“…she took her hand and raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the air. Where to begin?–that was the question at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions… Still the risk must run; the mark made.”
Virginia Woolfe

“Every artist makes herself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer.”
Willa Cather

I arrived at a vineyard in Paso Robles on something of a lark after fleeing Toronto’s hustle and sleet. I had nothing but a crazy dog, a tiny camper and a few changes of clothes, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. I came following a light I’ve chased my whole life, but never thought I’d see so close. I’ve chased that light across North and South America, always grasping, nearly catching hold and watching it dart past. I don’t know what it is, I hope I never do, I would hate to get old and boring, but I am certain that it’s something in wine and I just have to get a closer look. In my wild chase, I’ve been everything I could for wine: importer, broker, retailer, cellar rat, harvester, vintner. The moment I set foot in that Paso vineyard, I knew I was closer than I had ever been, I just had to stay and explore.

That was years ago now, and my journey has begun a new chapter. My life working, loving and living in wine has brought me closer day by day to knowing exactly what the hell I’ve been after for so long. Honestly, I hope I never rest, I hope that by living in pursuit I coax that light to run along side me.

“If a woman does not keep pace with her companions, perhaps it is because she hears a different drummer. Let her step to the music which she hears, however measured or far away.”
Henry David Thoreau (adapted)

It is no accident that Desparada came into being in the Central Coast. Here my hand isn’t forced into any particular style, I’m free to play, to discover and push toward new horizons. I’m an explorer by nature, I can’t escape that, and my wines are the milestones in my journey. Working in a place so young, there is an unavoidable temptation to use the guideposts left by regions like Pauillac, Chateauneuf or Montalcino. This is a place as singular as those, but we’re still plotting our trail, and I would hate to lose the lure of the unknown by relying on old maps. That’s why the wines of Desparada are guided more by spirit than style. Each wine stands for a particular vision, and in each vintage I use new knowledge, varietals and vineyards to bring that vision into sharper focus. I am a stranger in this wild and strange land, chasing something far-off and faint, but am sure-footed and ready for the chase.

 

Fragment

Fragment is dedication to the first spark of inspiration. That sudden moment of insight when the whole world recenters and you realize that this is the path that you’ve been after for so long. The wine gets its name from the shard-like quality of these moments: it is precise, whole unto itself yet points toward a larger unity.

  • v. 2014

    Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
    Appellation: Santa Barbara County
    Aging: 53% Neutral French Oak
    24% Stainless
    and 23% New Acacia
    Vineyards: McGinley and Presquile
    Alc: 13.5%
    692 cases produced

    TASTING NOTES

    Oh Lord was it worth cashing in all the miles. 2 weeks and nothing but first class and the Four Seasons. Let them suffer through winter, you’re on the South Island, the flink-lock bluster will be there when you get back, for now your life is nothing but soften white Lily petals, Meyer lemon ice, coriander oil, oceanside quilts, fresh opened Uni, orange blossom water, grapefruit, dewy pine, salt spray and late evening bike rides.

  • v. 2013

    Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
    Appellation: Santa Barbara County
    Aging: 65% Neutral French Oak
    18% Stainless
    and 17% New Acacia
    Vineyards: McGinley and Presquile
    Alc: 13%
    678 cases produced

    TASTING NOTES

    This is a James Bond ski chase down an Alpine peak and through the dense cobbled streets of some forgotten village -- Gooseberry, crushed oyster shell, sweet lime, detonated dynamite, lemon seltzer, clove spiked orange, white Gatorade, Red Pine needle, peach Schnapps, white smoke and brand new novel. Fresh, dry and exuberant with a rolling mouthfeel.

    • v. 2012

      Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
      Appellation:Santa Ynez Valley
      Aging: 20% New Acacia,
      50% Neutral French Oak
      and 30% Stainless
      Vineyards: McGinley and Presquile
      Alc: 13.3%
      341 cases produced

      TASTING NOTES

      When I was travelling in the hills of Nicaragua I came across a small, forgotten church nestled in the jungle growth outside of a town. The church didn’t have a roof, the windows had long since been smashed and the floors were littered with rubbish and plants. Looking up, it was all tree boughs and birds and late sunlight and bright colors. Honestly, the place felt so free. Fragment reminds me of that church, it has an improbable freshness and big shoulders. It’s like opening the window on a rain-heavy garden: herbal scents of lemongrass, fresh sage, tangerine oil and young mango lead you out the garden and into a palate reminiscent of a redwood forest at twilight with flavors of juniper, honey comb, sea spray and persimmon. A wine full of the early nerves before beginning a new journey.

