Have you heard about the new up-and-coming wine trail in SLO County’s coastal hamlet of Cambria? It’s named the Pacific Coast Wine Trail, and it’s a natural in Cambria given the quaint town’s popularity as a tourist destination. Among the wine group’s new members is Stolo Family Winery, which has been farming grapevines since 2002 in the estate vineyard, which was originally planted on their property in 1998. Although they produced their first wines with the 2004 harvest, the Stolo family only recently opened their tasting room. It was the day after Thanksgiving when they opened to the public, and they’ve been packing in locals and tourists ever since. Given the quality of their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel, it’s no surprise that word of their opening would spread like wildfire. According to Maria Stolo Bennetti, general manager and daughter of owners Don and Charlene Stolo, Cambrians have told them how happy they are that the tasting room finally opened.
- PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
- HAPPY WINES : Maria Stolo Bennetti is the smiling face you’ll see behind the counter serving wine tastings.
Now every SLO County local has several good reasons to visit Cambria’s wine tasting rooms and dine in its fine restaurants. After learning about Stolo Family Winery, I recently drove along the gorgeous Hwy. 1—pleased to be privy to awesome views of the Pacific Ocean—to check out the new tasting room among the hills along Santa Rosa Creek. Modest and chic, the ambiance is modern wine country, and the valley views are beautiful. The wines are made by Nicole Bertotti Pope, who is also assistant winemaker at Talley Vineyards. Her husband Lucas Pope, a Cal Poly alumnus, owns Coastal Range Vineyards and consults for small vineyards such as Stolo. The Stolo brand currently features two estate grown Chardonnays—the newest release is their 2010, and a 2005 Chardonnay under their original label TreViti. While regular Cuisine readers know I’m not big on most Chardonnays, I was quite impressed by the 2005 for its beautiful balance. It will continue to age well for at least another five or more years. Of course, I favored my favorite varietal, Pinot Noir, and loved its tart and tangy red fruit profile with only nuances of spicy oak. While the Stolo’s Syrahs, 2007 and 2009 from the same vines, were different, both versions were impressive. I like their lighter style that offers bright tasty fruit, yet doesn’t go over the top in ripeness or alcohol. It made their Zinfandel quite distinctive.
- NEW AND OLD : The new Stolo Family Vineyards tasting room sits near a 150-year-old barn on the family’s property on Santa Rosa Creek Road in Cambria.
The Stolo’s original label, TreViti, is Italian for three vines. The name reflects several components: the family’s Italian heritage; their three children Justin, Maria, and Breanna; and the three grape varieties planted in the estate vineyard. Both Don and Charlene had Italian grandparents who lived on the East Coast and made wine in their home cellars using grapes grown in California they purchased and had shipped to them. When Don and Charlene bought their 53-acre estate in Cambria, it already had a 9-acre vineyard in production. But unlike the previous owners who only sold the grapes, the Stolos created their own brand.
“Our options were to grow and sell the grapes, or start a small label,” Maria explained. “Once we started buying grapes from other vineyards, we decided to create the label with the family name.”
Formerly in wine marketing and sales in San Francisco, Maria now manages the family’s winery and tasting room. Her expertise in marketing motivated her to initiate the Pacific Coast Wine Trail group to promote Cambria’s wineries.
- BRIGHT WINES : The tasting room is large, bright, and inviting with interior decoration designed by Mrs. Stolo.
The 2012 vintage only produced enough grapes to make 600 cases of wine. Maria plans to buy more from local vineyards to expand the number of wines under the Stolo label, and for the possibility of creating a blend.
“We get a lot of people asking for blends,” she said. “I’m meeting with Nicole to discuss making some blends as all of our wines are 100 percent varietal now. I’d like to bring in some Merlot and other varieties that fit our style of making lighter wines that are low in alcohol.”
Via a press release written by Maria, I learned it was no simple feat getting this rare location approved to build a winery and tasting room. Don Stolo began applying in 2005 to the California Coastal Commission, which finally approved it in 2010. It’s the first winery, tasting room, and vineyard to be approved along California’s coastline in more than 20 years. In the notice, Don stated: “Our family loves Cambria, and we are excited to become a new part of what makes this town a special place.”
Currently, Stolo Family Winery is only open Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Maria said they plan to open the tasting room six days a week beginning in spring. The tasting fee is quite reasonable at $5 to try six wines, and the fee is waived if you buy three or more bottles. I left with a bottle of each of their wines to better get to know this excellent new brand—and I think you’ll like it, too.
The Pacific Coast Wine Trail
The quaint town of Cambria draws enough tourists to keep them busy year round, but now we locals have many more reasons to drive to the coast for fine wines and good restaurants. There are now six winery tasting rooms in and around Cambria—all within three miles from the Pacific—that have much to offer wine lovers. All of these winemakers buy grapes from vineyards in Paso Robles, some as far as Monterey County and beyond, which allows them to offer everything from Riesling and Albarino to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. The oldest winery among the group is Harmony Cellars, owned by Chuck and Kim Mulligan, who founded it in 1989. Like many other Paso Robles pioneers in the wine industry, Chuck started his career at Estrella River, which became Meridian while he worked there. Joining Harmony are newer brands, including Black Hand Cellars, Moonstone, and Twin Coyotes, which operate tasting rooms in downtown Cambria. Stolo is close by on Santa Rosa Creek Road, the Hearst Ranch tasting room is in San Simeon (across from the castle), and Harmony Cellars is in Harmony just south of Cambria on Hwy. 1. For more information on each of these fine wineries, tasting room hours, or to buy wine online, visit pacificcoastwinetrail.com.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.