Boeuf Bourguignon with Deovlet ‘Sonny Boy’

Ryan Deovlet wine pairs well with traditional French dish

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Deovlet Wines 2013 “Sonny Boy” is a Bordeaux blend with 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

For the third time in the last month, we have placed a Deovlet wine on our menu. Winemaker Ryan Deovlet has created a marvelous Bordeaux blend, and we paired it with Boeuf Bourguignon. New world wine meets old world passion.

We were introduced to Deovlet Wines by Shannon Westfall and her Vinfluence wine club. She handpicks/curates boutique wines and is dedicated to non-profit support; it is a wonderful combo. More below.

Ryan Deovlet is highly connected not only to his past but the properties he has helped develop and wines he has created. And we are thrilled to have tasted some of his handcrafted wines.

Our latest sips are from a Deovlet 2013 ‘Sonny Boy’. I opened the bottle early in the afternoon and decanted it, allowing the lush aromas and notes of black plum, dark cherry, cedar, tobacco and hints of dark chocolate to smooth out and develop further. I stole a sip and the lush, smooth tannins already offered a long finish.

The Bordeaux blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet was aged for 22 months in 100% French oak barrels, 40% new. Additional Cabernet was blended in before bottling bringing the blend to a 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet. Ryan sourced his fruit from  the Vogelzang Vineyard (Merlot) and the Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard (Cabernet).

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The name “Sonny Boy” is  a tribute to Ryan’s grandfather who used the phrase as a term of endearment towards his grandsons.

At each vineyard site, Ryan carefully manages vines and yields, which are restricted in an effort to achieve the ultimate concentration of flavor.  With respect to Mother Nature, harvest decisions are based intending to display the purest, most natural vineyard expression possible.

Ryan created his ‘Sonny Boy’ blend to push the envelop of blending wines. He began blending them at fermentation. His philosophy is that the “closer you make a blend to the crushed, the more seamless the integration.”

As per his website, he shares  that “as links in a chain, we understand the importance of working together with premium sites and talented winegrowers.  Fruit quality is essential to crafting memorable wines of elegance, balance, and harmony.”

Deovlet says he walks a fine line between Old World-New World wines. “I try to offer a kiss of California sunshine, but I have one foot in the Old World and one foot in California.”

Ryan’s focus on Merlot is a tribute to his father who drank a glass of red wine each night (on doctor’s orders) and became a devotee of the grape varietal.

The name “Sonny Boy” on the Bordeaux blend is a nod to Ryan’s grandfather who used the phrase as a term of endearment towards his grandsons. Ryan fondly remembers his grandfather “rattling his cocktail glass, and saying, ‘Sonny Boy’, I need a refill.”

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While Pinot Noir is often chosen for our Boeuf Bourguignon, we paired it with a Deovlet Wines 2013 ‘Sonny Boy’ Bordeaux blend.

While we often pair our Boeuf Bourguignon with Pinot Noir or a Burgundy from France, we decided to open up the Deovlet 2013 ‘Sonny Boy’ from Happy Canyon. We were trilled from the get-go and loved it.

I love how the house smells when thick sliced bacon and chunks of chuck steak sizzle and sear. Later we added beef broth, tomato paste, a good bottle of Pinot Noir and vegetables to slowly simmer in a cast iron Dutch oven for a few hours. The aromas of cracked black pepper, garlic, Cognac, onions and herbs fill the house all afternoon.

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The Deovlet Wines ‘Sonny Boy’ is age worthy and drinkable until 2030. Only 150 cases made.

During this time, the wine opened up and its juicy, smooth tannins filled the glass with aromas of blackberries, toasty vanilla, dark chocolate and spice. As the evening progressed, black currant and an earthiness settled in with hints of bell pepper and leather. This is a full-bodied age-worthy wine with velvety tannins and a lush mouthfeel. The flavors lingered long on the palate.

Foodie and wine lovers have known about Ryan’s prowess for good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay since 2009 when he landed a 90-point score from Robert Parker. While he initially sold his wines door-to-door to local restaurants, his wines are sought after bottles. Ryan is committed to purchasing his fruit only from the finest vineyards in Santa Barbara County that form the foundation of his elegant wines.

While his fruit does not always come from certified organic vineyards, Ryan is careful to manage his harvest with minimal invasive techniques. However, he continues to pursue biodynamics, considering for instance, how same lunar cycles affect tides could affect optimal timing for things like racking barrels.

