Paso Robles, California
Niner Wine Estates
When former math teacher Amanda Cramer first became the winemaker for Niner Wine Estates in 2004, she felt a bit like a kid in a candy store. The winery, which had been founded just three years earlier by investor and entrepreneur Dick Niner, already boasted two abundant and promising vineyards covering 360 acres in two distinctly different parts of Paso Robles. Niner's objective was clear: to create wines that represent the whole of Paso Robles.
Amanda—whose résumé includes Far Niente Winery, Chimney Rock, and Paradigm in the Napa Valley; D'Arenberg in McLaren Vale, South Australia; and Casa Lapostolle in Santa Cruz, Chile—was quick to see the opportunity. "I was given the chance to help build a winery from the ground up in this attractive region that is on the rise. I simply couldn't pass it up," she explains.
Niner Wine Estates' two vineyards can be found on opposite sides of Highway 101. Bootjack Ranch lies nine miles east of downtown Paso Robles, along Highway 46 East. It is currently planted to 125 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are also smaller blocks of Malbec, Carménère, and Petit Verdot. Along Highway 46 West, Heart Hill is dedicated to Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Grenache. There is more room to plant in both vineyards, and additional Rhône varieties are already being added at Heart Hill.
"I guess you could say my winemaking style is all about the vineyard," Amanda says. "But I'm not necessarily a noninterventionist," she reports. When tweaks are necessary, Amanda is delighted with her options because, from a technological standpoint, Niner Wine Estates is on the cutting edge.
The Niner Wine Estates flagship is a red blend called Fog Catcher. The 2005 is the current release, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grown at Bootjack Ranch. Future vintages will incorporate additional Bordeaux varieties, and Amanda says there's a possibility that the 2009 Fog Catcher will be comprised of six. There's also an intricately layered Cabernet Sauvignon and a "delicate, but not light" Sangiovese that delights visitors to the winery's recently completed Hospitality Center along Highway 46 West.
From the outside, the inviting Hospitality Center is reminiscent of a stone barn. Inside, everything is refreshing and brand new. Guests are greeted warmly and invited to step up to a beautiful octagonal tasting bar where they can sample Niner wines. As they learn about the vineyards, they can look out to Heart Hill and enjoy the simple beauty of the heart-shaped grove of oak trees, framed by lavender plants that will one day be used in the winery's new state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen designed for visiting chefs, seminars, and cooking demonstrations. The kitchen features a viewing window for Club 9 Wine Club members enjoying the members-only wine club lounge and patio.
Amanda calls Niner Wine Estates a winemaker's fantasy come true—and wine lovers and visitors are bound to agree.
WHAT TO BUY
'06 Cabernet Sauvignon Violet,
lavender, cinnamon, cherry, cassis, cedar chest, mocha $28
'06 Sangiovese Blackberry, cherry, spice, licorice, fennel, chocolate,
'05 Fog Catcher Cola, wet earth, bitumen, cranberry, cassis, cherry,
2400 Hwy 46 W
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Tasting Room Open 10:00–5 (May 1– Oct 31); 10:00–4 (Nov 1–Apr 30)
Located on Hwy 46W, 3 miles west of Hwy 101. The winery is on the right.