      • v. 2011

        Varietals: 90% Sauvignon Blanc,
        10% Semillon (cofermented)
        Appellation: Santa Ynez Valley
        Vineyards: 100% McGinley Vineyard
        Aging: 100% Neutral French
        Alc: 14.1%
        282 cases made

        TASTING NOTES:

        There’s a true art to the simplistic decadence of a proper picnic. It’s not about having fancy stemware, French macarons or a candelabra (although all are delightful). It’s about creating a revelation, the surprise of re-discovering the joy of familiar food and friends in a different setting. The 2011 “Fragment” recalls what magic can happen at those late afternoon, sun-dappled picnics. Scents of Meyer lemon, sea breeze, sweet pea, warm quilts and fresh honeycomb are combined with a palate of lemongrass, Bosc pear, coriander and key lime pie. Think one part finding lost Valentine at the bottom of a drawer, one part sun warmed citrus from a friend’s backyard.

      • v. 2010

        Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
        Appellation: California
        Vineyards:
        Aging: 75% Neutral French Oak,
        25% Stainless Steel
        Alc: 14.3%
        91 cases produced

      Wayfinder

      Previously named "Visitor". Wayfinder is a beacon that has drawn me in. Made first as a one-off, ultimately she was too intriguing to not pursue.

      • v. 2013

        Varietals: 100% Chardonnay,
        Appellation: Edna Valley
        Aging: 67% New French Oak,
        33% 1-Year French Oak
        Vineyards: Spanish Springs
        Alc: 15.6%
        223 cases produced

        TASTING NOTES

        Coming of age quickly over the course of a summer on an esteemed country estate: White peach, tuberose, toasted Jasmine tea, pear Jelly Belly, anisette, vintage Bentley interior, arugula, nectarine and fresh shucked kumamoto oyster. Nervy and blithely voluptuous.

      • v. 2012

        Varietals: 100% Chardonnay,
        Appellation: Edna Valley
        Aging: 100% New French Oak,
        Vineyards: Spanish Springs
        Alc: 15.6%
        94 cases produced

        TASTING NOTES

        I think the reason I’ve felt at home settling in California is because in an hour I can be in a one horse town of native Spanish speakers, or hiking along a Jurassic coastal cliff, or sitting down to a prix fixe 6 course meal, or racing down forgotten dirt roads, or settled in to an evening with close friends. Visitor is seemingly conjured from that sense of renewal, possibility and misty potential. Dense, enveloping scents of cedar sweater chest, peeled evergreen bough, honey crisp apple and liturgical incense sweep around, parting the breath heavy fog and revealing a strange carnival in cool air, white plum, coarse ground sand, clove, allspice, marshmallow fluff, and a fistful of lemon skin that shocks you awake like a spider skittered across a pillow.

      The Purist

      Always 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, The Purist is a benchmark for Desparada. It is the distillation of a thing remembered but still present, and the realization of a long time dream.

      • v. 2012

        Varietals: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
        Appellation:California
        Vineyards: 20% Coghlan
        25% Full Draw
        30% Happy Canyon
        25% Vogelzang
        Aging: 66% New French Oak,
        10% New Hungarian Oak
        24% Neutral French Oak
        Alc: 14.7%
        308 cases produced

        TASTING NOTES:

        Like a still from an Andrei Tarkovsky film. A lady of late grace in stone black dress, laying quiet waste to the early evening in the pew of a forgotten French church: Lilac, juiceball, Earl Grey Nat Sherman’s, dried violet, edible garnets, Chanel No.5, black pepper whip cream, cast magic spell, rock dust, cinnamon leather and vetiver. Piqued, toothy tannins.

        • v. 2011

          Varietals: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
          Appellation:Santa Ynez Valley
          Vineyards: Coglin,
          Vogelzang
          Aging: 100% New French Oak,
          Alc: 14.3%
          48 cases produced

          TASTING NOTES:

          I love the desert. I love the way the dry, cracked air hides the secret life going on underfoot. Strange trees slurping sunshine, thin clear creeks are home for mysterious creatures, tender purple flowers reaching from slivers in rock, the inexplicable snowfall on distant peaks. Everyone always says it, but it’s true, there is a piquant spice to the air that grows the moment the sun goes down and the earth can begin to pulsate its stored heat. I love that spice, I love the scuttling of critters at nightfall and the stars’ shocking revelation. In the desert life is like a secret: once you know about it, it fills your senses and steals all your attention. The 2011 Purist is just like that, both in sense and in rarity, it reminds me of a St. Nicholas party in the deserts of Arizona: Scents of black currant, fresh grated nutmeg, worn mahogany, chaparral, early morning adobe, Christmas crackers and a coal-miner’s garden of sun-dried violets and bell peppers lead you to a broad-shouldered yet ballet-precise palate of blueberry pie, prickly pear fruit, kalamata olive, butter creme and fernet with crisp tannins that are like licking frost-bitten sweet grass.

