Paso Pinot Producers celebrate Pinot & Paella Festival

Heady aromas of saffron and spice mixed with smoky meats wafted through the tree-shaded Templeton Community Park as pinot-philes and paella fans gathered together at the 15th Annual Pinot and Paella Festival.
Presented by the Paso Pinot Producers, the popular event showcased 20 local pinot producers offering their artisanal pinot noirs paired with paella cooked up by 15 local chefs. Each culinary expert added his/her spin on this one-pan Spanish dish, with one ingredient common being the use of Spanish Bomba rice.

Mira Honeycutt

PASO Magazine Wine Editor Mira Honeycutt

The park offered a picnic ambiance as attendees spread blankets and chairs, enjoying upbeat music of the Paso Wine Man Band led by singer Casey Biggs who also served as the festival’s emcee.
There were some purists such as chefs Andre Averseng and Elaine Rivera Glenn dishing out a traditional seafood paella and chef Johnny Jantz of Boccabella Farms layering his dish with mussels. Others opted to do the paella sans seafood, using chicken, pork and sausage: chef Dallas Holt garnished his dish with coconut and pineapple, Gabriel Diaz of Sabor de Gabriel tossed vegetables and chef Charles Palladin-Wayne roasted a whole pig for his paella. Neeta Mittal (owner of LXV Wine) did a non-traditional vegan take with vegetables and berries.
It was chef Jeffry Wiesinger’s wine country paella “made with love” and Portuguese sausage that nabbed the top People’s Choice award though.
His secret?
“Home-made stock and sauces extracted from shrimp shells and chicken bones,” he revealed. This is the fourth win for the chef and his wife Kathleen who will soon open their eatery, Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ, in downtown Paso.
The runner-up kudos in the People Choice Awards went to Mittal, Averseng and Rivera Glenn.
The paella flavors were further heightened when paired with silky, seductive pinot noirs crafted by Paso producers, some using local fruit while others sourced from cooler regions such as Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.
The festival was started in 2004 by Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia (owners of Windward Vineyard) as a community grass roots gathering by pinot-fanatics. The criteria at the time was that winery participants use only local Paso fruit in their pinot noir wines. “We have just allowed pinot producers who use fruit from other areas,” Goldberg commented on the recent changes.
Indeed, rules have relaxed over the years since Paso is not a region known for pinot noir and many local winemakers use fruit from other Central Coast regions.
Among the wineries offering pinots crafted from local Paso fruit were Windward, Jack Creek Cellars, Carmody McKnight, Asuncion Ridge and Sculpterra. Then there was the special 2016 Full Circle pinot noir from Tablas Creek Vineyard, a winery known for its Rhône style wines. The pinot from the Templeton Gap District is made from Haas Vineyard, a small patch that was planted by the late Robert Haas in front of his house in Templeton.
Both RN Estate and TH Estate poured pinots crafted from prestigious Santa Barbara County vineyards. Derby Estates and Bodega de Edgar pinots were produced from the cool wind-swept regions of San Simeon and Cambria.
There were several refreshing pinot noir rosès: Hoyt Family Vineyards’ from the Willow Creek district and Lazarre Wines Vin Gris made in a lighter Provençal style were welcome sips on a warm afternoon.
Calcareous Vineyard, Castoro Cellars, Dunning Vineyards, Opolo, Pomar Junction and Rocky Creek Cellars rounded out wineries pouring exceptional pinots. An elaborate cheese display was set by cheese artist Maliysa Lou representing 15 Degrees C Wine Bar.
Funds raised from the event benefit Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation (PRYAF) and other local charities. Each year approximately $40,000 is donated to PRYAF, Goldberg noted.
Over the 14 years, Goldberg assessed that the event has raised over $425,000. “We hope to hit half a million in the next couple of years,” he said with confidence.