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New hot spot in downtown Paso Robles

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Our friends at Burbank Ranch Winery & Bistro in downtown Paso Robles recently held a Grand Opening Celebration for the books. From 5:00 until well into the evening, the comfortable tasting room and bistro at 1240 Park Street was packed bumper-to-bumper with nearly 200 foodies and wine lovers eager to taste Chef Nicholas Nolan’s passed appetizers paired with the winery’s award-winning, globally-inspired wines.

Small bites included salmon cakes with crème fraiche and Meyer lemon, shrimp fritters with avocado, fried pork belly with white bean puree and poached apple, and delectable lamb meatballs with eggplant jam, roasted tomatoes and green olives.

Burbank Ranch Owners, Fred and Melody Burbank, welcomed guests and spoke during ribbon cuttings with the Templeton, Paso Robles, and Atascadero Chambers of Commerce.

Congratulations to all involved in getting Burbank Ranch Winery & Bistro off the ground and flying high!

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A New Winemaker for Niner Wine Estates

Central Coast Native Patrick Muran Named Winemaker

Patrick Muran

Patrick Muran

We at Parker Sanpei were delighted to hear news that longtime champion of Niner Wine Estates, Patrick Muran, was recently named the brand’s Head Winemaker.

“Patrick has been a team member with Niner Wine Estates since its inception,” said owner, Richard Niner.  “His influence in winemaking style and technique has been instrumental in developing the brand from the early years at our previous custom crush facility, Orcutt Road Cellars.  With Patrick at the helm, the future for Niner Wine Estates looks brighter than ever. We couldn’t be more delighted to see him at the helm.”

Muran was raised in San Luis Obispo County and graduated with a degree in Microbiology at UC Santa Barbara before landing his first cellar job at Orcutt Road Cellars in California’s Edna Valley. There, Muran developed a deep appreciation for the art of winemaking, studying the craft under venerated French Winemaker, Christian Roguenant, among others.  Learning his way through an array of styles and grape varieties, Muran climbed the Orcutt Road Cellars hierarchy ultimately to oversee the winemaking process of nearly 20 brands including Niner Wine Estates, Baileyana, Tangent, Sanford, Carpe Diem, Rosenthal, Cinnabar, and David Bruce, among others.  Side-by-side with the winemakers for these brands, Muran absorbed their diverse methodologies and techniques to produce a wide spectrum of wines.

In 2007, Muran took the position of Head Winemaker for Santa Ynez producer Blackjack Winery, where his efforts centered on small-production Bordeaux, Syrah and Chardonnay, with opportunities to work in both vineyard and winemaking roles.

Muran joined Niner Wine Estates in 2009 as Assistant Winemaker, where he spearheaded the effort to equip the newly-constructed LEED-Certified facility and oversaw daily operations.  Over the course of four years, Muran contributed new winemaking strategies to further enhance the quality of wines produced by the estate.

Muran’s vision for the future of Niner Wine Estates is to create the highest quality estate wines in the most creative manner.  “We are uniquely positioned as a vertically integrated company to control every aspect of winemaking,” said Muran.

Niner Wine Estates owns and operates three estate vineyards: Bootjack Ranch, located on the east side of Paso Robles; Heart Hill Vineyard, located on the west; and Jespersen Vineyard located in the Edna Valley wine-growing region, just minutes southeast of San Luis Obispo. Both Bootjack Ranch and Heart Hill Vineyard are SIP Certified and the winery is working to gain accreditation for Jespersen Vineyard.

“By leveraging our unique and diverse vineyard holdings, we have the ability to produce some of the world’s most sought-after wines, all handcrafted with thought, intuition, and vision,” said Muran.

Bootjack Ranch is comprised of 148 vineyard acres, totaling ten different varieties of wine grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Sangiovese. Heart Hill Vineyard spans 46 vineyard acres and is named for a large grove of oak trees that grow in the shape of a heart on one of its hillsides. With blocks planted in 2007 and 2010, a total of twelve Bordeaux and Rhône varieties are grown including Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Roussane, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Jespersen Vineyard encompasses 42 vineyard acres, planted primarily to Pinot Noir, but also produces other varieties that flourish in the cool climate of Edna Valley, such as Chardonnay, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache and Syrah.

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We agree: Wine Industry Person of the Year

Dana MerrillPhoto by BOTTLE BRANDING

Dana Merrill
Photo by BOTTLE BRANDING

If you are even remotely involved in the Central Coast wine industry, you know Dana Merrill as one of the most trusted, respected, and influential figures on the scene today.  In recognition of his life, which has been devoted to the quality and health of Central Coast vineyards, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance named Dana Wine Industry Person of the Year last week at its annual dinner.

