Winery Visit: Ambyth Estate

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Nestled in the hills on the Eastside of the Paso Robles AVA, right in the path of the winds from the Templeton gap, lies a 1000 case-per-year production Organic & certified Biodynamic winery. The owners – Philip & Mary Hart – are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They purchased the land in 2001 and planted their 20 acres in 2004. They grow Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Sangiovese & Tempranillo. In addition to grape vines, they grow olive trees from which they produce their own Organic olive oil and raise 2 cows, 2 sheep, 25 chickens, 2 dogs and 7 cats.

DSC_8154Cid the Wine Dog; buggy buddy, stoic protector of chickens

Colleen & I first met Philip’s assistant, Frederic Ballario, at the 2013 Rhone Rangers industry tasting in San Francisco. We always stop by the AmByth table at this event because we so rarely get a chance to go down to the Paso area. It’s always exciting to try their new wines since we love the style of them. They are the polar opposite of most Paso wines; they are lean, low in alcohol, unmanipulated and completely natural. I was very excited to see some new wines from them, including a now sold-out skin-fermented Grenache Blanc (aka “orange wine”) and a red table blend from the 2011 vintage. Colleen and I spent some time chatting with Frederic and we immediately loved him for his warmth, knowledge, energy and friendliness.

DSC_8147Tala & Frederic chatting over Syrah vines

A most serendipitous thing happened a few days after the Rhone Rangers event. Frederic and I ran into each other at another wine tasting and he told me they needed someone to represent the winery at an event at K&L (who now carries their wines). He asked if I was available to pour wines for them for a couple of hours (I was) and subsequently he invited me down to the winery to go over their winemaking practices, teach me a little about Biodynamics and to get to know the processes a little better so I could better represent them at the tasting. So, I packed up my Husband/Software Engineer/Photographer and headed South to AmByth Estate.

Upon arrival, I was lucky enough to get to taste through their entire line-up of wines. Right now they have about 8 wines available; a Viognier, a white Rhone blend, a few red Rhone blends, a Syrah, a red table wine, a Zinfandel and a Tempranillo (which is drinking superbly right now). Frederic spent some time talking about their latest winemaking practices and equipment while showing me around the facility. AmByth recently purchased several amphorae which are now filled with fermenting wines, shown below. We cleaned the strangely beautiful green glass airlocks attached to the amphorae and tasted through all of them, most of which were still either full of CO2, in the middle of MLF or still under primary fermentation (in April!).

DSC_8187I am particularly excited to try their wines produced in amphorae. I have never actually seen one of these in person before this and they are quite beautiful. All of them were hand-made in Italy.

The climate is very unique at AmByth Estate. In the summer, it can be 100F and higher, but it cools down to about 50F at night because of the cool marine wind coming through the Templeton Gap. This temperature swing and wind preserves the acid in the grapes and produces wines which are much fresher, nervy, full of energy and great with food. In addition to the balancing acidity in these wines, they are made with minimal or no SO2 and are built for the long haul. These wines drink great when they are young but I anticipate they will keep on giving for years and years to come.

DSC_8156I asked Frederic a lot about Biodynamics as I really don’t know a whole lot about it other than it’s a pretty hard-core natural farming and winemaking process. He explained to me like this: Biodynamics help facilitate the flow of energy between the earth and the sky (or ‘cosmos’, as he put it). The moon, sun & earth all have natural cycles and Biodynamics help the system function to it’s full potential. Their belief is that good winemaking happens in the vineyard; the grapes need to be their best for the wines to follow suit. In the winery, little is done. They use 100% native yeast, minimal intervention and very little SO2 (none as of the 2012 vintage). The resulting wines speak to the fact that Biodynamics really do produce something unique, super-natural, and very different from conventional wines.

DSC_8159I am truly humbled by the generosity and warm hospitality from Frederic during our stay. I really encourage all of our readers to make a trip to Paso specifically to visit this winery. It’s really something special in a sea of mediocrity. If you are unable to make the trip to see them, you can come to K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City this Friday, April 12th from 5PM to 7PM to taste their Syrah and Red Table Blend. Yours truly will be pouring that night so come by and say hi. There will be 3 or so other wineries also doing tastings and the fee (I believe) is $10. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments.