The Wine Enthusiast magazine rates this wine a top-notch, 91-Points.
It is generally acknowledged that the finest growing area in Monterey County is centered in an area known as the Santa Lucia Highlands, part of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range that provides magnificent separation for the Pacific Ocean and the sprawling Salinas Valley to the East. Now that the Santa Lucia Highlands is an officially approved appellation or AVA as it is commonly referred to in California, it is not uncommon to see world class wines being produced from its grapes.
It is conceded that the Santa Lucia AVA accumulated less degree-days than other Monterey AVA’s because it is closer to the maritime influence of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This causes the fog to dissipate early because of the high elevation of the alluvial benches, thereby extending the periods of morning sunshine. The soils are wonderfully texterous, mostly loam, gravely loam and silty loam, and excellent underlying gravely material. Such conditions favor excellent drainage, a must for insuring really top varietal production.
The area is quite rugged, yet is provides one of the most flawless cooler growing areas in the entire Central Coast Region for a number of premium varietals, mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If the Smith Family, owners of Paraiso Springs Winery, have their way about it, there’s good reason to add another of their favorite varietals, Syrah, to the revered list.
About six years ago, Rich Smith planted his seven-acre “Wedding Hill” Vineyard in Syrah to commemorate his daughter’s wedding and the decision and resulting vineyards have far exceeded his initial hopes. As far as this estate vineyard is concerned, a number of important considerations contributed to their success.
The key element to grape growing in the Santa Lucia Highlands is the fierce Pacific winds, or rather the control and containment of these winds which tend to cool everything in sight and historically have presented local grape growers with ongoing headaches for decades. By facing the double row terraces south, Smith insured that the vines are protected from the wind and therefore would benefit from the heat that radiates off the hillside.
Paraiso Springs is also fiercely concerned about the terroir, or microclimate that embodies its plantings. Among the local growers, its generally accepted that the Smiths vineyards are the finest in the southern section while Robert Talbott’s classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir acres are the top varietals further north.
Rich Smith planted his first vines back in 1976 and must be considered through tenure and proaction as one of the pioneers of the Monterey County fine wine group. With his wife Claudia, the Smiths now control more than 3,000 acres of vineyards of which a little over 400 is considered estate by Paraiso Springs Winery.
Even as their vineyard management prospered and grew, the Smiths have determined to keep Paraiso Springs a family affair. Their son Jason helps manage the vineyard operation and son-in-law David Fleming works along with several consulting winemakers to insure the quality aspects of the wines are in keeping with his family’s standards and ideals.
Both Rich and Claudia Smith have been active for many years in Monterey County wine circles, a period that has seen the number of labels grow from six to nearly thirty in the past two decades. Education has been a paramount aim of the family and the entire family boasts various degrees from the University of California at Davis.
Even with a great amount of grapes from which to choose, the Smiths have chosen to keep Paraiso Springs Winery on the small side, with present production hovering around the 15,000 case mark. Present plans call for Paraiso Springs to remain at its present production level.
And the Syrah? “The Syrah presented our family of white grape growers with a wonderful opportunity to get into red wine production,” remarked winemaker David Fleming. “From the initial response and the quality of the grapes themselves, the likelihood is that we will be expanding our production in the near future.”
Good news for all Gold Medal Wine Club members who will undoubtedly appreciate and embrace this exceptional Rhone varietal from Paraiso Springs Winery.
When Richard Smith moved his family to Monterey County in the early 1970’s, he did so with a perceptive eye to the future. His degree in Agricultural Sciences and Management from UC Davis and a few years working experience as a tech representative for various companies dealing mostly with plant nutrition were enough to push him from the technical side of agribusiness into the production end of wine industry.
When the Smiths arrived in Monterey thirty years ago from nearby Campbell in Santa Clara County with their small family, the Monterey wine growing industry was less than five years old. Even then, Richard Smith’s prospective was clearly defined.
‘I wanted an area that contained a wide open horizon for my family and for our work, Smith recently recalled. ‘I had a choice between Sonoma and Monterey and I just felt that the Central Coast had more to offer.”
Smith began a business that involved vineyard management and ownership and today controls over 3,000 acres of prime Monterey grapes. A choice portion of those, some 400 acres, is considered estate for Paraiso Springs Vineyards.
‘When I was here for a few years, I realized an important fact,” Smith added. ‘It was apparent that the general viticultural knowledge that California growers possessed at the time needed to be modified regarding individual geography and climates. Not every grape grew creditably in every place and the learning curve was slow and tedious.”
The 55-year old owner of Paraiso Springs feels that the Central Coast has grown and matured a great deal in the last three decades. He recalled that when he first attempted to plant Pinot Noir in 1973, only two clones were available. Today, some twenty plus Pinot Noir Clones are readily available to the growers in his region.
He also remembers the time in the late 1960’s when California produced more dessert wines than table. ‘It wasn’t until 1967 or ’68 that the production numbers began to favor table wines,” he grinned. By today’s numbers, it’s a bit difficult to comprehend the dessert thing.”
Paraiso Springs’ own growth over the same time had been incredibly slow and deliberate, mirroring Smith’s individual business philosophy. Paraiso Springs produces about 15,000 cases annually, and has no plans for expanding production in the near future. Smith also prides himself on having planted the correct varietals when Paraiso Springs first broke ground in 1973. Two of his favorites, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, prospered in Monterey but were never commercially accepted. ‘We’ve only kept the ones that made sense,” he offered, ‘it’s the only way you can stay in business today.”
Paraiso Springs intends to build a new winery on their estate property sometime in 2003 or 2004, once County planning and building requirements have been met. The new winery site is less than a mile from Paraiso Spring’s spectacular tasting room facility that offers what is often described as one of the finest views in all Northern California.
The new winery building will be another near reflection of Richard Smith’s overall plan for success in the wine industry. Little money will be spent on architecture and major emphasis will be on equipment and state of the art facilities. According to the Smith concept of success, that formula fits perfectly with the needs of today’s modern winery operation.
Richard Smith is also quite proud of the critical success of his son-in-law/winemaker David Fleming who started in the business selling the family’s wines. Sometime in 1995, Fleming and Richard’s wife Claudia started producing Paraiso Springs wines at other winery facilities. Today, Fleming is full-time winemaker and his wines have earned a high number of medals in top competitions, a fact that brings another smile to Richard Smith.
‘If I would be permitted to make an analogy,” he spoke carefully, ‘I would consider Paraiso Springs to be something like the Tortoise in the old fable. For quite some time, I have told everyone that we are not in a hurry, and that we all are well aware of where we are going. With the new winery facility, I might change my options a little, but certainly not too much.”
Would there were more Richard Smith’s in the world, where perspective and dedication are the most important criteria to consider. This month’s wine club Gold series selections are proof positive of his success.