Paso Robles AVA
One of Paso Robles' oldest and finest family wineries
Niels and Berit Udsen began their winery in 1983 while Niels was still working at Estrella River Winery. Gaining valuable experience in just about every phase of the business, he would make his own 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 my wife and I doing everything.” 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. Aside from the Zinfandel that a lot of wineries were giving up on in the mid 1980s, Niels crafted small batches of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and White Zinfandel.
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. Throughout the 1980s they methodically carved a small but comfortable niche in the wine market.
Niels developed another niche 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 his own ever expanding 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 has been planted with various varietals including Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah and since it is just a stone’s throw from the office at the winery, it was named accordingly – “Stone’s Throw Vineyard.” Niels took advantage of yet another opportunity by purchasing two more separate vineyards in the area that came up for sale. He knew they were excellent vineyards because he had been buying fruit from both locations for a number of years.
Niels and Berit have come from making a few barrels of wine for their friends in a rented corner of someone else’s winery, to developing a 15,000-ton custom-crush operation and a 60,000-case winery. And they are now in their own building, with their own equipment, using grapes from their own 750-acres of vineyards! Quite an accomplishment.
The Udsens actually acquired three vineyards, one named Hog Heaven after the wild hogs that roam the property. The second vineyard is named Blind Faith, after the circumstance to buy the vineyard came up when Niels’s wife was in Denmark. The two made a quick decision to purchase the property based on blind faith. The third vineyard, Dos Viñas, is named for the two varietals grown on the property: Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Shortly thereafter, additional land was purchased on the west side of the appellation. The 350 acres of new property surrounds the tasting room and contains the newly planted Bethel Road and Cobble Creek vineyards. Being organically farmed, the Bethel Road Vineyard contains various varietals with Zinfandel being the primary vine and has become a pet project for Niels and Bimmer.
Currently, the winery’s principal varietal wines include Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. They also bottle Cabernet Franc, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Malbec that are produced in very small quantities and that are only-tasting-room wines. “We’d like to build up production on all of our 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.
Owners Niels and Berit Udsen are fortunate to have had the same expert production team since 1990. Wine-industry veterans Tom Myers, winemaker, and Mikel Olsten, assistant winemaker, are key players in the hundreds of awards earned over the years.
Tom Myers - Winemaker
Tom Myers is one of the most highly respected winemakers in California. He has been creating wines in the Paso Robles region since 1978, and has created wines for Castoro Cellars since 1990. Myers began his winemaking career at Estrella River Winery, which is where he met and mentored Niels Udsen. Niels went on to create the Castoro Cellars brand and in 1990, Myers joined the Castoro team as Head Winemaker.
Voted the 2002 Winemaker of the Year by the California Mid-State Fair, Myers takes an active role in the local wine industry and is fully committed to the Castoro Cellars brand.
Niels Udsen - Owner
‘I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Niels Udsen candidly says about his career plans. ‘Until one of my last classes in my final year of college.” At the time, Niels was a student at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, studying Agriculture. That particular course required him to do a marketing project and vineyard feasibility study for nearby winery, Zaca Mesa. ‘From that point on I knew I wanted to be in the wine business,” he says.
Niels was born and raised on California’s Central Coast, in the city of Ventura. His father is from Denmark and came over in the late 1940s with a dream to be an American farmer. ‘I spent a lot of summers in the field,” Niels groans. His father’s dream turned into a highly successful business that produced bulk-seeds for use by farmers and packaged seeds for consumers.
When Niels was a teenager he went to live in Denmark with the family of his father’s best friend. The trip proved to be a fortuitous event in Niels’s life. While he was there he met his future bride, Berit. He also learned to make wine, taught by his father’s friend. Not yet knowing the impact that visit would have on his life, Niels returned to California to finish high school and college. He and Berit kept in touch through the years and when Niels went back to Denmark after college they got married.
When the newlyweds returned to California, Niels was willing to take on just about any job that would get him into the wine business. After knocking on the doors of dozens of wineries throughout the state, he was hired by Estrella River Winery.
Ironically, it was located very near San Luis Obispo where he attended school. There he paid his dues as a ‘cellar rat” before graduating to various other duties. ‘I did a little bit of everything while I was there,” he recalls. ‘It was a good way to learn the business.”
And learn he did. While he was there the winery had begun to lease their facilities to independent winemakers who were producing their own private-label wines. Niels figured he could do that as well, so he too began making wine. He stayed at Estrella River for five years, until 1986 when his own winemaking venture required full attention.
Niels and Berit (or ‘Bimmer,” as her friends call her) live about a half-mile from the Castoro Cellars tasting room just off Highway 46, near Templeton. They have two boys, Max, and Luke. Oh, and by the way, the name ‘Castoro” is the Italian word for beaver, which was Niels’ nickname as he was growing up. He learned that fact while on an extended trip in Italy after he finished up high school. He always like the name Castoro and it seemed an appropriate name for his ‘dam fine wine!”