Ryan has developed his winemaking prowess via under the tutelage of local and international winemakers. It is this kind of learn by doing and under the mentorship of skilled artisans that helped shape his passion, artistry, and intuition. His hands-on approach both in the vineyard and in the cellar is evident. Most all of his labels are small lot vintages (usually under 200 cases) with overall production of around 2,000 cases per year.

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Ryan Deovlet started in wine journey in Australia in 2004 on an organic farm. Wine & Spirits Magazine named Deovlet Wineries to their Top 100 list in September 2016.

Like many craftsman before him, Ryan continues to learn from the history of those who created wines before him: “those who went before us and showed us the way.”

His journey to create wines that reflect the property they are grown on actually began after he graduated from UC San Diego and a college trip to Hawaii. While there he tasted coffee on a coffee plantation in 2004 and a passion was born. His interest of the concept of farm-to-table was born and decided to educated himself by doing.

He joined a program called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and moved to Australia at 21. There he became intrigued with all aspects of farming grapes.

Ryan says he learned early on that winemakers cannot separate terroir from the people. His wines reflect his time spent in Australia working the 2004 harvest at Mornington Peninsula at Turramurra Estate and in New Zealand working with vineyard crews in Central Otago and Hawkes Bay.

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By 2005 he spent two years working along side Stephen Dooley, owner/winemaker of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars. Ryan attributes his foundation and focus to his time spent in the cellar at Stephen Ross. After a couple of years, Ryan took the assistant winemaking position at Red Car Wine Company in 2007. While there, he was able to learn from consulting winemaker David Ramey and top viticulturists Dr. Daniel Roberts and Ulises Valdez.

Later he ending up in Mendoza, Argentina, working with renown winemaker Paul Hobbs at Viña Cobos. By 2008 Ryan founded Deovlet Wines and established a reputation for making exceptional wines on California’s central coast. Today, Ryan is a much sought after winemaker and also creates wines for the Edna Valley’s Biddle Ranch Vineyards and Refugio Ranch near Los Olives in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

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Old vine Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir is hand-sorted during harvest 2016.

Be sure to find Deovlet Wines on Facebook and Instagram. Currently the 2014 Deovlet Wines ‘Sonny Boy’ is for sale on their website along with their single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay small lot wines. The Deovlet Tasting Room is at 3750 Highway 46 in Templeton, California 93465 (Paso Robles). It is open Thursday – Sunday (11 a.m. – 5 p.m.) Call 805.712.8817. The Deovlet Winery is at 203 Suburban Rd., Suite 2, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Call them at 805.550.6300 or email them at info@deovletwines.com. The best way to get their wines though is to join their mailing list and wine club.

Special thanks to Shannon Westfall and her Vinfluencewine.com wine club for sharing a bottle with me. Please check out her site as she shares unique fine wines not available in stores. These are independent vintners, under the radar creating wines as true “craftsmen”, whose practices in the vineyard are sustainable and organic where possible.  Shannon includes a winemaker profile, stories and notes.

Vinfluencewine.com club members receive three or six bottles of artisanal wine from a different winemaker each month for $100/$200. Plus she donates to one of three causes with each shipment. Check them out.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Yorba Wines: Sutter Creek’s premier label.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

A time for change: Mike Sinor winemaker of the year, Part II

This blog continues to follow Mike Sinor’s transformation from Assistant winemaker to Byron and Domaine Alfred wineries in California’s Central Coast, to the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery. Please look for the first post in the series: Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor

Sinor LaValle owner directs Ancient Peak Winery

“It was the lowest point in my life,” winemaker Mike Sinor said, after dealing with the deaths of family members in January 2006. “My head was all messed up. Yet even before my loss, I had already begun contemplating a change in work for both me and my family. I knew six months before [family deaths] a new challenge was needed. I believed my time with Terry Speizer [Domaine Alfred] was coming to an end, I just didn’t know it would happen so soon after my parents died. But despite what we were going through, I now knew it was time for me to explore another level of winemaking.”

Bernie Sinor on one of his hunting trips to Wyoming where he hunted big game (bison) in 2004.

Little did Sinor know at the time, but the 2012 Central Coast winemaker of the year, would have a 2006 spring to remember, even while mourning the loss of his father, Bernie Sinor and stepmother, Betty Ann.

