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Vina Robles Winery - Paso Robles


A Swiss Influenced, old world Inspired Estate

In any business, when a number of Swiss get together, the result is usually a most precise, well-organized and highly competitive entity. Such is the case with this month’s Gold Series selection, Paso Robles-based Vina Robles, a Central Coast winery that is already turning heads despite the fact is it only ten years old.

Vina Robles is the product of an association between a pair of Swiss businessmen, Hans Nef and Hans Michel (pronounced Mikel) that developed as a result of the pair’s long-term association in agricultural-related business endeavors. Growing up in a rural village just outside Zurich, Switzerland, Vina Robles’ majority owner Nef learned to appreciate his rural surroundings and the incredible blessings that agriculture provided those who worked the land. He earned a degree in civil engineering and eventually formed his own civil engineering consultancy and management firm and undertook a number of major engineering projects in and around Zurich. In the early 1990s, Nef spread his operations to an international level when he acquired two prime agricultural properties in Arkansas. It was there that Hans Nef came into contact with fellow Swiss expatriate Hans Michel whose company was actually charged with operating the Arkansas properties.

Around the same time, Nef became a serious collector of fine Bordeaux chateaux and even began a business that imported high caliber wines. During the mid 1990s, Nef became acquainted with the emerging Central Coast wine region and, in particular, the area around Paso Robles.

Taken by the natural beauty of the rugged farmland area and the incredible friendly attitude of the people he met there, he decided to expand his American agricultural holdings by purchasing three distinct tracts of land around Paso Robles with the sole purpose of establishing premium estate vineyards. These three vineyards are the foundation acreage of today’s Vina Robles Winery.

“I want Vina Robels to express a unique blend of European heritage and American opportunity,” remarked Nef. “As individuals, the principles of Vina Robles are rooted in the Old World. As winemakers, we are inspired by the New World. But both worlds bring value to what we do, and we endeavor to capture this distinction in our wines.” Vina Robles began modestly with an initial release of 772 cases in 1999. Most of the initial release went to Switzerland where it gained immediate acceptance from the always-demanding European palates. The growth rate for Vina Robles started slowly, and has remained steady in recent years. This year Vina Robles will produce about twenty-three thousand cases, a comfortable level for the time being. The new 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art tasting room and hospitality center recently opened on Highway 46 East in Paso Robles. It sits nearby Vina Robles’ three existing vineyards and boasts a unique balance of modern luxury and old world charm. A future phase will include a full-service inn to accommodate visitors from around the world.

Nef and Michel both credit their success to a number of key factors, including their Swiss winemaker, Matthias Gubler, who has carefully orchestrated all of the growth associated with Vina Robles. Brought aboard in 1999, Gubler brought an incredible winemaking resume that included stints in Switzerland, France and Italy, as well as an earlier role as harvest worker with Brutocao Cellars in Northern California’s Mendocino County. Hans Nef spends most of his time in Switzerland with his two daughters and prefers to leave the management decisions for Vina Robles to his partner Hans Michel and winemaker Matthias Gubler. Nef focuses on his extensive international real estate holdings but keeps a close eye on his favorite Central Coast entity, which he has seen grow from just an idea to a multi-faceted, award winning winery.

“What would you expect?” he offered recently through an associate. “There’s not much sexiness associated with soybeans and rice crops. But a winery like Vina Robles brings out the soul in each of us. It’s our gift and it keeps giving.”



Matthias Gubler

As a boy, Matthias Gubler worked on his family’s Pinot Noir vineyard in Switzerland. He studied Enology at Wadenswil and came to the United States to apprentice at a small winery in Northern California. He has since worked in several wineries in Switzerland, Italy and France. Contends Gubler, ‘Paso Robles is perfectly suited to big Rhone style wines. Being here is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Hans R. Michel

Even though his early business career was somewhat similar to Vina Robles’ majority owner Hans Nef, Hans R. Michel took an entirely different road to becoming President and Chief Operating Officer for the emerging Paso Robles winery, Vina Robles.

‘I was a typical Swiss youth who grew up on a farm,” offered Michel recently. ‘We lived just outside Zurich and my family supported itself by the produce from the land. I learned at an early age to appreciate the role of agriculture in our family’s lives, and of its importance to everyone’s existence.” Michel earned a degree in agricultural economics and consulting from the Technical College of Agriculture in Bern and by 1982 found himself in the United States. He worked for a large company in Tennessee where he eventually became responsible for the running of more than 375,000 acres of row crops in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. One of his soybeans and rice clients in Arkansas was a fellow Swiss investor/entrepreneur named Hans Nef.

