CERRO PRIETO VINEYARD
TEN QUESTIONS WITH LARRY STANTON, M.D.
Making wine is just what the doctor ordered.
Cerro Prieto Vineyard
The grapes are turning color in vineyards around the Central Coast and the wine industry is getting ready for a busy time of year – bringing in the 2010 fruit. At Cerro Prieto Vineyard & Cellars owners Larry and Teresa Stanton are preparing for harvest. Larry took time out from vineyard work to answer Ten Questions with Lynn Diehl. www.cerroprietovineyard.com
Q: You are a physician, an outdoorsman, you farmed and now you’re a grape grower and wine maker. When people ask what you “do” – which title do you use?
A: I’ve also written two books; short stories both, on tales from around the Baja campfire! The first book, "Glory days of Baja" sold out. A second book followed, "Arriba Baja”. Together we sold some 7500 copies. The stories are all humorous, are rich with unforgettable characters, incredible events, and hundreds of stories, told and retold around campfires from Baja to Argentina, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Canada, Spain, to Zambia and back. As an aside, just before the battle for Fallujah took place, I sent both books to General Dave Petraeus with a note, that with all his coming worries and problems, he might enjoy reading a story each night before bedtime. To my surprise he responded with a nice letter, and we became pen pals. I then sent several hundred books, which were distributed to units from Basra on the Gulf to Kirkuk. So another title is author, which I use only at book signings. Currently I’m writing a two more books. So, to make a short story long, I answer to the title of Larry. I do pro bono medicine for family, friends, and old patients, and they almost always insist on using "doc". I let folks call me what they wish, but when asked, "what do you do", I may ask, "Do you really want to know?"
Q: Cerro Prieto is on the Westside, in the Templeton Gap, Willow Creek area, which has some pretty fine wine neighbors. From your perspective what elements are at work here to produce exceptional fruit?
A: We (Cerro Prieto, L'Aventure, Booker, Jack Creek, Linne Calodo, and Justin Smith at Saxum) all are in the heart of the heart of Paso Wine country, with not just superb, but outrageous terroir with southern exposure, ideal limestone soils, and the day night temperature splits of 55 to 65 degrees - that and the dedication and conviction to prune our vines to 2 Tons/acre or less (really it is 3 to 4 lbs/vine or less). The terroir plus the dedication to low crop yields are what make our wines so spectacular.
Q: I understand you tried to sell the property for many years before you woke up and smelled the coffee or - in this case - the wine. How many times a week do you think about how lucky you are that you didn’t?
A: Well, I don't think about it much, unless someone asks about the "journey" such as you did, and then it all comes back to me, just as if it were yesterday. Yes, I was incredibly lucky, and have no idea where my life would be had we not made the decision to move here and put in a "small vineyard".
Q: I learned from your blog that you have family in France. Is there a winemaking tradition in your family?
A: No, no winemaking in the family. Well, yes, because all Frenchmen in Bordeaux make some wine. But no, no real winemakers are in the family. They all drink superb wine daily, however, at lunch and dinner.
Q: You were fortunate to visit Bordeaux thirty years ago and be introduced by your aunt and grandmother to vignerons. What do you recall about the tour and would you like to relive it knowing what you know now?
A: Wow, what I recall about the tour was that it was of the whirlwind type and ended up in massive caves below the many Chateaux of Bordeaux, St. Emilion, and all other nearby recognizable environs. My grandma and aunt knew all the families, in that their "bakery"/home was in the family since 1767, so I got to see every big name you have ever read about. The crime? I was absolutely clueless about what I was being exposed to, although I certainly enjoyed the fabulous wines from casks in caverns that were filled with wines I can only dream about today. I was a casual wine drinker, liked beer better, but thoroughly enjoyed seeing all those beautiful chateaux, both grounds and caves. How that tour would have been now? I can't even imagine. I had a fabulous time, but just didn't understand how lucky I was to have seen such history and greatness. Would I like to do it again? Don't you know it and the invite was there just 3 weeks ago so, I have to make some time for it soon or the chance might pass me by.
Q: Do you have an affinity for Bordeaux, Rhone or Burgundy varietals?
A: Yes, all the above. But my favorite, by far, are the Bordeaux wines. Oddly, my favorite wine is one we produce, a Bordeaux/ Rhone blend, our Paso Bordo. Incidentally, Paso Bordo is a double entendre the obvious, Spanish Bordo for French Bordeaux, but also, since we are on the southern end of the Paso AVA , but are also on the northern face of the Templeton Gap, we are on the border in between, and "bordo" in Spanish translates as "border", hence the name, Bordo.
Q: You offer an Eco-tour of your vineyard, are very conscious of possible health effects from chemicals and utilize sustainable practices. Are you considering becoming organic and what are the challenges in doing so?
A: Lynn, we would never become organic, in that those up in Napa who did so ran afoul of not using the necessary sprays prior to verasion, and have gotten into trouble, which required a fix of using more noxious sprays than they would have had to use normally. That has also happened here locally, so anyone truly organic, is playing with a lit match. Most "organic" places have a bloc or two deemed organic. Going whole hog organic to me is like playing craps in Las Vegas, and I don't enjoy gambling. Yes some folks do it, and I say more power to them. But it is just a risk I am not in a position to take. I like to say we are going towards green. There are dozens of environmentally friendly things we have done to be good stewards of our environment and soils, but organic? No way.
Q: Your 2006 Reserve Merlot sold out. Now, at one point you mentioned that at one time you didn’t think you liked Merlot, but you liked this one! Do I have that comment correct? What changed your mind or your taste?
A: Actually, I am not a Merlot drinker (that was in another lifetime, 40 yrs ago), and personally don't particularly care for Merlot - until I drank a really great one, ours, from 1Ton/acre. I grew it to blend, but when we got ready to blend, adding Cab, or Syrah lessened it. It was truly a stand alone Merlot, and the 2 International gold medals attested to that. To show you how smart I am, I grew the 2007 Merlot as a stand alone, and it was nowhere near the wine the 2006 was. So, I tinkered with this and that, and 12 % Cab plus 8% Syrah made this Merlot better than the stand-alone. Go figure.
Q: The 2006 Paso Bordo was a head turner, as well. What foods do you like matching with that wine?
A: That's easy. Home grilled Angus rib eye steak, all pastas, but especially Teresa's lasagna, and lastly, really yummy cheeses. My favorites are French Cheddar and Huntsman.
Q: You’ll be joining the wineries that are available at Meritage in Paso Robles. Do you have an opening date yet and will you be pouring so people can come say hi?
A: The opening date should be in Sept, late. We got TTB (feds) okay Aug 5, and had that in hands of ABC same day. Should be 2-4 weeks from then, but with the incredible delays, I don't want to jinx us and say for sure. We are shooting to be at Meritage by end of Sept, but once we get ABC ok, we're there. So, it could be mid Sept, or even Sept 5. Trying to guess the regulatory process is pointless. I am getting better though, because after we went thru this permitting process for 3 and a half yrs for a winery/ tasting room here, and then had to deep six it do to county costs of road rehabilitation. We will be pouring at Meritage once we have approval in hand!