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Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Castoro Cellars - Paso Robles, California Central

91-Points, Very Highly Recommended - California Grapevine

Owners Niels and Berit Udsen have been content to slowly increase production just as fast as they could handle selling the wine by themselves. When they began the winery in 1983, Niels was still working at Estrella River Winery gaining valuable experience in just about every phase of the business. He would make his own Castoro wine on the weekends and his wife, Berit, would go out and sell it. “At first we just wanted to make a few barrels of wine for our friends and family,” recalls Niels. “Everyone thought it was great wine so we started selling to area restaurants and stores. We just kept making more and more each year.”

By 1986 things got to be more than Niels could handle on a part-time basis, so he quit Estrella River to devote full time to his own venture. “We had no employees,” states Niels. “It was just me and my wife doing everything,” he says. Out came a thousand cases, then two the next year, then three the year after that. “We made a little bit of a lot of different wines for a winery of our size,” admits Niels.

Niels owned no vineyard or winery building in those days so he purchased grapes from dozens of different vineyards and leased facilities to make the wine. “I’ve bought grapes from over 40 different vineyards,” says Niels. “It has given me great flexibility in producing a consistently good product every year.” And that consistency has paid off for Castoro Cellars. Throughout the 1980s they methodically carved a small but comfortable niche in the wine market.

Niels developed another niche too during that period. He recognized that wineries on the central coast needed “custom-crush” services readily available. A lot of wineries like his were still too small to have their own crushing equipment. And even more wineries did not have on-premise machinery to bottle the finished wine. Consequently, Niels purchased a large Europress for these small wineries to have available to lease. He also developed a mobile bottling line that could be transported right to the winery site. Now, instead of having to transport grapes and/or finished wine to other parts of California, wineries had a local source. With less handling and faster turn-around time a potentially better quality wine could be made.

By the early 1990s there were no facilities available on the central coast that were big enough to house his rapidly growing custom-crush operation and the ever expanding Castoro Cellars wine business. So, in 1991 the Udsens found a permanent facility for their enterprises—an old abandoned winery building located in the same area, situated on 200 acres of land. The land surrounding the building is potentially good soil for establishing vineyards but as of yet none have been planted. Instead, Niels took advantage of yet another opportunity by purchasing two separate vineyards in the area that came up for sale. He knew they were excellent vineyards because he had been buying fruit from both spots for a number of years.

Of the two vineyards the Udsens acquired, one they named Hog Heaven after the wild hogs that used to roam the property, and the second, was named Blind Faith. The latter vineyard got its name when the opportunity to buy the vineyard came up when Niels’ wife was in Denmark. Collectively, the two made a quick decision to buy the property based on blind faith. Now with their own vineyards to use, Niels estimates the fruit takes care of about half the fruit he needs.

Currently, Castoro Cellar’s principal varietal wines include Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, White Zinfandel and to a lesser extent, Sauvignon Blanc. They also bottle three to four tasting-room-only wines in very small quantities, including this month’s very special Giubbini Vineyard Zinfandel. “We’d like to build up production on all of these wines,” admits Niels. “But we’ll do it like we always have—by ramping up slow and easy.” Maintaining quality while increasing production has always been a challenging task for small wineries. Castoro is fortunate to have had the same expert production team since 1990. Wine-industry veterans Tom Myers and Mikel Olsten are key players in the hundreds of awards earned by Castoro Cellars over the years.