In 1992, Hans Michel founded his own international agricultural management and consulting company with offices in several states and also Europe, whose primary function was property investment and analysis for a host of international clients. Having managed vineyards around Paso Robles as early as 1983, Hans Michel was keenly aware of the potential of California’s Central Coast growing region. When approached by his client, Hans Nef, about the possibility of further investment in the grape business, Michel acted quickly and soon formed a company called Viticultural Management that specialized in high caliber Central Coast vineyards.

In 1995, the Jardine Vineyard off Tower Road became Vina Robles’ first working entity. Through a clever arrangement, some 95% of its grapes were contracted to prestigious Meridian Vineyards, a contract that remains in force today. The contract also provided excellent cash flow for the young company. As Vina Robles’ majority owner, Hans Nef’s investment ventures continued to grow (he also owned restaurants in Europe), and he began to see the development of Vina Robles into more than a grape producing company. Additional vineyards were planted and Nef convinced Hans Michel to become involved with the development of Vina Robles as a major winery entity. Hans Michel agreed to a mutual relationship and became a minority investor as well as president of the growth-oriented winery.

‘I had always had an interest in wine since I was really young,” he explained. ‘Remember, the drinking age for wine in Switzerland is 16, and I took advantage of that. When Hans Nef decided to really do it right in the planning and development of Vina Robles, I was truly excited to become part of such an operation.” Hans Michel is also delighted to be able to be part of the project from its development through its completion, literally from A to Z. He put it simply: ‘How many people get this sort of chance with an upscale, vibrant company on the rise’ And then, there’s also the prospect of the marketing of our company to consider. In my mind, marketing’s a really important aspect of any company’s development and I feel really special to be included. I am truly a lucky person.” Also in the back of his mind is his family, who returned to Switzerland for his two daughters’ educations. One daughter, Simone, has worked at the winery for the past two summers and looks to be leaning toward joining her father in the winery business.

‘That would be quite special,” Michel concluded. ‘It would mean everything to me.”

About The Region

Paso Robles is located approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the northern part of San Luis Obispo County. Thirty miles inland, its warm climate is due to the Santa Lucia Mountains that block out most of the cooling Pacific Ocean influence during the day. The Templeton Gap is a saddle in the range that channels the moderating late afternoon breezes and cool night air across the region.

Geographically diverse, the appellation of Paso Robles is home to numerous soil types and elevation changes, and diverse valleys and canyons, which together account for varied climates and sites that yield a high quality production of diverse varietals, most notably reds. Vina Robles sources the majority of its grapes from its three estate Paso Robles vineyards (Huerhuero, Jardine, and Pleasant Valley), each on the east side of the appellation. The winery, situated in close proximity to all three, is fortunate to be in the position to source fruit from these excellent vineyards for the Vina Robles label.


Chef Clay Sipes’ Cioppino with Champagne Tomato Broth


Ingredients

4 Large Shrimp
4 Large Scallops
½ Pound Little Neck Clams
½ Pound Blue Mussels
6 Ounces fresh Halibut
½ Cup small diced Green Bell Pepper
½ Cup diced Yellow Onion
1 Tablespoon fresh Minced Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
1 Teaspoon Dry Oregano
5 Ounces chopped Italian Tomatoes (including juice)
1½ Cups of Champagne
1 Cup Fish Stock
1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
¼ Cup Basil
¼ Cup Parmesan Reggiano


Instructions

To make broth, heat olive oil and add bell pepper and onion in a small sauce pan. Sweat for five minutes, stirring occasionally, and add garlic. Season with salt and pepper and add herbs and crushed red pepper. Add fish stock and Champagne, and then simmer for five minutes to concentrate flavors. Finish with tomatoes and juice, and simmer for an additional five minutes. Set aside.

To finish entrée, sauté scallops and shrimp in large skillet with salt and pepper. Scallops should have a nice brown sear to them. Continue by adding clams, mussels and halibut on top. Add an additional half-cup of Champagne to skillet and return the sauce that was set aside into skillet. With a gentle stir, even out all items. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve in large bowl and finish with fresh lemon zest, fresh chopped basil, and Parmesan Reggiano.



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