Proliferation of Lesser-Known Varietals in Paso Robles

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Paso Robles is experiencing an increase in visitation, in part due to the unique varietals being produced in the region, according to John Kelliher of Grapeline© Wine Tours.

Walk into Rotta Winery in Paso Robles, and you are likely to have your first encounter with a Black Monukka. Some visitors have joked that it sounds like a dangerous viper, but the truth is much more appealing. The rarely-heard moniker actually refers to a grape varietal, and is one of the many unusual wine grapes that Paso area wineries are using to create unique wines that pique tasters' interest.

Rotta Winery is the exclusive producer of Black Monukka, a sweet dessert wine that scored a 92 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine. UC Davis describes this obsolete grape as mostly being used in specialty markets such as health food stores for its unique qualities. The 1997 California acreage report listed 359 acres for 'Black Monukka,' almost strictly for Raisin production.

Long associated with its signature varietal Zinfandel, Paso Robles also boasts a breadth of varietals that tantalizes oenophiles seeking to find new tasting experiences. The region now produces wine from more than 40 distinct wine grapes. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance points to the region's diverse soils and many microclimates as the reason that the Paso Robles AVA is suitable to grow a wide variety of wine grapes.

With its campaign slogan “Paso Robles, where wine grows wild,” Paso Wine Man, the popular video series created by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, features varietals that are not usually associated with Paso Robles. In July’s video highlighting Grenache Blanc, Paso Wine Man describes this wine as “too good to be true.” According to Chris Kern’s Forgotten Grapes, Grenache Blanc is the fifth-most planted grape in France, but the first Grenache Blanc planting in the U.S. did not occur until 1996, and that was by Tables Creek Winery of Paso Robles.

Owner of Grapeline Wine Tours, John Kelliher, describes how Paso's wide range of available wines draws in more wine tour customers, “So many guests are drawn to Paso Robles wine country for the diversity that it provides. The Paso wineries seem to be particularly adventurous in their wine grape cultivation. Many local wineries specialize in lesser-known varietals, and often not on traditional California grapes. It gives this area a depth of character not often found in other wine growing regions.”

"Wine tasting is becoming more mainstream," said Kelliher, "and visitors are coming out over and over again. So it's probably to be expected that finding new and different varietals, like you do in Paso, would be a draw."

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John Kelliher
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