“I needed to change positions because I could see Domaine Alfred was growing as we became successful, much the same way Byron Wines grew,” Sinor said. “Even before the 96-point score Wine Spectator gave the 2004 Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir [Califa Chamisal Vineyard], I needed a business opportunity. I was saying ‘no’ to a lot of jobs and wanted to do something right for my family. Yeah, it was crushing when my parents were killed and we endured a high level of personal pain. So Wine Spectator’s honor came at the lowest point in my life but I already had decided to leave. I knew there would never be a perfect time to change. And I know growth often comes through uncomfortableness. Terry understood I needed to leave. He’s a good friend and an entrepreneur himself.”

During the spring of 2006, when local proprietors and long-time wine growing families of Rob Rossi, Doug Filipponi and Karl Wittstrom approached Mike with a opportunity to be the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery, Sinor jumped at the chance to join them in May.

“I had never met these guys from the Santa Margarita Ranch, but from the start, it was a convergence of energies and focus,” Sinor said. “They had been reorganizing the operation at Santa Margarita starting in 2005 and it seemed a good fit. We became business partners rather than an employer/employee relationship. I wanted to have control over the winemaking process and they were comfortable with that. So, I said, ‘let’s start dating’ and we’ve been together ever since.”

Santa Margarita Ranch July 2012

Mike Sinor and I spent the day together at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, just minutes north of San Luis Obispo, July 26. I wanted to find out why he had left promising positions at Domaine Alfred and Byron Wineries. The man who thrived on creating lasting relationships through his infectious attitude and positive, passionate energy, left sure-fire success for a restart winery. I wanted to find out why he had stayed on at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.

Mike Sinor left Domaine Alfred Winery after receiving an offer to be the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita. The Oyster Ridge Vineyard is in the foreground with the Santa Lucia Mountains providing the backdrop.

While we met briefly at the Ancient Peaks’ tasting room, Mike pulled out a large coffee table book, offering a pictorial and historical background of the ranch and Santa Margarita. I was moved by his attention to names, places, land formations and background of the region. His perspective was so impassioned, it was as if he had been born there. Mike then offered to take me up to the working winery and vineyards. I agreed and looked forward to the 17-mile drive up into the heart of the Santa Margarita Ranch, through pastures of Slender Wheatgrass, Purple Needlegrass and Danthonia Oatgrass.

Mike’s 20-minute version of Ancient Peaks Winery and its history included how Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi Winery leased a section of the ranch in 1999 for six years. They developed and planted what has become known as Margarita Vineyard. Remarkably, it was the Mondavi family who saw immense potential in the land, and accurately predicted that its diverse soils and marine-influenced climate would deliver remarkable wines.

While the vineyards and winery are 17 miles away near the Margarita Vineyard, the Ancient Peaks tasting room is in Santa Margarita, one mile east of Highway 101.

Our conversation digressed to include how the Franciscan missionaries planted grapes on the ranch as early as 1780. In fact the ranch became part of Father Junipero Serra’s famed Mission Trail, culminating with the establishment of Santa Margarita de Cortona, a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in 1787. This historic structure, known as the Asistencia, was converted to a barn but remains a centerpiece of the ranch.

Santa Margarita Ranch has survived since the 1840s; however, in 1889, then owner Patrick Murphy sold much of the town’s land to Southern Pacific Railroad in hopes of getting a rail stop. He hoped to move cattle from this sprawling ranch that surrounded Santa Margarita.

Mike Sinor: Super charged, relational winemaker

Mike started humming the tune to Smokey and the Bandit as we neared the winery, located near Creston. When I asked why, he smiled and said this project is just like the song indicated. “We are just old-time entrepreneurs working on a project by the seat of our pants.” I didn’t ask him if he fit the Burt Reynolds persona or Jerry Reed’s truck driver character. But I did get the gist of the metaphor: Sinor delivers–no, Sinor over delivers wine quality for the price point. I can still see the gleam in his eyes as he gripped the steering wheel and sang, “We gonna do what they say can’t be done.”

However, while we walked around the Ancient Peaks Winery, I remembered what Ken “Byron” Brown told me about Sinor: Mike was a good-humored, energetic, young winemaker while he worked at Byron Winery years earlier.

