A festive atmosphere of anticipation was a sure bet for the expected full house on news that Niner Wine Estates of Paso Robles was making another visit to Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas.
The first visit, Niner winemaker Patrick Muran had just arrived at the winery to begin an esteemed run of quality and growth at the 223-acre, three-vineyard estates in Paso Robles and the Edna Valley in the Central Coast of California.
In the beginning, after a comprehensive search, founders Richard and Pam Niner established Niner Wine Estates in 2001. They expanded and built a first-class tasting room and winery facilities over the next decade. Their son Andy Niner is now CEO and president, managing the operation. The winery is known for its estate-only production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, as well as a signature blend, Fog Catcher. The 2015 is the current release ($100) and is a beautifully created wine named for the cool banks of fog that drift over the vineyards in the early morning. Two of the vineyards provide the composition that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere and Merlot. All these Bordeaux varietals are aged in-barrel for a total 29 months of blending power and finesse.
I first learned of winemaker Patrick Muran when he was promoted to Niner’s Winemaker in 2013. His bio revealed 13 years in other vineyards before Niner’s top wine job became available. His official photo had him on a tractor with his dog Bell, an Australian Shepherd. Before his first year was past, he had hired Molly Bohlman away from Paul Hobbs winery in Napa and Sonoma. Bohlman makes Niner’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Jesperson Ranch in the Edna Valley, a cool climate vineyard south of Paso.
“What I’ve learned over the years, is that you have to know the strengths of the different vineyards in order to grow the success of the wines,” Muran observed.
“A good example of this is our vintage 2014 Fog Catcher, one of several blends we create annually at Niner. It was a great year for Cabernet Franc. So we made it our marquee varietal. The metrics were there. In our latest, the 2015, our base fermentation was Cabernet Sauvignon at 30 percent and Cabernet Franc at 14 percent to give us the foundation for fruit, structure and spice.”
I got around to asking Muran about the surge in marketing to position Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon as a challenger to the supremacy of Napa Valley, noting that more Paso wineries like Niner, were producing higher quality, comparable premium wines. “Yes, we are seeing this trend as a real opportunity,” he acknowledged. “We see it as playing the long game to catch up to them with our Paso cabs. Right now, the West Side of Paso (west of Highway 101) has the edge due to its elevation, swings in temperature and a collaborative mindset. Here at Niner we are also totally committed to sustainability, and are LEED certified for 100 percent solar power. Water collecting and composting naturally, are both big priorities for our over 200 producing acres.”
Firenze Trattoria Manager Holly Murphy put together a perfectly paired five-course dinner, topped by the “Principale,” a lamb lollipop, grilled and served with garlic mashed potatoes to link up with the feature Niner wine, the 2015 Fog Catcher, the star of the night. Niner itself has a frequent schedule of events and dinners at its winery. See more at ninerwine.com.
- Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas now has live jazz on the patio while you dine, every Sunday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Check out firenzetrattoria.com.
- Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas has a France vs the USA blends battle from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 22. Winemakers blend grapes because it allows them to design and maximize the expression of a wine. From Bordeaux classics to the New World, try these contrasting styles. Six wines for $30 per person, $20 for club members. See more at meritagewinemarket.com.
- Carruth Cellars, San Diego’s largest urban winery, has its ninth annual Barrel Tasting party from noon to 3 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, at its Cedros Ave location in Solana Beach. This is your chance to taste wine from the barrel before it gets bottled. There will be live music, food and wine discounts. Cost is $40. RSVP at (858) 876-7027.