After a conversation over the phone with Lindsey Armstrong-Strawn, we decided to meet at their new tasting room that was then, still under construction. For two weeks, the only thing I could think of was the construction dust getting in my camera sensor.
All of my silly photographer's nightmares about dust vanished when we entered Epoch's stunning new tasting room. Lindsey walked us around while explaining every single detail about the historic site that once was the York Mountain Winery.
Every inch of the tasting room is a reflection of Bill's passion for geology and the family's exquisite taste and love for preservation.
If you love rich, textured and elegant wines, and you want to learn more about Paso Robles' history, Epoch is a must stop.
Note of the photographer: Don't miss the 2013 Authenticity. Buy three bottles. Drink one now, one a year from now and save one bottle in your cellar and drink it a couple years from now, when you've already forgotten you had it.
I hope you enjoy the Armstrong's profile from our book "The Winemakers of Paso Robles" as much as I enjoyed meeting them.
Here's Bill & Liz Armstrong's Profile, excerpted from "The Winemakers of Paso Robles" book, written by Paul Hodgins.
Epoch Tasting Room
Open daily, 10a to 4p
7505 York Mountain Road
Templeton, CA 93465
Bill and Liz Armstrong knew they’d love Paso Robles from the first time they saw it. “It’s those beautiful calcareous formations,” said Bill, who like his wife is a geologist by training (they met as freshman at Southern Methodist University). “We love Rhône wines, and this is the best place on the West Coast to make them.”
“I was always a cork dork. I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘I want to do more than simply enjoy wine. I want to make it.’ The other thing we loved about this place was the people. Where else do you meet millionaires who are happy to live in a single-wide? Here, it’s all about the wine. Nobody cares much about anything else.”
The Armstrongs also appreciated Paso’s winemaking history. “We were attracted to a property with a rich legacy,” Liz said.
In March of 1882, Indiana rancher Andrew York bought 120 acres of rolling land on the eastern slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains west of Paso Robles. He slowly added to his spread over the next few years, planted grapes, and soon owned the first winery on the Central Coast.
In 1913, Polish concert pianist and states-man Ignacy Jan Paderewski arrived in Paso Robles, hoping its mineral baths would ease his rheumatoid arthritis. He decided to make it a second home and began to farm, establishing the 2,000-acre Rancho San Ignacio on Peachy Canyon Road. After Prohibition, Paderewski started making wine at the York Mountain winery after planting grapes on the property. It quickly won accolades and respect, bringing Paso Robles its first recognition as a region for quality wine.
The Armstrongs purchased York Mountain from David Weyrich, who had operated the winery since he bought it in 2001. Before it succumbed to foreclosure in 2010, York Mountain had been the oldest continually operating winery in California’s Central Coast.
The Armstrongs knew they were buying a diamond in the rough. The Paderewski vineyard needed to be completely replanted. The old York Mountain winery was badly damaged in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake; Bill was determined to rebuild it, stone by stone. The couple bought four Percherons – large draft horses – with the thought of putting them to work with a plow, as was common years ago. “That didn’t turn out,” Liz said. “Now they’re just really big pets.” All are trained for saddle riding, so the family and Epoch team have lots of fun with them.
For advice on revitalizing their property, The Armstrongs turned to Justin Smith of Saxum. “This was before he became really famous, but everyone around here was already singing his praises,” Bill recalled. “So I cold-called him. Told him I was serious about mak-ing good Rhône wines. And, amazingly, though he didn’t know who the heck this crazy Denver guy even was, he met us for coffee.”
Smith helped the Armstrongs determine how best to plant 65 acres of syrah, mourvèdre, grenache and rousanne grapes. Epoch’s first harvest was in 2007. Two wines from that vintage were rated by Robert Parker at 93 and 94 points when they were released. Thanks to those numbers, and the work of Bill and Liz’s older daughter, Lindsey, who works on the winery’s sales and marketing, Epoch is becoming a more familiar name in the wine world, and for those who are fortunate enough to be on its allocation list.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Bill says whenever he speaks of Epoch’s winemaker, Jordan Fiorentini. “It all starts with finding the right land. But more than that, it’s about finding the right people. And there’s more of them here than anywhere else.”
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