“Mike Sinor stands out as a super-charged, friend of all; every one likes him,” Brown said. “He takes time for relationships but not at the expense of his work. Mike is extra double energy. He brought excitement to the team and ignited everyone at Byron each day.”

During his winemaking career, Mike Sinor, right, worked with Tim Mondavi, left, and Ken “Byron” Brown while creating wines with Byron Winery.

As we walked by the 2011-filled barrels safely tucked away in the aging room, we got to talking about wine, Mike’s preferences and who he enjoys working with besides his partners at Ancients Peaks.

“Actually, I don’t drink a lot of Ancient Peaks wine at home,” Sinor said. “It’s a little like only eating your mom’s spaghetti. If I drink the wines I help create everyday, I won’t get better. Like Burgundy’s winemakers, I want to make wines as good as their grandparents. We don’t have a rich, long history and culture of winemaking like they do in France. So if I’m not improving my pallet, I’m losing.”

Sinor went on to say he chooses to enjoy friend’s wines and finds it refreshing to try different wines from around the world.

Since 2007, Mike Sinor has been the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.

“For instance, I really like Broadside Wines Cabernet. It is made by winemakers Chris Brockway [Broc Cellars] and Brian Terrizzi [Giornata wines] who are very passionate about wine that is done well; their wines transmit place. In other words, their wines exhibit my mantra: ‘The message is the place; the messenger is the wine.'”

As we continued to walk the grounds of the winery, Mike showed me how Ancient Peaks has added buildings and updated the old Creston Manor and Vineyards that Jeopardy! game show host Alex Trebek used to farm. The latest addition was in spring of this year when extensions were added to the Margarita Vineyards.

Story is unfolding, evolving in vineyards

Our trip across the ranch ended when we stood on a rise overlooking the Oyster Ridge Vineyards. I marveled at Mike’s zeal as he spoke of the land, rich in fossils from an ancient sea bed, adjacent to vineyards planted in shale, sedimentary, volcanic and granite. Mike was spirited and had a fanaticism or fixation on soil that many in this country have for baseball or football. And when we stopped to walk the Oyster Ridge Vineyard, he held a football-sized, petrified crustacean like it was a trophy.

“These (oysters) are high in calcium and, when they are crushed or broken down, create a soil profile similar to those found in the world’s most prestigious grape growing regions.” Sinor beamed as he spoke and the pace of his voice quickened, rising in intensity while we moved from row to row.

The Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Vineyard soils include crushed and larger pieces of ancient, petrified crustaceans. The vineyard was a part of a large seabed millions of years ago.

He spoke about the legacy of environmental stewardship at Margarita Vineyard as if it was his own child. The vineyard advanced to “Sustainability in Practice (SIP),” and was certified by the Central Coast Vineyard Team in 2010.

“There still are places that are compelling to plant but I am still trying to figure out who we are and how to stay on target,” Sinor said. “We have five wines at Ancient Peaks and three White Label wines. And with the longest running ranching operations in California and new zip line business always demanding attention, I am determined to stay in constant watch to focus the winery’s goals to offer high wine quality for the price point.”

Wine Spectator agreed with Mike’s assertion and promoted Ancient Peaks as “Best of the West for $25 or less… 2009 Zinfandel, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Merlot” in their April 2012 issue.

The 300-400 cases of Sinor-LaVallee [Mike Sinor’s personal label] wines are created from about 14 rows of fruit from the Talley-Rincon Vineyard in the Edna Valley.
I asked Mike how he ensured there was not a conflict of interest between his Sinor-LaVallee label and the Ancient Peaks wines he consulted on.

“I am working with about an acre of fruit from the Talley-Rincon Vineyard and the Sinor-LaVallee wines I make are not meant to compete with Ancient Peaks,” Sinor said. “I am working with 2-4 barrels of wine from 14 rows. Actually, the diversity of exposure is what makes my consulting for Ancient Peaks exciting. The time spent with both brands requires and puts into practice a balance of reading/studying, keeping me fresh. This is fun! I’m honored to do this. Do the math: I get to live at the beach.”

Mike Sinor is married to Cheri and they live in the Edna Valley with their two children: Tomas (12) and Esmee (10). All four of their thumb prints appear on every bottle of the family wine label. “By definition, I am an alcoholic,’ Sinor said, “but I mimic a healthy lifestyle to my children, showing them how to live responsibly.