          • v. 2010

            Varietals: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
            Appellation: Paso Robles
            Vineyards: Chelle Mountain,
            Diamond JEM
            Aging: 25% 1 Year Old French Oak,
            25% 2 Year Old French Oak
            and 50% Neutral French Oak
            Alc: 13.9%
            124 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES:

            I’m not a traditional church-goer, which isn’t to say that I don’t have a place of worship. Where you can find me every Sunday morning there are no stained glass windows, no long straight-backed pews, no incense-heavy ceremonies. Every Sunday I make my pilgrimage to McClintock’s. In lieu of sermons I get inspired stories about the way things were and a Bloody Mary for communion, in a place where worn bar stools serve in place of pews. The comparison would be heretical, except that there is a deep honesty to the place. “The Purist” is my attempt to capture something of the truth of places like McClintock’s, those places that happily welcome anyone into their fold, but somehow manage not to attract the riff-raff. This vintage is close to the sweetness of dancing in a darkened barn, scents of black pepper, al pastor, sweet blueberry and mulch wrap around an agile palate that moves with flavors of candied flowers, milk chocolate and fresh pomegranate. The wine finishes with long-legged tannins that happily stretch through the night.

          Sackcloth & Ashes

          Growth and change seem to happen fastest when you leave behind your inhibitions and fit into a new whole the smaller moments of living that so often get overlooked. Sackcloth & Ashes has as its center the challenge of letting go of the what has been done in past and moving steadily into the unknown.

          • v. 2013

            Varietals: 39% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            17% Cabernet Franc,
            16% Petit Verdot,
            14% Malbec,
            7% Merlot,
            7% Sangiovesse
            Appellation: California
            Aging: 33% New French Oak,
            67% Neutral French Oak
            Vineyards: Vogelzang, Coghlan, D'ambino, White Hawk, Luna Matta, Santa Barbara Highlands, Chelle Mountain
            Alc: 15.2%
            800 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES

            This is the memory of the abandonved abbey you discovered when in lithe summer nights, when you were young and alone. Crushed violet, ripped jeans, quarter sawn spruce, blueberry cake, warmed sage, buckwheat honey, anisette, chocolate brownie batter, ancient incense, cherry-skin cigar, palo santo smudge and sassafras bark.

          • v. 2012

            Varietals: 38% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            33% Petite Sirah,
            23% Cabernet Franc,
            5% Petit Verdot
            1% Malbec
            Appellation: California
            Aging: 50% New French Oak,
            50% Neutral French Oak
            Vineyards: Coghlan, Happy Canyon, Roadrunner, Santa Barbara Highlands, Vogelzang
            Alc: 15.7%
            288 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES

            Spiced hot chocolate made on a wood stove by a Mexican grandmother with all the red fruit trees in bloom out the window --- warm chocolate croissant, cherry rugelach, country dust, red velvet cake, new bones, prairie fire, hot wooden fence, crisp pizza crust, baseball-sized ripe blackberry, fire roasted poblano pepper and sweet espresso. Massive and balanced, with achy tannins.

          • v. 2011

            Varietals: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            31% Petite Sirah,
            7% Cabernet Franc,
            5% Grenache
            Appellation: California
            Aging: 20% New French Oak,
            80% Neutral French Oak
            Vineyards: Coghlan, Vogelzang, Murmur, D’Anbino, Hames Valley
            Alc: 14.1%
            247 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES

            Growing up, I spent a lot of time reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Once you get into them, it’s impossible to avoid believing that you’re Nancy. I began stalking around corners, seeing my parents’ friends as clandestine bank robbers and looking for secret compartments in bookshelves and desks. My normal world had been transformed into a place of ceaseless possibility and wonder. Sackcloth & Ashes is a wine that could have been made in that kind of world, it’s what happens when the familiar meets the exotic, and reminds me of snooping around a forgotten New Orleans mansion at sundown looking for ghosts. Scents of honeysuckle, pipe tobacco, cherry skin, nutmeg and violets are suddenly joined by an ancient and regal spirit on the palate with flavors of adobo spice, smoked blackberry, frankincense and Mexican hot chocolate with tannins that’ll prick up your arm hair and chase you out the door.

