A Conversation with Stephan and Chloe Asseo of L’Aventure Winery, Paso Robles, CA

L’Aventure Winery produces some of our favorite wine in the Paso Robles wine region in California. We asked owner/winemaker Stephan Asseo and his daughter Chloe a few questions about their remarkable wine.

LAventure_Stephan_Chloe-005

 

L'Aventure Glow

 

  • Tell us a short history of your winery including how it all began, the terroir and describe a signature bottling.
  • Introduce yourself. Give us a sense of your personal history regarding your winemaking journey/education.
  • How does your favorite site’s soil type, localized climate, geological history affect your winemaking.

I am originally from France. I have been in the wine industry for over three decades. From a younger age, I always wanted to be a farmer. I graduated from an oenology college in Burgundy region of France. For 17 years I was making wine in the Bordeaux region of France. The Asseo Family owned three properties all on the Right Bank of France. Stephan also managed a few well-established wineries in the same region. In France, there is something called AOC (Apellation d’Origine Controle), which basically means that if you are in Bordeaux, you can only grow Bordeaux varietals and blend only Bordeaux varietals, the same goes for the Rhone Region, etc.

After 17 years of making wine in France, I got frustrated and wanted more freedom in viticulture and vinification. I definitely wanted to be more creative in my blends. After traveling to different places in South America and South Africa, Stephan and his wife Beatrice decided that North America, more importantly California, would be the best fit. They began searching California for land, including Napa/Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties. It was after this tour that he was most impressed with the quality of the terroir of California wine country’s newest rising star: Paso Robles.

In 1998, is when L’Aventure was created. The site for the vineyard was selected after an extensive study of the area that matched Stephan’s experience as a vigneron. I immediately favored the West Side of Paso Robles for its sloping hills and quality terroir. The property consists of 129 acres (58 acres planted) of multiple hills of various elevation, complex soils and excellent water drainage. Our vineyard has 58 acres planted, our vineyard is divided into 40 different blocks, and there are only 8 different varietals. (Please see map below)
L'Aventure Block MapDue to the close proximity of the ocean, the vineyard is characterized by warm days but very cool nights, sometimes dropping 40 degrees in temperature. This dramatic temperature change creates a more complex and balanced wine. With the warm temperature, our fruit has the chance to stay on the vine longer to develop mature polyphenols, while the cool nights help retain acids, resulting in the ideal combination of maturity and balance.
Our soil is based on limestone, calcareous shell and siliceous shale which consists of old marine bones, shells, diatoms, and plankton slowly deposited on the sea bed over millions , only to be lifted through tectonic activity. The soil truly contributed to the complexity of the fruit in multiple ways. The shale also acts like a sponge, storing water during the rainy season and redistributing it back to the roots in dry season. This gives the vines a balanced water source from which they regulate themselves and not through irrigation. This choice of lean terroir provides him with the fruit necessary to create wine with a good balance between alcohol and acidity.

One signature bottle is the Estate Cuvee, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet and Petit Verdot. The Estate Cuvee is truly our signature/flagship wine, it is the cherry picking of our grapes. It is the reason why I moved from France to make this crazy blend! The Estate Cuvee (as well as all his wines) is made to represent Paso Robles but more importantly my interpretation of my terroir. More importantly, the Estate Cuvee really represents what he is all about…blends. The blended varieties are the cornerstone of our production, blending increases the authenticity and the complexity of the creation as a whole.

  •  Take us through a brief overview of one bottle from vineyard location, vineyard topography, seasonal weather, winemaking technique, i.e. whole cluster, cooperage, yeast, fermentation etc.

Wine and vintage: L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2012

2010 Estate Cuvee

AVA: Paso Robles

Blend Percentages (% of each grape): 57% Syrah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot all estate grown.

Price in United States: $85/bottle

  • Describe the style you are trying to achieve with your wine. 

To make a wine which will not be a copy of something but that will be my best representation of my terroir and fit my taste.

L'Aventure-3831

  • Vineyard Data:

Predominant Geology (soil type): 60% Gazos lopez siliceous, 40% Calado-line calcareous

Elevation: 1,100 to 1,400 feet

Vine Spacing: 6.5 x 3 = 2,100 vines/acre

Exposure: All different kinds of exposure from South, Northeast, East, West etc.