“I look to enjoy and share my life wife my family and community in good and bad,” Sinor said. “We are born to suffer, grow to overcome suffering. I have my dad’s and previous winemaker’s work ethic. They inspired me and now I work with many of my heroes.”

Mike currently is the President of the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association and says he likes to volunteer his time in community events and organizations because “The wine business has given me everything I own. I owe it to wine.”

The Sinor-LaVallee wine label is named after Mike’s Spanish heritage and Cheri’s French last name. The Sinors appear here during their 2004 Burgundy trip and winery visits.

For more information on Ancient Peaks Winery and wines, visit Ancient Peaks Winery or Mike’s personal web site: Sinor-LaVallee Wines.

Dunbar Brewing: Santa Margarita’s neighborhood microbrewery

With a town of only 1,200 people, one would not expect a local brew pub to generate any kind of excitement. Dunbar Brewing has not only done that, but the college, and 20-something crowds from San Luis Obispo, have been making the 15-minute drive to Santa Margarita, Calif., for one-of-a-kind micro brewed beers for years.

Self-taught brewmaster, Chris Chambers, set up Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita in 2009. Despite the small town locale, the micro brewery successfully attracts patrons from all over the Central Coast.

Located about 11 miles north of San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and 30 minutes south of Paso Robles, the tiny craft brewery is small in size, but big on taste.

Self-taught, Chris Chambers began his brewing career in Los Osos, the original Dunbar location founded in 1997, for three years. However, a six-year stint in the military probed him to think about settling down, and a dry town made the perfect landing spot.

Dunbar Brewing, only a mile off Hwy 101, is on Santa Margarita’s main street, El Camino Real, and also conveniently located across the street from the town’s newest attraction: Margarita Adventures: Zipline Canopy Tours.

“We came to Santa Margarita to become involved in a small community,” Chambers said, “and Dunbar is a neighborhood pub: a place for folks to meet and build community together.”

Chambers has done more than that. He bought a house with his wife, Lauren, and three girls, near the Irish-themed brewhouse, which reopened in 2009, and cycles to work every day.

Dunbar Brewing, while small, is set up for conversation. No loud music, plenty of table and bar space and Chris is eager to talk with patrons as if they were from the neighborhood.

“From the beginning, I wanted to become involved with community projects–to pour back money into the community who has given me so much,” Chambers said. “We became involved with the 4th of July Parade and helped build a basketball court in town. I love being involved as one of the ten local businesses in Santa Margarita.”

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout. In fact, a couple of years ago, he served the special Guinness T-250 anniversary stout in an Imperial Pint glass to celebrate the great Irish brewery. The news of Dunbar carrying the special stout at $5 per pint glass brought Guinness lovers to the brewery from as far south as San Diego and north from the Bay area.

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout.

On this occasion, I taste-tested his two beer on tap: Scottish Heavy and Oatmeal Stout. The Scottish Heavy was fantastic. The malt was earthy, peat-smoked flavor with a dry, crisp finish. And the Oatmeal Stout? Well, let me say, I love my oatmeal in the morning and I was blessed to drink oatmeal in the late afternoon. Chambers said he uses eight grains to provide texture but I definitely enjoyed its chocolate and coffee overtones. Plus his beers are on nitrogen taps. Like he told me on a previous visit, his beers are “smooth and silky,” much like the classic Irish brews.

While Chambers said he does not go out and try a lot of other craft brews on the U.S. market, he did say his last trip to Portland did result in a positive Oregon experience, giving a shout out to Burnside Brewery. Yet he remains strongly convinced and vocal about his microbrewery.

“No disrespect to anyone else out there, but I have the best beer… period.”

While creating craft beer from scratch is his passion, Chambers also made sure I made note that while his pub is small, it is a place people come to visit, talk and hang out without loud music.

Look for the Dunbar Brewing sandwich board on the left as you arrive in Santa Margarita, traveling east along El Camino Real from Hwy 101.

Of course, the music has also made its impact on the brewery. Johnny Cash is the only music playing over the speakers, but it’s a cash-only pub as well.

Dunbar Brewing has a Facebook page and is located in the same building as Ancient Peaks Winery. Dunbar Brewing is located at 22720 El Camino Real, Ste. A, Santa Margarita, CA. Call 805.704.9050 or dunbarbrewing@gmail.com for more information.

