It has been a couple of years since I wrote about Steve Dooley, the Godfather of SLO wine, and last week I published the first half of my chat with Steve and his wife Paula, the owners of one of the best Pinot producers in San Luis Obispo, Stephen Ross Wine Cellars.
We pick up today with a conversation about the Albariño they sent me but did not taste (although I wish we had; when I tasted it later, I was blown away). The conversation then evolved a bit into Steve’s disdain for Grenache Blanc:
2019 Stephen Ross Albariño Spanish Springs Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. Under screw cap. While I have had a few of Steve Dooley’s Pinots over the years, this was the first Albariño I have tried of his and it is simply fantastic. Crisp, bright, fruity. Yum. Mostly ripe white peach and bright Bosc pear on the nose with a hint of wet rock. Lovely. While the nose is delightful and “sells” a great experience, the palate is even better than the nose suggest. Bright tree fruit initially followed immediately by a zingy acidity. Yowza. That fruit/acidity combination continues in concert throughout, weaving a lovely waltz all the way to the finish, which lasts for minutes. Whoa. One of the best Albariños I remember having. Outstanding. 94 Points.
Paula, who is the business end of the pair explains, however, that keeping visitors to the tasting room happy is paramount:
Another wine that we did not talk about (although after tasting it, I wish we had as it was also excellent) was the Pinot Steve makes from the broader San Luis Obispo appellation.
2018 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, CA: Retail $25. Under screw cap. I have spent a considerable amount of time in this space professing that “good” Pinot is very difficult (if not impossible) to find under thirty bucks. I have spent nearly the same amount of time pointing our instances with that rule of thumb has been proven wrong. Here is another case for the latter. Bright red fruit both on the nose and the palate with tangy acidity and even a few layers of complexity. This is not the wine you buy a case of when your child is born, hoping to gift it to them when they become of age. No, this is the wine you open to watch the Final Four, to sit out on the patio on a cool, but pleasant evening. This is the bottle you open for friends who say they don’t like Pinot. Wonderful. Excellent. 91 Points.
After tasting through a few of their wines, I wondered how they would age and Steve’s answer surprised me a bit (I think they will last a lot longer than he does):
We then moved on to a wine that has been a part of Stephen Ross for nearly three decades. the Bien Nacido, a vineyard that even casual wine drinkers know:
Steve delved a bit more into how the process works, purchasing fruit:
2017 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, CA: Retail $48. Steve and Paula Dooley have been making a Bien Nacido Pinot practically since they started their winery over 25 years ago. While their block has changed ever-so-slightly since that first vintage, the quality of the wine has not (as far as I can tell, and for which Steve assured me). Slightly darker than the Stephen Ross Estate Pinots, and slightly “bigger” in style (although only *slightly*). I attributed that to the fact that Bien Nacido might be slightly warmer than the Edna Valley but that might be debatable (for what it’s worth, Paula and Steve agreed). Rich black cherry fruit, considerable earth, red roses, some spice, and a decided black pepper aspect. Whoa. The palate does not disappoint in the slightest: rich fruit, some heft, balancing acidity, fantastic finish. If you can’t love this, you are not a Pinot lover and therefore, we can’t be friends. Outstanding. 94 Points.
We touched on a number of topics but I wondered how Steve, who grew up in Minnesota, and Paula, who is a native of Texas (San Antonio in case you were wondering) have adapted to living the SLO life (and we may have taken a subtle jab at one of Texas’ politicians):
Thanks so much to Paula and Steve for their time, their candor, and for making such wonderful wines!