          • v. 2010

            (known as Solacer)
            Varietals: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            20% Sangiovese
            Appellation: California
            Vineyards: Chelle Mountain, Diamond JEM and White Hawk
            Aging: 30% New French Oak,
            20% 2 Year Old French Oak,
            50% Neutral French Oak
            272 cases made

            TASTING NOTES:

            I learned how to be a strong willed woman from my grandmother. Through hundreds of stories, slaps on the wrist (although never mine) and powerful hugs, she showed me that going easy on others isn’t always the best way to show you love them. “Solacer” owes much to tales told over evenings in my grandmother’s kitchen: scents of orange Pekoe tea, black currant jam, sarsaparilla and roasted beets open to an elegant palate of brandy soaked cherries, chocolate cream, spiced meats and raspberry coulis. Compelling and complex, it leaves you leaning in, waiting for the next story to unfold.

          Borderlands

          On all journeys there comes a sudden moment of change. One night you fall asleep and the next morning the light is different, the air somehow exotic and foreign. A blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, Borderlands commemorates the invisible divide between what was and what will be.

          • v. 2013

            Varietals: 25% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            25% Cabernet Franc,
            25% Grenache,
            25% Syrah,
            Appellation: California
            Aging: 50% New French Oak, 50% Neutral French Oak
            Vineyards: Chelle Mountain, White Hawk, Coghlan, Santa Barbara Highlands
            Alc: 16.1%
            97 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES

            In the desert there is a road that ends without warning. That is where you must set up camp. It is at the foot of the mountain and beside a vernal stream. The tattered map says that beneath a mulberry tree a box is buried. Tomorrow you will search, today you will let your senses deepen: wild blueberry, fire roasted chiles, pure marionberry preserves, rose hips, toasted marshmallow, tufa tower, cracked fresh bay leaf, dark chocolate espresso beans, cut flowers and lightning struck tree..

          • v. 2012

            Varietals: 25% Cabernet Sauvignon,
            25% Cabernet Franc,
            25% Grenache,
            25% Syrah,
            Appellation: California
            Aging: 25% New French Oak,
            75% Neutral French Oak
            Vineyards: Coghlan, Santa Barbara Highlands, Spanish Springs, White Hawk
            Alc: 15%
            92 cases produced

            TASTING NOTES

            After hours lost hiking without water or food, a field of ripe huckleberries and English strawberries opens before you. Amazingly, there is a clean mineral spring and no bears for now --- county fair blueberry pie, mint julep, jack pine, hookah smoke, cherry cola, chicory coffee, spent shotgun shell, lavender, charred french toast, purple plum, roast chestnut and sweet maple. Beautiful, robust and precise like a 300 pound modern dancer.

            • v. 2011

              Varietals: 25% Cabernet Sauvignon,
              25% Syrah,
              25% Cabernet Franc,
              25% Grenache
              Appellation: California
              Aging: 25% New French Oak,
              50% 2 Year Old French Oak,
              25% Neutral French Oak
              Vineyards: D’Anbino, Vogelzang, Larner, Jesperson and Alamo Creek
              Alc: 14.8%
              94 cases produced

              TASTING NOTES

              In Canada when you’re planting a garden, it is important to select plants that look good in all seasons. You need plants that are full and lush in summer, turn bright colors in fall, have beautiful skeletons in winter and perfect flowers in spring. When it’s done right, it can be a revelation. Borderlands is a wine that strikes that kind of balance, it’s flashy and full in and is bright and articulate at the right time. Think of it as the perfect guide through a full evening: dapper and charming without being a jerk about it. The wine makes an entrance with an opulent nose of charred lamb shank, cassis, black earth, aquavit and cedar, the palate has the welcome force and precision of a well placed compliment with flavors of strawberry pie, coffee, violet pastilles, crisp pepper and lasting chocolate tannins. Just like a Canadian garden, nothing takes over except at its time.

