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Adelaida Cellars - Paso Robles - Central Coast


Over the years the Adelaida line has expanded beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

To coffee lovers the phrase “mountain grown” has come to symbolize the richest beans and the most vibrant flavors. Now wine enthusiasts are also discovering “mountain grown” pleasures courtesy of Adelaida Cellars. To find Adelaida Cellars one must take the road less traveled. Bypassing the famous valleys of Napa, Sonoma, and the Santa Ynez wine region, the trek to Adelaida leads you to the chalky hills just west of Paso Robles. While this area, located a mere 18 miles east of Hearst Castle and the Pacific Ocean may not be familiar to the weekend-wine-tasters, wine industry professionals have recognized the quality of Paso Robles grapes for years. This is evidenced by the fact that over 85% of the harvest goes to Napa and Sonoma wineries.

It was the legendary fruit and the peaceful lifestyle that first drew John Munch and his wife, Andree, to the Paso Robles’ West Side region (as it is called by locals). John who was born in Central America and schooled in the U.S., became interested in wine during an extended stay in Europe. It was at this time that he established contacts that would later lead him in search of potential California vineyard sites for French wine producers. In 1981, after scouting the various coastal wine regions, the Munches purchased 10 acres in the hills of Paso Robles. They named their property “Adelaida” after the old Adelaida schoolhouse that was built in the 1880’s as part of the original mountain community.

By the end of 1981, John had bottled his first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, under the Adelaida Cellars label. Produced from purchased grapes and bottled in cellars leased from nearby Estrella Winery, John Munch’s first effort was celebrated as a masterpiece of winemaking. The 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon earned stellar reviews and enough medals to rank it as one of the top ten Cabernets in the country.

Two years later the winery was producing 5,000 cases annually of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. That level was maintained until 1986 when Estrella Winery fell on hard financial times and John was forced to take his equipment and move lock, stock and barrel. What he did not realize at the time was that over the next four years he would move his equipment and inventory another three times before finally settling into a permanent location. He first moved to a 200 acre property nearby, purchased by their French investors. But by 1988 the French connection had lost interest in their far-away American investment and ultimately sold the property. During the search for a permanent winery location, the operation moved twice in the next two years. Initially to J. Lohr Winery then the following year to Wild Horse Winery, both in Paso Robles area.
In 1990, still looking for a more permanent home-base John met the Van Steenwyk family at a local wine-tasting event. The Van Steenwyks have a long history of successful walnut and almond farming in the Paso Robles area, and by coincidence were interested in diversifying into wine grapes. John knew of the property and was immediately enamored to the idea of growing grapes on the Van Steenwyks’ 1,700 acres of spectacular mountain property. It didn’t take long for the Munchs and Van Steenwyks to work out an appropriate arrangement to partner their respective resources.

The Van Steenwyk family opened the door for bigger and better opportunities for Adelaida wines and has brought more diversity to the winery team. The Van Steenwyks’ son Matt, is President and General Manager of the winery. His background includes an Air Force Academy education, a stint in Germany and England as a fighter pilot, and a degree as a Certified Financial Analyst. Elizabeth Van Steenwyk has a background in broadcast journalism and finds time to write books for young people while directing special events at the winery. Patriarch Don Van Steenwyk, busy running a world wide high-tech organization with the main manufacturing plant located across town, keeps an amused eye on the proceedings at the winery, as eleven grandchildren gather from time to time to play hide and seek among the barrels. Matt’s siblings, who are doctors and scientists, bring their enthusiasm and expertise to the many events and day to day operations of the winery.

Today Adelaida Cellars boasts its own popular tasting room, a spacious winery capable of producing up to 25,000 cases annually and some of the best vineyards around. “Unlike most vineyards, we plant our vines close together to force the vines to compete,” says John. This competition results in added stress on the vines and lower yields but produces more intensely flavored fruit. “It rains enough in the winter so that we don’t need irrigation during the summer,” he adds. And in keeping with John’s organic philosophy, the vineyard is not tilled, encouraging native grasses, wild sage and rosemary to flourish between the rows. Pests seem to prefer these to vines, so pesticides are not needed.

Just a year ago, Adelaida purchased 400-acres of the Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) property. Its 60 acres of vineyards were originally developed in the 1960s by Dr. Stanley Hoffman with the help of winemaker guru Andre Tchelistcheff. This important piece of real estate is known to be one of the finest vineyards in San Luis Obispo county, if not all of California. “Given the quality of this vineyard, it is a significant addition,” says an obviously pleased Matt Van Steenwyk.

Over the years the Adelaida line has expanded beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While those two remain their flagship wines, they have also had great success with Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir. In fact, with the purchase of the HMR Ranch, Adelaida has secured one of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in California. In the near future the winery also plans to unveil a Syrah and a Merlot.
Today Adelaida Cellars produces about 9,000 cases annually. Despite a growing demand for their wines, production goals remain modest. “We would like to reach an initial plateau of around 25,000 cases in order to keep a handle on the quality,” says Matt.

With an exceptional vineyard location, high quality grapes and a new opportunity for creating sensational wines, the “new” Adelaida has every reason to be enthusiastic about the future.



John Munch - winery figurehead, winemaker

John Munch is clearly in his element at Adelaida Cellars. He is thoroughly enjoying his key role as winery figurehead, winemaker extraordinaire, and vineyard honcho. In an era when winemaking has largely become a sophisticated scientific endeavor, John Munch stands out as a bit of an enigma. Virtually self- taught in viticulture, John has cultivated his culinary sensibilities into a flair for making outstanding wine the old fashioned way—as an art.

John Munch was born in Costa Rica. His father is an American civil engineer who went on a two week mapping expedition to Mexico and ended up staying 38 years in Central America as a general manager for the United Fruit Company. After living in a variety of small villages primarily involved with banana production, John’s parents brought him back to the United States to enter 9th grade. For the next three years he attended a boarding school in the Bay Area. After graduating, he left on a three week European vacation that ended up lasting for five years.

It was during his European jaunt, working as a paralegal in Geneva, when he met his wife Andree. John brought her back to the United States when his Swiss employers offered to send him through law school. Once back in the States, John’s interests instead turned to the study of language. He earned a Master’s degree in Old English Poetry from San Francisco State and in his off-hours worked at restoring Victorian houses. By the mid-70s he had become a licensed contractor.

‘Up to this point,” John comments, ‘my wine attention had all been directed to one side of the cork.” However, Andree was speaking with French friends and relatives about exporting California wines. Eventually this discussion evolved into a desire on the part of European interests to purchase California vineyard land. John was assigned the task of gathering viticulture data and taking classes at U.C. Davis to bolster his wine knowledge. In the process of his research, he and Andree visited California’s central coast. The fell in love with the natural beauty of the San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles area and found too, that the area was prime for winegrape production.

In 1981 they purchased 10 acres in the hills above Paso Robles with the intention of creating and marketing sparkling wines on behalf of their French investors. In conjunction with these efforts John also tried his hand at producing a Cabernet Sauvignon by blending grapes purchased from nearby vineyards. His first wine, a 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon, was an immediate success. ‘Not having a lot of formal training, or a degree in microbiology I was nervous about our first release” says John. But after receiving numerous medals and glowing reviews he had the confidence to expand his operation.

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