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Midnight Cellars

Paso Robles AVA


The latest rising star from Paso Robles wine country.

OK, raise your hands, how many of you have ever fantasized about quitting your job and starting a winery? You and your family, and maybe some extended family too, would move to wine country, buy a piece of land, refurbish the old house, convert the barn into a winery, plant some vines and you’re living the dream. Although it’s not even remotely close to being that simple, you can now live vicariously through members of the Hartenberger family who are experiencing your dream at this very moment.

It all started in the summer of 1993, when the Hartenberger family was enjoying a getaway to Napa and Sonoma. While sitting on the back patio at Domaine Carneros, Rich Hartenberger made a half-serious comment to his dad, Robert Hartenberger, that he should start a winery when he retired and Rich and his wife Michele would run it for him.

Laughed at and forgotten, years later it became a possibility. Robert decided to retire early from his career as a patent attorney and was still full of energy and passion to begin a new venture. He amazingly remembered Rich’s idea and said to him, “if you were serious about this winery thing, I’m in.” Rich was newly married and living in Chicago with his wife Michele, but they both promptly quit their jobs (Rich was a product manager for a medical supply company and Michele was a biochemist), sold their house and one of their cars, and drove to California to start a new life. It sounds crazy, but it happened!

The family purchased a 160-acre plot of land located on the west side of Paso Robles in 1994 and the first order of business was to turn the old house into a winery and the barley field into a vineyard. The barn required extensive refurbishing to retrofit the stainless steel tanks, French and American oak barrels, water treatment systems, and hundreds of other devices, and after planting just 450 vines of the planned 11,000, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they were in for the long haul. Sure, it was going to be expensive and hard work, but the Hartenberger family started this winery with one idea in mind: to create the best wines possible and wines they could be proud of. They were not about to cut any corners. Today, their hard work has paid off as the family manages 30 planted acres on their Paso Robles property and their Midnight Cellars wines have won a plethora of awards over the years.

With now over twenty-five years in the vineyards and winery, Rich Hartenberger enjoys the role of family winemaker and owner of Midnight Cellars. The focus remains on keeping wine accessible, affordable, and fun for everyone and the winery has become one of the darlings of California’s Central Coast. We are happy to share Midnight Cellars with our Gold Wine Club members and hope you enjoy two of their latest releases. Cheers!

Map of the area

Wine Wizard

Picture of Wine Wizard

1. What is the job of a Sommelier?
Sommeliers, or wine stewards, are trained and knowledgeable wine professionals commonly working in fine restaurants and specializing in all aspects of wine services, including food and wine pairing. Sommeliers typically develop wine lists, train the other restaurant staff, and work along with the culinary team to pair and suggest wines to best complement each menu item. Sommeliers also often work the floor of the restaurant, in direct contact with customers to suggest options within their taste and budget preferences.

2. When were oak barrels first used for the storage and aging of wine?
The use of oak has been prevalent in winemaking for at least two millenia, first coming into widespread use during the Roman Empire. In time, winemakers discovered that beyond just storage convenience that wine kept in oak barrels took on properties that improved the wine by making it softer, and in some cases, better tasting. Robert Mondavi is credited with expanding the knowledge of winemakers in the United States about the different types of oak and barrel styles through his experimentation in the 1960s and 1970s.

3. How much wine evaporates from an oak barrel in one year?
The porous nature of an oak barrel allows some levels of evaporation and oxygenation to occur in wine, but typically not at levels that would cause spoilage. In a year, the typical 60-gallon barrel can lose anywhere from 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 gallons of wine through evaporation. This is actually a good thing, allowing the wine to further concentrate its flavor and aroma compounds.

The Art of Fine Wine

Picture of The Art of Fine Wine


A vibrantly colored watercolor painting done by Barbara Sowinski, a well traveled artist who has studied and painted all over the world.

About the Vineyard

Picture of About the Vineyard

The renowned wine country of Paso Robles is located on California’s Central Coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Established in 1983, and expanded in 1997, then again in 2009, the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) is California’s fastest wine growing region and largest geographic appellation.

The territory encompasses more than 26,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, located among diverse landforms that range from river bottoms to rolling hills, and flatlands to mountains. With major temperature swings, distinct microclimates, diverse soils, and a long growing season, Paso Robles is truly a unique wine region blessed with optimal growing conditions for producing premium and ultra-premium wines.

