a moving target. You see, a lot of vintners come in and say they want to make a high-scoring wine, and I'll say, for who, and does that matter, how are you going to do that?
So set the tone for the project based on your passion and what you love, and then it will be successful," Yount said.
- Photo By Cherish Whyte
- OUTSIDE IN Sixmilebridge's new-age patio screens are nearly invisible, but only 3 percent porous. The screens enable the tasting room to host guests "outdoors" with climate control during Paso's extreme temperature swings.
Secondly, he advises, "Start small, grow slow. That's my biggest piece of advice because it's so capital-intensive to start a winery and vineyard, and it takes a long time to build inventory. And these are all things that Jim and Barbara have done very well. You know Jim's mentioned he's in a pickle where he doesn't have enough wine, and you'd rather be in that position than the opposite."
Yount's final pointer is to remember that it's all about the vineyard.
"I think a lot of people want to come in and put an emphasis on a winemaker like me. But I can't be better than the vineyard and the vineyard manager I'm working with," he explained. "They're really the unsung heroes—the people out there farming the grapes and making sure that the product is great coming into the winery. All I really do is don't fuck it up. Excuse my language."
The team at Sixmilebridge, along with the Epoch crew, will be putting their collaborative spirit to the test on June 12 when they present two wines from their respective inventory, capped by a special Old World selection from the Bordeaux and Rhone regions of France.
Sixmilebridge will be pouring a 2017 Cos D'estournel from Saint-Estephe comprised of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon and 35 percent merlot, stacked against its own 2018 cabernet sauvignon and 2017 estate cuvee. The winery's flagship estate cuvee is a cabernet-based blend with merlot, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc.
Epoch winemaker Fiorentini will showcase a 2017 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Clos des Papes consisting of 45 percent grenache, 40 percent mourvedre, 10 percent syrah, and other permitted varieties. Her Epoch pours will include 2017 Veracity, a mourvedre-heavy blend with grenache and syrah, and 2016 Block B, which is 100 percent syrah.
Open to only 50 guests and held on-site at Epoch, home to the Central Coast's first winery in the late 1800s, the event sold out within hours of being announced. But the wineries will release a video of the event on their websites later this month.
For those hoping to check out Sixmilebridge in person, the winery offers tastings by appointment in an intimate, educational setting with one host per group. Wines hail from a steeply sloped 23-acre vineyard abutting their state-of-the-art tasting room, with only the McQueen cabernet sauvignon including externally sourced grapes.
- Photo By Cherish Whyte
- DECKED OUT The winery offers bottle service, glass pours, and an open deck space for guests who don't have tasting reservations.
Since Sixmilebridge is low on inventory, they're bridging the gap with early tastings of their 2018 vintages, as well as Yount's 2020 Kinero Alice, a grenache blanc. The winery is also still pouring the 2017 Estate Cuvee, but all other 2017 wines are sold out.
Next on the horizon for Sixmilebridge is an homage to both Ireland and France modeled after the Right and Left Bank regions of Bordeaux. While wines to the right of Bordeaux's Gironde Estuary are merlot-centric, wines to the left are cabernet sauvignon-driven. Similarly, Sixmilebridge Winery's namesake is a small town in County Clare, Ireland, flanked by Limerick to its right, and Shannon to its left—hence the names for its upcoming 2019 Right and Left Bank vintages, to be released in 2022.
The Moroney family traces its ancestral roots to Ireland, and its label features a red ceremonial hat with a bullet hole. Ask your pourer for the history behind the hat. That's another story. Δ
Flavor writer Cherish Whyte doesn't care if her reds emigrate from Bordeaux or Rhone. Reach her through the editor at email@example.com.