Merrill, a seventh-generation Californian with roots on the Central Coast dating back to the days of the Missions, has been an integral member of Paso Robles wine country for decades.  Raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, he is a lifelong farmer, having graduated from Cal Poly with an Agriculture Business degree.  He began raising winegrapes in 1981 and eventually gained extensive experience managing vineyards for top premium brands in Monterey, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.  Merrill founded Mesa Vineyard Management in 1989, an industry leader on the Central Coast, which has allowed him to work side-by-side with many of California wine’s biggest players and most coveted vineyards.

In 2002, Merrill chose to get into the winemaking game and purchased a vineyard in the Paso Robles Ava’s El Pomar District, now called the Pomar Junction Vineyard.  For six years, Merrill and his family labored to bring the 40-acre vineyard up to the standards of the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s “Sustainability In Practice” (SIP) program and to renovate the existing buildings for a tasting room.  The Pomar Junction tasting room opened in 2008 followed by a production estate winery in 2011.  The winery has since been awarded a grant by the USDA’s REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) to harvest solar energy for winery operations.

General Manager Matt Merrill, Dana Merrill, and Winemaker Jim Shumate in the Pomar Junction VineyardPhoto by BOTTLE BRANDING

General Manager Matt Merrill, Dana Merrill, and Winemaker Jim Shumate in the Pomar Junction Vineyard
Photo by BOTTLE BRANDING

Most recently, Merrill confirmed his longstanding faith in the El Pomar District with the purchase of 278 acres included in the former Weyrich estate.  Home to a host of notable vineyards sourced by brands like Justin and J. Lohr, the El Pomar District has become highly acclaimed thanks to the dedication and belief of pioneers like Merrill.  Located on Creston Ridge Road near the intersection of South El Pomar Road and Creston Road, this expansive property attracted Merrill with its calcareous soils, steep south-facing slopes and famous Templeton Gap breezes, as well as its existing specialized infrastructure to support Mesa Vineyard Management operations, as well as private wine-related functions.  Plans are already underway to SIP certify the property.

Merrill’s lasting legacy on the Central Coast is a commitment to sustainability and the health of the region’s vineyards and the people who work them.  His community involvement includes acting as a founding member of the widely-respected Central Coast Vineyard Team, which teaches and encourages sustainable vineyard practices; chairing the California Association of Winegrape Growers as a representative of Paso Robles; serving on the California Pierce’s Disease Board; and serving two terms on the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association boards, among others.

Of Merrill’s many contributions to the wine industry, Central Coast Vineyard Team Executive Director, Kris Beal, said: “I appreciate Dana’s willingness to have creative conversations and engage people with different points of view in order to reach out-of-the-box solutions. We are very fortunate to have such a savvy and forward-thinking voice representing our industry on many levels.”

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The new hot wine spot: El Pomar District

Working in the wine industry definitely has its perks.  For instance, our dear friends Dana and Marsha Merrill of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery recently purchased an additional 278 acres in the El Pomar District of the Paso Robles AVA, and…they’re going to live on the property.  Lucky ducks!  That means when they wake up in the morning and look out their window, this is a lot like what they’ll see.

Of course, it isn’t all about the view.  The expansive acreage, formerly of the Weyrich estate, has its own distinctive terroir while remaining solidly consistent with the growing conditions of the El Pomar District.  Existing facilities on the property also provide infrastructure to support the Merrill’s other “baby,” Mesa Vineyard Management, in addition to private wine-related functions.

The El Pomar District is home to vineyards that produce notable wines for brands such as Justin Vineyards & Winery, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, and Still Waters Vineyards. Recent expansion of vineyards in this area is directly aligned with the growth of its recognition for producing sought-after flavor profiles. Located on Creston Ridge Road, near the intersection of South El Pomar Road and Creston Road, the vines on Pomar Junction’s newest acreage are influenced by the same calcareous soils, steep south-facing slopes and Templeton Gap breezes that the Merrill family has long appreciated about the El Pomar District. The dedicated work of wine industry pioneers, Dana Merrill among them, has led to a growing appreciation of this sub-region for its one-of-a-kind terroir and terroir-reflecting wines.

“Finding another vineyard that fits so naturally with our current winemaking standards has brought about many exciting opportunities and ideas,” said Matt Merrill, General Manager of Pomar Junction. He continued, “We look forward to increasing the Pomar Junction repertoire significantly.”

Currently, the new purchase is planted to 93 acres of Rhône, Bordeaux and Italian varietals that thrive in these growing conditions. The maturity of existing vines will allow immediate production of wines from this property, and plans are underway to certify it as Sustainable In Practice (SIP), continuing the responsible farming methods found throughout Merrill properties. Also, as future opportunities allow for growth, an estimated 60 acres have been identified as suitable for additional planting.

The El Pomar District continues to gain recognition through the growth of vineyard presence, accolades for their wines and praise from consumers. Incorporation of this property allows Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery a spectacular new resource to encourage the continued development of their quality wine profile, memorable wine country experience and expanded exposure of the El Pomar District as a distinguished wine growing region.

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