The recent times have been both a story of isolation as well as one of virtual connections. The wine world has been nurturing these connections with virtual tastings with winemakers and vineyard tours. Earlier this year, a group of friends and wine writers were gathering in Paso Robles for the Wine Writers Educational Tour(WWET) with Fred Swan. This year(due to COVID) the tour was canceled, but we joined Alta Colina’s owners and winemaker virtually for a fun Zoom tasting. Alta Colina is known as one of Paso Robles’ most beautiful Vineyards and also one of the Central Coast’s most acclaimed Rhône producers.
I had the distinct pleasure of personally visiting Alta Colina last year with a tasting at the top of their scenic hillside vineyards on their treetop deck. There is no view quite like this in all of Paso Robles with vista in all directions. Alta Colina should be on your list of destinations when visiting Paso Robles. Alta Colina means “high hill” and the name lives up to its awe-inspiring views. Perched high at 1800 feet above sea level in the Adelaida District, Alta Colina feels like you are miles away from civilization. It is here that owner Bob and Lynn Tillman first planted their vineyards from the ground up in 2003. A true family winery, Bob and Lynn Tillman, along with daughter Maggie, are forging a legacy of quality and sustainability.
Bob took on us on a virtual tour of Paso Robles and his vineyards. Paso Robles is located 1/2 way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They are situated about 18 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles. Their vineyards are on an 1800 foot elevation with steep terrain primarily made of eroded sedimentary rocks that are primarily calcareous shale. The high terrain and proximity to the ocean give a great diurnal range(20ºF-50ºF) for grape growing.
Bob Tillman was an electrical engineer for 34 years at Hewlett Packard. He grew up in a small town in New Mexico where wine was not part of his life. In 1971, during graduate school in the Bay area, Bob took a wine class and immediately fell in love. For the next 30 years, he had his mind on wine and was scheming ways on how to make wine a bigger part of his life.
When Bob retired, he decided to just do it and go full force and buy a vineyard. He says Alta Colina was a “labor of love”. He started with bare dirt and purchased the land with advice from expert viticulturists, but he primarily purchased the property because it was so beautiful. It is a sprawling 130 acres of mountains where they farm 31 acres of vineyards organically. The rest is mostly wildlife preserve with forests, mountain lions, deer, foxes, coyotes and rattlesnakes.
Bob decided to focus on Rhône varieties primarily because those are the types of wines he likes to drink and secondly Rhône grape varieties do well in the Adelaida District. There are a lot of similarities in the soils and climates of Paso Robles and Southern Rhône.
Molly Lonborg – Winemaker
Molly Lonborg is Alta Colina’s winemaker. She recently started with Alta Colina in April, a few weeks before the quarantine hit. Molly is a Paso veteran where she was the winemaker at Halter Ranch and Justin Vineyards prior. She explains that Paso Robles has a lot of diversity with different types of grape, but the Adelaida District is more of a Rhône and Bordeaux powerhouse. The Adelaida District AVA is amongst the most prestigious in Paso Robles.
Tasting Alta Colina Wines
One of my favorite things to do is visit a barrel room when visiting a winery and I get especially excited when winemakers offer barrel samples. Barrel tastings give you a sneak peek into the wine and what is yet to come. The creative juices were flowing at Alta Collina as they sent us vials(felt like a cool chemistry lab experiment) from barrel samples of their wines. This was a fun and educational way to share their cellar with us.
The first three wines we tasted were all barrel samples from their steep north-facing Syrah Block 8 Vineyards. We tasted three Syrahs from various coopers, with varying ages, varying barrel sizes and varying toast levels. This was a wonderful exercise in understanding the influence of blending and barrel aging on the end result of a wine.
The last two samples were their two finished wines. We tasted the 2017 Alta Colina GSM and the 2016 Alta Colina Old 900 Syrah.
Alta Colina GSM 2017 – A lovely Rhône blend, the wine has notes of cranberry and strawberries. It is very well balanced with nice tannins that are nicely integrated. The blend is made up of 76% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 4% Mouvedre. There is a great tannic structure with nice fruit in this vibrant wine.
Alta Colina Old 900 Syrah Block 8 2016– The Old 900 Syrah is built on the Alban-1 clone grown in the coolest spot in the vineyard. There are delicious notes of blackberry pie, with wet stone, anise, olives, and some meaty characteristics. On the palate, it is beautiful and well balanced and focused with a strong entry and tannins that keep going. A wine that keeps you coming back for more.
Visting Alta Colina
Alta Colina is a must stop when visiting Paso Robles, not just for their wines and wonderful hospitality in their tasting room, but a stay at The Trailer Pond is a fun option. If you want adventure, you can enjoy a private and relaxing camp out on 130-acre organically farmed Alta Colina Vineyard. Take a step back in time and spend the weekend in a boutique Tinker Tin vintage trailer! Probably one of Paso’s most Instagram worthy spot.