Food & Drink » Flavor

The melody in wine


INCENDIARY INCENDIO :  Vihuela’s signature wine is named for a Spanish guitar band with a Bohemian vibe. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • INCENDIARY INCENDIO : Vihuela’s signature wine is named for a Spanish guitar band with a Bohemian vibe.

During a visit to Vihuela’s new tasting room in downtown Paso Robles, within the same building as the new restaurant Thomas Hill Organics, I found both businesses busy with a steady stream of patrons. I felt like Johnny-come-lately, since I knew little about either of them. Luckily, I did manage to get the last table available in the new eatery. I thought their food was delicious but I didn’t have time to get to know owners Joe and Debbie Thomas or their staff, who were slammed just trying to get to every table. Besides, I was there to cover Vihuela (vee-way-la), whose value-priced wines received a brief mention in Cuisine last summer (Aug. 7).

- VIHUELA :  1307 Park St. Alley - Paso Robles - 226-2010 -
  • VIHUELA : 1307 Park St. Alley Paso Robles 226-2010
Claire Davidson, tasting-room manager and director of sales and marketing, was persistent in her attempts to invite me to come by and taste Vihuela’s newest red blend with the proprietary name “Incendio.” It was named after the Southern California-based band Incendio, whose biography describes its genre as “world-guitar-fusion.” For more information about the band, which performs often around the Central Coast, visit

Vihuela’s Incendio was impressive enough to become this week’s pick. Claire provided the interesting story involving winery co-owner Mike Vihuela about how the red blend came to be. “Incendio is a Spanish guitar band based in L.A. that fuses in Middle Eastern elements and a Bohemian vibe,” Claire explained. “One evening at the Farmers Market where Mike met Incendio, after a few glasses of wine he was so bold as to suggest to Incendio that they write a tribute song about his winery. Incendio thought it was a great idea only if Vihuela would craft a wine after them, and the rest is history.”
Vihuela is owned by Mike “Vihuela” Pecen and Matt Mikulics, who tell their clients the brand name was “born out of a passion for Old World Spanish guitar and New World artisan wines.” Look closely at Vihuela’s label, and you’ll see the subtle background image of a classical guitar.
Although his surname is Pecen (pa-san), Mike’s business cards note Mike Vihuela. Claire explained that when Mike first joined Facebook it didn’t allow businesses to create profiles. So he created his business profile using his pseudonym. He also told me most people assume it’s his surname. Nowadays, many wineries have business sites on Facebook. However, you must become a member on the networking site to see them. I find Facebook a constant source of education and fun, but I digress. The partners’ website describes Mike as the artist and Matt as the scientist. I didn’t meet Matt, who earned his enology degree from Fresno State. But I learned that he’s been a Central Coast wine aficionado for 20 years. He started visiting our wine-country trails with his wife, and they loved the region so much he was motivated to become a winemaker. After graduating, he started out in Napa and Sonoma working for Rudd and Geyser Peak wineries, respectively.
When Matt moved to the Central Coast in 2002, he met Mike and Vihuela was founded. They broke ground that year to plant their first vineyard in Templeton, where Matt and his wife live now. Their grapes are hand-harvested and fermented in small lots. They create the wines using Old World French techniques and age them in French oak for a minimum of 18 months. And they strive to make the wines expressive of the fine character found in premium-quality grapes grown in the Paso Robles wine appellation.
I met Mike when he teamed up with Ashleigh Hutchison, owner of the Garden’s Kitchen in San Luis Obispo, for a cooking class. Naturally the theme was Spanish tapas, and Ashleigh did a great job of preparing dishes to complement Vihuela wines. Mike impressed us with his delicious array of value-priced wines. Ashleigh’s delectable prawns in chile garlic sauce paired quite nicely with the Vihuela 2004 Chardonnay, $14, which is still available at the tasting room.
Before their vineyard matured, Mike said they made their premium wines by purchasing grapes from cream-of–the-crop vineyards, and keeping them value-priced, from $14 to $30 retail. “Most wine distributors tell us we should be selling them for more than we ask,” he noted. “We want to provide ultra premium wines at an affordable price.” That’s exactly what consumers want in current times, even wine connoisseurs. We still enjoy collectible brands, but with everyday wines Americans are buying more products in the $15 and under price range.
Only a common wall divides Vihuela’s new tasting room and Thomas Hill Organics. The restaurant is located in the site that was formerly the Wine Attic, a defunct retail shop with a tiny kitchen and a large patio for wine tasting and lunch. It appears word spread fast about these very welcome new businesses. Of course, the prolific Paso Robles Downtown Wineries (an informal association that offers maps to help visitors find all of their “member” tasting rooms) has new tasting rooms growing as fast as tulips in springtime. Claire noted there are 13 tasting rooms in downtown Paso Robles, and three more will open by the end of April.
“We plan to create winemakers’ dinners out in the back patio with our neighbor,” said Claire, a Cal Poly senior whose major is graphic communications. Thomas Hill Organics originally started as a 10-acre farm on Paso’s east side. Then the Thomases created the new restaurant, and most of the foods they serve come from their gardens. They grow fruit, such produce as seasonal greens, and nuts, all farmed organically. Since my visit, the restaurant completed their new wood-fired pizza oven on the patio. Claire concluded: “We want to make this spot a destination for Vihuela wines and Thomas Hill Organics.” As they like to say at Vihuela, come taste the wine—“It’s music to your mouth!”

You can reach New Times Cuisine columnist at


Add a comment