Paso Robles AVA
Fruit produced in the vineyards is impeccable by any standards
Cass Winery was born out of Alice and Steve Cass’s attempt to find a second home in the fabulously beautiful area that is centered by the town of Paso Robles. At the time, Steve Cass was also contemplating the idea of a second career, so the evolvement of a winery/second home took root in the pair that called San Francisco home.
It was 1999, and Paso Robles was already starting to develop a buzz word following in the California wine community. The Cass’s realtor was thoroughly familiar with wine potentiality and the decision to buy suddenly became an easy one for the couple.
“It was all about potential for the future,” recalled Steve Cass, 60. “I listened to what everyone said about the area and about our property’s location. Our 146 acres seemed to have good credentials about soils and the like and the fact that we were extremely near the Templeton Gap seemed important to everyone we talked to. At the time, I knew very little about land or wine, so I figured I had better listen to the experts in the industry.”
The property was planted in 2001, utilizing ENTAV (Establissement National Technique pour l’Amelioration de la Viticulture) approved clones. ENTAV is part of the French government and conducts rigid assessments under growing conditions in order to produce the very finest varietal clones. They then license certain nurseries to produce these clones.
Whatever the background, the fruit produced at Cass Winery vineyards is impeccable by any standards. For the record, Cass produces two distinct brands, Cass Winery and Flying Nymph. Only 5,000 cases of Cass Estate wines are produced and a much smaller (2-3,000 cases) of Flying Nymph are made each year.
“We wanted to produce another label where we could really expand our production,” Steve Cass explained. “Flying Nymph really filled the bill for us.”
Flying Nymph was conceived following the death of a close friend of the Cass Family. On the way to the funeral, the couple passed a piece of artwork that was made from recycled materials. The piece held a wineglass and was in the horizontal position and was made to be able to turn in the wind. For some reason, the artwork brought their late friend to mind and the artistic angel became part of Cass Winery. Flying Nymph gives Cass Winery a great deal of flexibility in blending many of its prized collection of Rhone varietals. It’s also a vehicle where both the owners and the winemakers can have a good deal of fun.
“We’re all about enjoying the business as much as possible,” Cass continued. “Our winemaker, Lood Kotze, is full of interesting ideas. With a name like Flying Nymph, the consumer would quite probably be ready for just about anything. But, don’t get the wrong idea, we are totally serious about our wines. We just want to enjoy ourselves a bit while they are being made.”
Alice Cass is involved in many aspects of the winery operation. A classical pianist, she entertains at hosted events and provides a decorative hand along with making many of the menus for parties and special gatherings. Son Bryan Cass, 29, could be considered the assistant general manager, but, uniquely, there are no titles at Cass Winery.
Flying Nymph and Cass Winery are throwbacks to a more relaxed period in the evolution of the modern California wine industry. Their wines are heralded for their quality and their followings are growing daily. We welcome these fine Flying Nymph wines to the Gold Medal Family of great wines.
The Art of Fine Wine
This watercolor painting was done by Donna Bellas, depicting rolling vineyard hills covered in wine grapes.
About the Vineyard
All the fruit for Cass winery’s Flying Nymph wines come from its 146 planted acres in Paso Robles. The vineyards produce extremely high quality fruit due to the influences of the nearby Templeton Gap. Local heat in the form of hot air rises and produces a vacuum that eventually becomes colder at night producing a near perfect growing climate.
Paso Robles’ growing area is divided into east/west factions with great local rivalry amongst its vintners. At the beginning of Paso Robles’ rise in popularity during the 1990’s, most of the better wines were made on the city’s western side.
Today, the east is king and nearly all of the 30 – 40 wineries built in the Paso Robles area since 1995 have been located on the city’s eastern locales. Fruit from the area is in high demand for its ability to make lesser wines more palatable.
Lood Kotze - Winemaker
Winemaker Lood Kotze is 30; a South African who studied enology at Capetown's famed University of Stellenbosch. He worked for several different wineries in both South Africa and Australia before coming to the United States.
Prior to his arrival, he passed an innovative psychological test (eight other candidates also took the test) to become Cass Winery's first assistant winemaker back in 1995. A mere two years later, Kotze assumed the winemaker's job and hasn't looked back since. He brings a unique approach to winemaking and also to vineyard management, which he also controls at Cass.
His philosophy is called minimal intervention. Simply put, Kotze believes the more work that goes into the vineyard, the easier his job in the winery. He prefers a classical approach, leaving as much of the growing aspects as possible up to Mother Nature herself. The results of his work are outstanding, numerous medals and extremely high competition scores.
Steve Cass - Owner
It was most interesting to hear owner Steve Cass refer to himself most candidly as a wine-non aficionado, something of a rarity among winery owners in California. He was quick to explain himself for fear of being misunderstood.
‘I grew up in a business that was part affiliated with the stock market,” he began. ‘I worked for this company in Chicago first and then transferred to San Francisco. After twenty years, I felt it was time to find something else to do and I started looking around.
‘Alice and I came to Paso Robles and it was love at first sight. We only wanted a second home, but the prospects and beauty of the wine business were too much to overlook. I had always enjoyed wine, so the transition was easy for me. I then set about finding a number of people who were passionate about wine to make as good a finished product as possible.” Cass also admits to having learned a great deal about the business since his entry in 2001.
‘The wine business is absolutely fascinating to be around. I actually got into it thanks to a fortuitous trip to South Africa I took with one of my friends. While in the Paarl Region of South Africa, I was introduced to a great gentleman named Charles Back, the owner of Fairview Wines, whose family had produced wines for nearly eighty years. He also had a brand named Goats do Roam, a huge second label that was a trademark in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
‘We became great friends and I wound up making additional trips back to see him. At one point we became partners in Cass Winery and the rest is history,” he declared. The South African influence is immediately apparent, both in the choice of grape varietals and the splendid young winemaker Lood Kotze. Was he prepared for the excellent competition marks and high ratings by the wine industry’s press’ ‘Not really,” Cass added. ‘We set our standards extremely high, but when others feel the same way we do about our wines, well, that’s something special. It gives us even higher standards to set for ourselves. We are extremely conscious to making our vineyards work well for us. Since all of our wines (including Flying Nymph) are estate grown, we spend a great deal of time and effort working in the fields. Our winemaker believes in that philosophy, and it all makes sense to me.” Cass pointed out 2005’s completion of the winery and tasting room as major accomplishments for his business. He believes that the new buildings make his operation whole, where the process of grape growing and winemaking begins and ends. Some 10,000 square feet cover the winery and stucco barn that serves as the tasting facility and storage area.
The future seems bright for Steve Cass and his Cass/Flying Nymph wines. He looks to the latter for expansion that he states ‘could run many more thousands,” if the public likes what it sees and tastes. Steve Cass is a remarkable man with a quick and confident sense of humor. He enjoys his second life in business and probably cares more for the passionate side of wine that he chooses to admit. He has surrounded himself with a number of top professionals and is content to let them make most of the truly important calls.
With his family firmly ensconced in a place many would call among the world’s most beautiful, it is nice to see someone whose success has made him even more believable.