Friday, December 4, 2009

Gelfand Vineyards: A Paso Robles Treasure

In California, the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast has held a special charm for me for over two decades. During that time the number of wineries has multiplied faster than a cabal of Corrales rabbits. The village of Corrales where I live has a population of rabbits so numerous; driving there can take on the frenetic nature of dodge cars at an amusement park. Each year I return to Paso I discover a new favorite winery, and this year was no exception. Gelfand Vineyards was a recommendation of friend and fellow cyclist Ken McKenzie.

Ken had been sending some of my articles to Len Gelfand, who in turn suggested I stop by the winery on my next visit. Since I needed to check on my property in the nearby village of Cambria, the Thanksgiving weekend seemed appropriate. The back roads route to Gelfand executes several right turns on a road that continually changes names and then glides along on a narrow serpentine canter through fields and vineyards. The final patch climbs a single lane you pray you alone occupy.

Len met us at the rustic tasting room where we exchanged greetings. After a moment’s confusion over which McKenzie had recommended him and with my business card as a memory jogger, he made us feel right at home. Len also looks right at home here among his vines and wines, but came here after a career in insurance. That helped provide the funds, but the expertise came from fellow boutique wine makers and his determined research into enology. He has the cherubic countenance of a fit Bacchus, friendly and passionate about his wines. We quickly discovered why.

Before I do describe the wine, a caveat; Gelfand wines are not sold in stores, but are made primarily for their wine club members. Tasting is by appointment, and the limited production means the only guarantee of obtaining wine before it sells out is to join the club. After tasting the wines, my wife and I joined. Just about the swiftest wine decision I ever made.

Gelfand works with four wine grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. Single grape varietals and blends comprise the wine list. One of the most popular blends is their SFR red blend. When Len was pouring this wine at an event, an elderly couple asked him what the initials stood for. He pondered what to substitute for Sh- - Faced Red, its real designation, but before long the name slipped out and everyone was asking for this big, bold red wine.

Wine club members can also participate in the Annual Blending Party where SFR and their version of a Meritage wine, Ménage a Bunch, are concocted. The last three years participants braved 109 degree heat, but still kept coming back. Len showed us the setup where club members assist with the bottling as well. Think about how many wineries command that sort of loyalty.

Besides single-grape varietals of the four principal grapes and the two blends mentioned above, Gelfand also makes Cabyrah, a Cab/Syrah blend, Petit Cab a blend of Cab/Petit Sirah, and Lajur a select blend of their best grapes. Their Syrah Rosé is a dry rosé version that should attract red wine drinkers. They also do two Cabernet Sauvignon-based ports. One of which is called Sophie, named right after the birth of their grandchild. Our bottle of Sophie was cradled in my wife, Barbara’s arms until it could be sleepily laid to rest in our car.

All the wines are big, mouth-filling, and loaded with fruit. Many also rate a perfect 100 HDI, that’s Hammond’s Drinkability Index. These are the kinds of wine that invite you to sit back as one sip leads to another, and then one glass leads to another. Just make sure you’re at home before one bottle leads to another. Salud!


Walter B said...

Good article. You piece on the Gelfand wines has increased my desire to visit Paso Robles wineries. I visited the Gelfand website and appreciate their shipping dates, but I don't need another club---at least not until I have tasted their wines. Salut! Walter B

Southwestern Wine Guy said...

Hi Walter,
That's what I said before sampling the wine, "I don't need no stinkin club."