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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tasting With: Adventures with Stephan Asseo - L’Aventure, Paso Robles

I’m not French, but I do love visiting France, however I must admit I’m more of a California wine guy. Hell, I lived here all my life and California wines fill my house. Biased? I guess so. But a Frenchman making a kind of cross between French and California wine in Paso Robles means you gotta look into it. Ladies and gents, meet Stephan. You might know of L’Aventure winery in Paso Robles, but since they only make around 7,000 cases of high-end wine, well, you may not. I recently visited Stephan and his daughter Chloe who handles marketing and distribution (she studied fashion in Paris and always seems impeccably dressed), to speak directly with them. (I have written about the wine before for The Tasting Panel Magazine/January 2014 so I was already familiar with the wines, not so much with them). A little note: There are new underground caves and a spanking tasting room in the works.
“The story of “L’Aventure was not to do Bordeaux in France but to make Bordeaux in California,” Stephan tells me with his thick French accent. “I wanted to find a place with fewer regulations than France.” There are good sides and bad sides to France’s rules he says - the good side is that it preserves the identity of regions. But you have to contend with only the grapes allowed to be planted there under French law. He wanted to plant Syrah, but that could not happen in him homeland, but in Paso? Hell yes. Though trained in France on a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru property, Paso Robles offered Stephan “more creative freedom,” he says. He looked in Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey for property, but nothing spoke to him. “I thought I was very rich, but I was very poor,” he jokes about the land prices that scare off many a vintner. Over the course of a several days he visited dozens of properties in Paso, then came to this spot off a dirt road, a kind of amphitheater with low rolling hills and a serpentine canyon allowing for the necessary maritime impacts to soften the fruit. “The cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean are crucial in Paso, otherwise we would be like Fresno,” Stephan says. Now there’s a thought! There are 40 blocks of grapes around here and this is where Stephan will be. “I’m a grower more than a winemaker,” he admits, therefore the role of sales is better suited to his charming daughter, so chances are he won’t be pouring wine standing idly behind the counter. And being farmer he acquiesces to the seasonal changes annually which reflect the changes in his wines. After all, a plot of earth cannot produce the same exact, identical  fruit year in and year out. You want sameness? Then buy a wine from a mega producer who achieves sameness as a matter of sales. 
L’Aventure, and many Paso area wineries strive to educate the public that change is good. “The attack of the wine is always soft, the palate rich and long, and textured like silk,” he tells me. True, and the best part of his wines is the constant touch of acidity which gives his wines body and mouth feel, something lacking in many Paso Robles red wines. And after 17 years there’s a Frenchman in Paso making non-California wine. It is this intrigue which should compel you to visit. “I don’t want to make the wine of my appellation, but specifically I want to make the wine of my place.” And that is, exactly, the essence of L’Aventure.
The Wines:
2013 Estate Rose: Made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot, it’s light and clean with soft berry flavors and solid acidity ($25)
~2011 Optimus (sold out) a blend of Syrah, Cab, Petit Verdot, there is a deep, rich dark fruit center with medium tannins and a pleasant long finish ($45)
~2012 Optimus Syrah, Cab and Petit Verdot, this version is less tannic than the former, amore bright cherry fruit and since it had been bottled only two weeks showed much promise ($45)
~2011 Cote a Cote of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache this is a complete wine, a subtle bacon fat surrounding bright, clean blackberry ($85)
~2013 Chloe (in barrel) made from Syrah and Grenache from “cherry picked” fruit and co-fermented – this is a robust, earthy, rich gamy wine with a touch of acidity. “The Syrah brings the elegance, the composition,” says Chloe. ($85)

Tasting fees: $15
Open daily by appointment only. L'AVENTURE

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