Tasting Wines Direct from the Vineyards: Estrella Farms

Vineyards in Paso Robles, California
When I sample wines, they are often blends of grapes from different vineyards. Some grapes come from vineyards owned by the winery while others are purchased from various growers. And sometimes these growers save a portion of their harvest to make their own wines.

Recently I was invited to taste the wines made by Lee and Lorraine Steele, the owners of Estrella Farms in the Paso Robles region of California. Estrella’s grapes are mainly sold to some of the region’s most famous wineries: Justin Vineyards and Winery and Tablas Creek Vineyard.

The vineyards of Estrella Farms are planted only to cabernet sauvignon and syrah, and the Steeles make a couple wines from these grapes. Their own Cabernet Sauvignon goes into neutral French oak for 20 months before they hand-bottle the wine. They add 2% of their syrah to “tone down” the cab, and the wine is unfiltered.

Tasting this way, it was fascinating to see the features that stand out in Estrella’s wine: what Justin would value as blending elements. Estrella’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasant aperitif wine. It had light, bright fruit — though a bit indistinct in flavor — and very little finish. (Justin, I assume, has other grapes to round out the finish in their wines.)

Estrella’s 2011 Syrah was a more balanced wine (with the addition of 5% of their own cabernet sauvignon), with good acidity and bright, cooked fruit and cocoa flavors, as well as some buttery toffee notes and a moderate finish. Most of Estrella’s syrah goes to Tablas Creek, a winery well-known for its Rhone-style blends, and this Estrella wine was a quality component, a nice wine in its own right.