Root stock: 420A, 110R, 1103P, 3309C, 161, 49

Irrigation or Dry Farm: Irrigation by drip

Organic, Biodynamic, Traditional: 70% Biodynamic & 30% Organic

Vineyard practices (drop fruit, pull leaves, etc.): Drop fruit to control the yield and balance the fruit on the vine and to balance the maturity of the fruit as well

Production per acre: 1.5 tons to 2 tons/acre for Cabernet Sauvignon & Petit Verdot. 2 tons to 2.5 tons/acre for Syrah

  • How do you determine when to pick your grapes?

My 1st step is basic analysis Ph/TA/Sugar. 2nd step is tasting the fruit (Stem & Seed)

Winemaking:

Cold soak (length/temp): Syrah: 4 to 14 days, Petit Verdot: 4 to 7 days

SO2 usage (when/ppm): 30 to 40 ppm at the crushing

Crush, de-stem, sort? 1.) Double sorting 2.) 100 % de-stemming in general with some exception for the Syrah 3.) Crush Syrah: 10 – 50% lightly crushed. Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 100% lightly crushed.Type yeast: Native 90% of the time

Acid additions (when/how much): NEVER!!!

Nutrient additions (what & when): DAP + Fermaid = 50% at beginning of alcoholic fermentation, 50% after 1/3 alcohol fermentation is achieved.

Cap management (punch down/pump over, delestage how often?): Mostly pump over = During cold soak very light, once a day then after the beginning of fermentation 2 PO/Day then 3 to 4 days then 1⁄2 days after end of fermentation. When punch down: Similar approach or I can alternate pump over/punch down.

Fermentation temperature: Syrah 76 – 78 degree F/24-26 degrees C. Petit Verdot & Cabernet around 82 degrees F/28 degrees C.

Micro-ox? No. Other? N/A

Malolactic (barrel or tank/ how long): In barrel sometimes native, most of the time inoculation malo bacteria.

Oak program What type of oak (% Fr, Amer, etc.): French Oak, light toast

Percentage new oak: 100% New every year

Use oak alternatives? (what & when): No.

Barrel Aging (months): 14-16 months

Racking (when & how often): 1 for blend (5-6 months after Harvest) the 1 before bottle before bottling

Filtering: No

Bottle Age before release: 2 months!! (Unfortunately)

  • What is your personal style of winemaking? Hands on vs. minimal intrusion, canopy management, native yeast, cooperage, blends vs. varietals, fining or filtering, biodynamic or organic etc.

My style would be more, minimal intrusion philosophy with definitely 80% energy and dedication in the vineyard. High density plantation, low yield, haute couture viticulture.

About winemaking, more I know less I do, light extraction, native yeast depending of the wine, high percentage of new French oak etc. Blends is a big part of my philosophy and I’m used to say that the blend start in the vineyard taking advantage of the diversity of L’Aventure site (40 blocks for 58 acres planted). For example, my straight Syrah that I will use for my Estate Cuvee is already the blend of 5 or 6 different blocks before I find the right combination to blend with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, which I use the same approach for those two other varietals etc. No fining, no filtering.

  • What are the advantages and challenges to your favorite vineyard site? Include specific aspects such as sun exposure-facing, hillside vs. valley, ideal topography.

L’Aventure is a mosaic where I have 10 different type of soils combined with two different type of limestone: the first one, calcareous, from organic origins and siliceous, from mineral origin.

Ninety percent of the L’Aventure vineyard is located on hillsides and plateau with most of the time no top soil just rocks. The advantages in combination to the micro climate of the West Side Paso Robles is that however the bricks level we always keep a fantastic total acidity level which is the main element to balance the natural of alcohol and give even more intensity and freshness to the vine.

The challenge will be more because the rocky/poor soil, to achieve a minimum acreage of canopy to get the perfect maturity of the polyphenols. That is the reason why I planted 2100 vines per acre to have fewer crops per vine and more canopies per vine.

Thanks to Stephan and Chloe for taking their time to answer our questions! We love your wine – we recently had your 2010 Optimus and we have a bottle of your rose waiting for us in our fridge. Cheers!

2010_estate_rose

2010 Optimus

 

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