Chris Chambers can be found behind the counter at Dunbar Brewing 3-10 p.m. Wednesday through Thursdays; 1-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 9 p.m on Sundays. All 20-ounce pours are still only $5 and served in Imperial pint glasses. Growlers can be purchased for $45 and $20 for refills.

Dunbar Brewing is set up for locals and those traveling to take the local micro beer home in Growlers for $45 filled or $20 refill.

While a tavern at the other end of town now makes two Santa Margarita, CA beverage establishments, Chambers said a different kind of patron visits his local competition. Each has established a niche and there is plenty of room for both.

Please return for the next installment of TalesoftheCork: Part II of “Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor,” August 9. (Note date change) Read as Mike overcame his great loss and accepted a new challenge at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, Calif. His wife, Cheri, and Mike still produce Sinor-LeVallee wines and continue to be leaders in the Edna Valley winemaking community.

For a past article, read Part I: Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor.

Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor

Sinor LaValle owner a central coast mentor

Earning Wine Spectator’s praise for a 96-point Pinot Noir wasn’t enough to keep Mike Sinor fulfilled. In fact, neither was flying from Santa Maria to Napa for wine and dine lunches on a private Gulfstream jet. The trips to Burgundy and Bordeaux, France, to study winemaking and wine dinners with the Rothschilds were wonderful, but the ‘perks’ and awards always came while working for someone else.

After returning from France in 1996, Mike Sinor started his own wine label, Sinor-LaVallee, with his wife, Cheri, in 1997.

When the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and San Luis Obispo Vintners Association each named Mike Sinor California’s ‘2012 Central Coast Winemaker of the Year’ in mid July, the  Visalia, California, transplant soon traveled back to the Central Valley for a promotional event at The Market. Later that evening, Mike and I chatted at Trelio Restaurant during a wine dinner event. We agreed to meet a week later at the fabled Santa Margarita Ranch and  Ancient Peaks Winery, just south of  Templeton, Calif., in order for me to better understand the man behind the honor.

While Mike was raised in the center of agriculture in the State, his father, Bernie, an avid pilot, sold heavy construction equipment as owner and operator of Sinor and Sons Equipment company. Bernie gave young Mike plenty of opportunities to work on the job sites or at the family-owned Fresno junk yard. Mike spoke fondly of his father’s staunch commitment to his business, working hard but taking time to play hard with the family.

Bernie and Mike often went hunting together, and while it did not often include big game, father and son hunted doves in the foothills of Madera. And like many Central Valley residents, the family made numerous trips to Cayucos which is where Mike’s love of the beach began.

But working for Dad was not a part of Mike’s plan. College and the Central Coast beaches lured the high school graduate. The teenager ended up in San Luis Obispo; Mike enrolled at California Polytechnic State University [Cal Poly], ready to become the first college graduate in his family (Mike’s sister, Teri LaFleur, is now a 3rd grade teacher in Woodlake).

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I spent a morning with Mike Sinor, right, at Center of Effort in the Edna Valley where he works with a number of other winemakers and also creates his  Sinor-LaVallee brand.

“I was ready to go out on my own,” Sinor said. “My dad taught me my work ethic: to work hard and throw myself into it. So when I wanted to go to college, I had his blessing but I had to pay for it, work for it.”

Sinor’s upbringing, like many from the Central Valley, brought a love for the coast; Cal Poly was a natural choice. The Sinor family encouraged Mike to take responsibility for his education at an early age but expected him to pay for college. He entered Cal Poly hoping to become a high school shop teacher; however, upon meeting his future wife, Cheri, in a Chemistry 101 class, that dream changed: a love for each other and the wine-making journey was born near the beach in 1991.

Many Central California teenagers dream of leaving the San Joaquin Valley for a college beach experience. Mike Sinor left Visalia for San Luis Obispo and a degree from Cal Poly.

“My first job on the Central Coast was on old Corbett Canyon Road when I was 21,” Sinor said, “where I worked at many wineries, including Corbett Canyon Winery; that is where my winemaking training started. Claiborne and Churchill, Chamisal Vineyards, Saucelito Canyon, and Windemere Winery over the next three years (’91-’94). Initally, I had no idea what I was doing,” Sinor continued, “but these area wineries and winemakers became my community.”

Mike did more than just put in time at local wineries. He became a part of their families, including Bill and Nancy Greenough’s at Saucelito Canyon.