Midnight Cellars is specifically located on Paso Robles’ west side in the sub region known as the Templeton Gap. This area benefits from the flow of cool marine air from the Pacific Ocean, dropping nighttime temperatures lower than other regions of Paso Robles and creating a typically longer growing season. Grapes from the Templeton Gap are known for bright fruit flavors and excellent natural acidity, so necessary for producing world-class wines.

Midnight Cellars’ estate vineyard is planted on the hillside and hilltop of their 160-acre ranch, in shale and limestone-rich soils, with elevation changes of 500 feet. The southwest sloping hills face the Pacific Ocean, influencing a temperature swing of 40-50 degrees from daytime to nighttime. This setting is an ideal home to the Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Chardonnay planted there.

Rich Hartenberger - Winemaker

Picture of Rich Hartenberger - Winemaker

Rich Hartenberger, a former hospital bedding salesman from Chicago, Illinois, is Midnight Cellars’ famed winemaker. Under the careful direction of a consultant, Rich began carrying out all winemaking duties for the family winery from the get-go and went on to learn necessary skills from winemaking books, practical experience, college chemistry courses, and from helpful neighboring winemakers. He adamantly believes that working with great grapes makes winemaking a simple testament to the soil, the region, and the varietal. It is his goal to craft wines that are varietally correct and age worthy, while expressing the site they come from.

Rich enjoys spending time in the Tasting Room as well (which his wife Michele manages), introducing visitors to his latest achievements and taking guests into the barrel room for private samplings. When not at the winery, Rich is either traveling the country selling Midnight wines or home watching the Chicago Bears, White Sox, and Bulls.

Rich, Bob & Mary Jane Hartenberger

Picture of Rich, Bob & Mary Jane Hartenberger

It wasn't until Bob Hartenberger began traveling extensively in the 1980's that he became interested in wine. "It was a gradual appreciation that grew out of many business dinners and meeting people with varying degrees of wine knowledge," recalls Bob. "I became more and more intrigued with not only wine itself, but with the scientific aspect and finally started making wine in the basement of our home in the Chicago area."

The Hartenberger family was living in Chicago by way of St. Louis where Bob grew up. He attended St. Louis University in the 1950's, earning degrees in both Chemistry and Law. A brief and dissatisfying stint at Shell Oil immediately after college led to locally headquartered Monsanto Corporation where Bob found his career niche. Using his educational background in both chemistry and law Bob was hired as a Patent Attorney in 1962.

Bob stayed at Monsanto for 11 years before moving to Chicago to become Chief Patent Lawyer for American Hospital Supply Corporation. For 17 years the Hartenbergers lived in Chicago, during which time the company was bought by another company, Baxter Corporation. Then in 1990 Bob was transferred to Glendale California to become General Counsel at a new corporate location.

Four years later, Bob retired the corporate life and decided to take on a completely new challenge. Even though he was already keenly interested in wines and was still making wine on a very small scale at home, something must have hit a chord during a trip to Napa that year. Bob and Mary Jane met son Rich and his wife Michele in the northern wine country for weekend of wine tasting. As millions of people do each year, the Hartenbergers thought of how great a lifestyle it would be to own and operate their own winery. "The thought grew on me for an entire year before finally taking the plunge," recalls Bob.

To Bob and his family, it seems longer than the twenty-three years that have flown by since buying their 160-acre plot of land in the heart of Central California’s wine country. Bob’s due diligence took him to every section of California’s wine producing regions before choosing to locate in the Paso Robles area. He had looked everywhere from Napa and Sonoma to southern California’s Temecula, but settled on the Central Coast, believing it had just the right balance. Land was far less expensive than in Northern California, yet it was renowned for producing premium wines. The Paso Robles area was the logical spot to land.

“What’s appealing too,” Bob notes, “is that the area still has the unspoiled beauty and charm of real wine country with a feeling of close-knit cooperation among our friends and neighbors.”

The Midnight Cellars tasting room exhibits this rustic charm as well, located adjacent to their 10,000 square foot opener winery on Anderson Road. The large space has a long tasting bar looking out behind the winery to a grassy lawn where visitors can relax, sip wine, and take in the clean country air. Bob and Rich are also known to offer spontaneous barrel tastings, as they enjoy showing off their latest blends and recent efforts to enthusiastic guests.

Today, the Hartenbergers are proud to say that their dream became a reality, and they are living it each and every day.