            • v. 2009

              (known as My Comforter)
              Varietals: 25% Cabernet Sauvignon,
              25% Syrah,
              25% Cabernet Franc
              and 25% Grenache
              Appellation: California
              Aging: 25% 1 Year Old French Oak,
              25% 2 Year Old French Oak
              and 50% Neutral French Oak
              Vineyards: Larner, Indian Valley, Camp 4 and Shadow Canyon
              Alc: 15.1%
              89 cases produced

            Suitor

            Growth and change seem to happen fastest when you leave behind your inhibitions and fit into a new whole the smaller moments of living that so often get overlooked

            • v. 2013

              Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir,
              Appellation: Santa Maria Valley
              Aging: 100% Neutral French Oak,
              Vineyards: Solomon Hills
              Clones: 50% 115
              50% 667
              Alc: 14.5%
              166 cases produced

              TASTING NOTES

              All the rarity and delicate poise of a raider in a tomb: Upon peering into the newly opened chamber of Tutankhamun: Lord Carnarvon 'Can you see anything?' Howard Carter 'Yes, wonderful things.' Crystal cherries, Kenyan Sandalwood, Peking Duck, Starpointer lilies, cracked limestone, leather sandals, astronaut berry medley, heirloom marionberry. A dusting finish like breathing in on a mulberry covered Dover hillside during an earthquake.

            • v. 2012

              Varietals: 100% Chardonnay,
              Appellation: Edna Valley
              Aging: 100% New French Oak,
              Vineyards: Spanish Springs
              Alc: 15.6%
              94 cases produced

              TASTING NOTES

              I think the reason I’ve felt at home settling in California is because in an hour I can be in a one horse town of native Spanish speakers, or hiking along a Jurassic coastal cliff, or sitting down to a prix fixe 6 course meal, or racing down forgotten dirt roads, or settled in to an evening with close friends. Visitor is seemingly conjured from that sense of renewal, possibility and misty potential. Dense, enveloping scents of cedar sweater chest, peeled evergreen bough, honey crisp apple and liturgical incense sweep around, parting the breath heavy fog and revealing a strange carnival in cool air, white plum, coarse ground sand, clove, allspice, marshmallow fluff, and a fistful of lemon skin that shocks you awake like a spider skittered across a pillow.

            Explorer Series

            A winery is an intuitive laboratory. In moments of divergent wonder I will run experiments. Sometimes my curiosity is rewarded. On those occasions I will release wines under the Explorer label in tiny amounts. These wines are the wild-eyed vanguard of things to come.

            • Borealis.1.e4

              Vintage 2013
              Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
              Appellation: Santa Ynez Valley
              Aging: 500L Terra Cotta Amphora
              Vineyards: McGinley Vineyard
              Alc: 12.6%
              52 cases produced

              TASTING NOTES

              White peach, tarragon, peeled pear skin, wintergreen -- rolling down a myrtle covered hill in the early spring woods Vanilla greek yogurt, wild clover honey, fresh tennis ball, oleander -- hugging in a sage banked mountain stream with a summer-long goodbye 9 volt battery-like acidity, key lime pie, white gummy bears, lemon sno-cone -- tubing behind a boat, slapping your face against the joyous water.

            Arclight

            When stars still cast shadows, there were towers that lit towns with a comet’s blaze. These were the arclights. Full fields of fresh berries, a soft whisp of distant smoke, new patent leather shoes, French lavender perfume, all lit for the first time by a flameless torch that banished the thief and his razor.

            • v. 2014

              Varietals: 50% Nebbiolo, 50% Sangiovese
              Appellation:California
              Aging: Saignee Fermented and Aged in Neutral French Oak
              Vineyards: Luna Matta, White Hawk
              Alc: 15.2%
              24 cases produced

              TASTING NOTES

              When electricity was still magic and the black of night so complete stars still cast shadows, there were towers that lit entire towns with a blaze so brilliant it were as if a comet were landing. These were the arclights. Entire fields of summer berries, the soft whisp of smoke from a distant fire, the new patent leather shoes, the French lavender perfume, all lit for the first time by a flameless torch that banished the thief and his razor.

            I would love to have everyone be able to share in my growing vision, but the reality is that Desparada is made in minuscule quantities that tend to disappear faster than I ever expected. If you take a moment to join my mailing list I’ll make certain that you’re the first to know when wines are released. Thank you so much for your support, the twists and turns of this crazy ride are at their best when you’re there with me.

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            Winery & Tasting Room

            Tastings exclusively by appointment or chance, 7 days a week

            3060 Limestone Way, Paso Robles, CA 93446
            (805) 400-9596
            vailia@desparada.com