The success of Paso Robles wine is a community effort according to David Parrish, owner of Parrish Family Vineyards, who has been growing grapes in Paso for forty years and making wine for twelve. Now, he says, is the right time for him to build his own winery in Paso Robles’ Adelaida AVA.
After graduating from UC Davis, Parrish began his wine industry career doing vineyard trellis work for luminaries Robert Mondavi, Bob Steinhauer and others throughout Napa. Today he holds 24 patents for trellis design and continues the innovation he considers essential for farming success.
When Parrish left Napa to return to Paso Robles, he was inspired by Mondavi’s vision of transforming an area into a world-class wine region, and believed that it didn’t just apply to Napa. “I see that same kind of energy I saw in Napa then in Paso Robles today,” says Parrish, “There’s been real progress in Paso. They’ve actually developed their own style, they’ve taken the essence of the terroir, and now they’re starting to promote that. In just the last ten years their wines have gotten just exponentially better. I’m so encouraged!”
Parrish emphasizes the value of the community and neighbors helping each other. “One thing I like about Paso is that it’s still family owned vineyards and wineries. There’s nothing like the family winery where people live on the vineyard, live by their wineries, it’s a family deal, and they really live it. It forms a closed knit community; we’re all pretty close.”
Parrish, who grows 150 acres of wine grapes in Paso Robles, explains that “I have wineries come to me needing just a few tons of Petite Sirah or Cab Franc, and I try my hardest to help them out. They would do the same for me; we have a great community.”
The Paso Robles CAB Collective is another example of the community spirit in Paso that Parrish cherishes. Formed in 2012, the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective is an independent collaborative effort of Paso Robles growers and producers striving to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles region in producing superior quality, classic and age-worthy Cabernet and red Bordeaux varietals.
“At CAB Collective, we help each other, we discuss how we can make our wines better in an open forum of winemakers. That’s the way Paso is going, I hope that doesn’t change too much,” says Parrish.
The plans for the new winery reveal the ambition to grow, but lines up with the ideal of Paso as a region of family wineries. Parrish Family Vineyards currently produces 3,500 cases, but the new winery will have the capacity for 15,000 cases. “Size wise, I want to be a boutique winery, I don’t want to be a large winery. I want it to be a family winery, not a large corporate winery,” says Parrish, “but we’re absolutely going to grow into the 15,000 case capacity.”
Not just the functionality, but also the aesthetics of the winery was important to Parrish. “When you build these buildings they have pre-formed panels. They’re insulated and metal on both sides. They look like a metal building; I didn’t want that out there, it’s too commercial looking, so we built the complete winery, and now we’re cutting all the metal rafters off and put in wood rafters all the way around the perimeter. It looks like a barn.”
Building his own winery is a goal that Parrish has been meticulously planning and working toward. “I’m a planner,” he says, “so first I wanted to get my feet under me and learn a little more about the business. I’ve been in the vineyard business forty plus years, but the winery is a little different. A lot of people have had trouble making money in the wine industry, I’m hoping I’m not one of them.”
So far the trajectory looks good. For the past eight years Parrish Family Vineyards have been selling their wines direct to consumers through their downtown Paso Robles tasting room and growing steadily ten to fifteen percent per year. “I am glad we started small with a tasting room downtown. The learning curve was just right. We are ready to move out to one of our own vineyards with what we know now and the team I have with me,” says Parrish.
As a true family wine business, the team includes Parrish’s wife, Lynn, his daughter, Cecily, who runs the hospitality side of the business, and his son-in-law, Ethan Ray, as assistant winemaker and vineyard manager. Parrish believes that a strong and passionate team is essential for the success of his winery..
“I love the fact that I planted all these vineyards; I love taking it all the way through the wine process and into the bottle, it really is fun. And I love the aspect of working with people too, it does take a village, you really have to have a group of people around you that’s just as passionate as you are about what you’re trying to do. There’s long hours and not a whole lot of glory in the whole work process, so that passion is essential.”
Parrish’s own pride and passion is easily revealed when he talks about any aspect of his work, one of them being his 2014 Cabernet Clone 6 wine, which received a 94 point score from the Wine Enthusiast. Parrish says, “I really can’t say enough about this wine, I’m really happy with it. This is the style of wine I’ve been trying to make over the last 12 years.”
The Cabernet Clone 6, also known as the Jackson Clone, normally has smaller berries, but when Parrish harvested fruit in 2014 he notice it had very small berries, and the flavors were really intense. In previous years he had mixed this clone with the other clones to make their estate Cab, but this year he decided to experiment, kept the lot separate, and used a slightly different barrel program.
“It really paid off!” says Parrish. “I have an image, not just on my palette, but in how I want my wine to taste and look, and even how it greets you the first time you put your nose on it, and it’s really close to what I’ve been wanting to do.”
And, of course Parrish recognizes that quality of the wine is the key to success for his winery and for Paso Robles as a wine region.
“The reason I’m putting all of this money and effort into the winery is the improvement of Paso wine. Had I not seen the wine quality going up, in both my own wines and those around me, I wouldn’t be doing this,” says Parrish. “You have to have other wineries around you that are attractive in addition to your own, it’s a team effort.”
By Kim Badenfort