“We had previously lost a daughter when Mike showed up to work at our vineyard,” Nancy said. “While I had college kids around to be a positive influence to our youngest (Margaret and Tom), Mike Sinor lived out his time with us like their older cousin. Besides working that first harvest with us, there was not a job he wouldn’t do. Mike is an extremely positive person, has clear values, hardworking, and enthusiastic. He always did a job well.”

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Whether Mike picked the kids up from school or punch downs three times per night, Nancy said Mike found joy in whatever task he undertook. She never felt awkward about asking him to do the “crappy job” or the worst job at the winery. Mike had a Valley Boy reputation: always hard working. No job was beneath him.

“Mike was like a Junk Yard Dog,” Bill Greenough said. “There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix: from tractors to wine equipment. Actually, I don’t know why he initially wanted to become involved with wine but he was so curious.

He always wanted a better way to do things, even if it involved the worst of jobs. He always volunteered: ‘I’ll do that…no problem.’ He willed himself to learn the wine process. He was so attuned to sensory changes to wine, juice, the smells, fermentation, pressing, barreling. His nose was always busy. He keeps an eye on stuff; his senses became like a hound dog sniffing, sniffing it out.”

Mike and Cheri’s personal wine label is Sinor-LaValle. Mike’s Spanish family heritage is the Sinor and Cheri’s background is French; thus the LaVallee.

Sinor not only had time for the wine business and babysitting the kids, but the Greenoughs said Mike took so much pride in completing even unusual tasks.

“We had this VW wagon sitting on our property; it had been parked for 10 years,” Nancy said. “Mice had moved into the camper: a 1966 Volkswagen Westfalia. Mike took it completely apart, got rid of the mice and put back together. He always brought out the best in people. The kids loved him.”

Today, Mike no longer wears a pony-tail under his baseball cap, something that Bill jokingly chided him for while Sinor lived in a house in the vineyards. Sinor, while living out a ‘Rush Limbaugh work ethic in the morning and country music in the afternoon,’ has given back to the Greenoughs. He has helped mentor Tom Greenough as he took over as Saucelito Canyon’s winemaker.

“I discovered myself because of them,” Sinor said. “They introduced me to my livelihood and I became so close to them; I not only worked by day, but I occasionally took care of their kids in the evening. Not only do I love my career but I also love the land and the people I am indebted to for my success. I love this community; it raised me.”

After graduating with a degree in Industrial Technology, Sinor began working for the Robert Mondavi family at Byron Vineyard in Santa Maria during the harvest of 1994. He rapidly gained respect as moved up from his cellar position to Assistant winemaker to Ken ‘Byron’ Brown.

Sinor’s background and passion for the land and vineyards also increased as he made two trips to France to study French winemaking processes with a focus on the vineyards and domains of Burgundy. These trips became even more personal as he married Cheri while on a trip to  Beaune, Burgundy, in 1996. A year later, Cheri and Mike started their own label: Sinor- LaVallee Wine Company. Their name is a ‘marriage’ of their two heritages: Sinor-Spanish and LaVallee-French. Their focus? Like that of their shared love: 300-400 cases of Pinot Noir.

Sinor worked with Byron Vineyards and Winery until November of 2000; he had seen production quadruple, a new winery built, and hundreds of new acreage planted. He left Byron after four years for his first winemaker position at Domaine Alfred [Chamisal Vineyard] in the Edna Valley and never looked back, despite what he gave up.

Sinor began his winemaking journey at Byron Vineyards and Domaine Alfred, where his 2004 Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir Edna Valley Chamisal Vineyards Califa earned 96-points from Wine Spectator. He currently works at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.

“It was very emotional for me to leave Byron after working with incredible people and the Mondavi family,” Sinor said. “No one could believe I was willing to give up the private jet excursions from Santa Maria to Napa for lunch or trips to Burgundy to learn more about winemaking. Why would this little guy from Visalia give up drinking with the Rothschild family?”

Domaine Alfred had been a small winery renewed by owner Alfred “Terry” Speizer. He planted the dormant vineyard with the latest French clones, including six Pinot Noir and five Chardonnay clones, in the mid 1990s. Speizer made Sinor his winemaker in November 2000.

“I felt a need to change,” Sinor said. “There is never a perfect time for change. I knew personal growth comes from uncomfortableness. So I risked and Terry gave me control over 80 acres of vines and the winemaking. We made a good team.”

The two worked the vineyards to near perfection for five and a half years, expanding and tinkering with the vineyards.

Sinor’s mantra is passionate: Wine done well will transmit its environment.

After 5 1/2 years as Domaine Alfred’s winemaker, Sinor felt like a change was imminent. He had offers for a lot of jobs but the opportunities were not a right fit.

“The message is the place, the messenger is the wine,” Sinor said.

Wine Spectator agreed with Sinor and put Domaine Alfred on the map on June 15, 2006. They rated the 2004 Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir Edna Valley Chamisal Vineyards Califa. This was the highest score their critics had ever rated any Central Coast Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay, Syrah, and Grenache also earned acclaim.

As a winemaker from a world class winery, Sinor led the Central Coast into notoriety. Sinor joined Brian Talley and a group of vintners who pioneered a new organization in 2001: The World of Pinot. He served on the board of directors for 10 years. Countless others in the industry kept him busy for interviews and consulting. Mike and Cheri’s Sinor-LeVallee wine label continued its own success in the Edna Valley and all seemed right. All seemed right to everyone except Mike and Cheri.

“Even before Wine Spectator came out and gave our pinot the high score, I was already thinking my time at Domaine Alfred was coming to an end,” Sinor said. “I knew a major grow of the brand was coming; we built a new winery and would need to hire more people to support the increased production. Both Cheri and I knew we didn’t want to stay much longer. I had lots of offers to leave but nothing seemed right. It was time to explore another level and personal growth but I didn’t want to do a job I have done before.

Family and community relationships continue to shape Mike and Cheri Sinor. In this 2003 family photo, Cheri holds a reluctant Tomas and Mike cradles Esmee.

“Some people said I left [Domaine Alfred] because of the accident. But I had been thinking about leaving since the fall of 2005, months before the high score and our time of grieving.

The Sinor family’s direction changed forever, Jan. 13, 2006. On a routine flight back to Visalia’s Municipal Airport, Mike lost his dad, Bernard “Bernie” Sinor, his stepmother, Betty Ann, and his stepsister’s two children. The plane crash claimed all their lives and reshaped Mike’s next steps.

Please check out A time for change: Mike Sinor winemaker of the year, Part II. Read as Mike overcame his great loss and accepted a new challenge at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, Calif. His wife, Cheri, and Mike still produce Sinor-LeVallee wines and continue to be leaders in the Edna Valley winemaking community.

California Central Coast Wine Region

Central Coast Wine Region

Two and a half hours from the Central Valley is the ever expanding Central Coast wine region, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The region includes Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and even as far south as Santa Barbara. Vines were planted by the Franciscan monks in the late 1790s and were tended to via the many California Missions that doted the region.

According to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance’s, commercial winemaking was introduced to the area in the late 1870s:

“Indiana rancher Andrew York began planting vineyards on his 240-acre homestead. Within a few years, he found that the vines were yielding more than he could market, prompting him in 1882 to establish Ascension Winery, known today as York Mountain Winery. The family planted some of the area’s earliest Zinfandel vines, making Paso Robles is famous for this variety. York initially sold his wines in San Luis Obispo and eventually as far away as San Francisco. Today, York Mountain Winery (located within the York Mountain AVA, adjacent to the Paso Robles AVA ) remains the oldest winery in continuous operation in the county.”

Throughout the Central Coast, the distinct soils and weather create unique, world class wines from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.

Today, a wide variety of wines are grown on the Central Coast using grape varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Rhône varieties. The wines have received world class recognition with many wineries winning top awards. I believe that Robert M. Parker Jr.’s prediction in the June 30, 2005, issue of Wine Advocate has already come true: “There is no question that a decade from now, the top viticultural areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and the limestone hillsides west of Paso Robles will be as well-known as the glamorous vineyards of Napa Valley.”

This is one of three California focus wine regions for Tales of the Cork. The other two are Central Valley Wine Region and the Sierra Nevada Foothills Wine Region. All are within a day trip of my home base of Fresno, Calif. and account for many of America’s most promising wineries and winemakers.

Explore Tales of the Cork with me. Read about the growth and influence of California’s winemakers, merchants and chefs. My goal is to find and develop relationships with them; my hope is to uncover and retell their untold stories. Be sure to leave a comment after each story; share your wine, winemaker or food experience.

Salut!