When planning my wine tasting trip to Paso Robles, I searched high and low for very small production, family owned wineries to visit. My hope was that I would get a much better sense of the region by spending time with people who work the vineyards and make the wines. I got extremely lucky by visiting on the weekend that I did because Gelfand was open for appointments. I learned during my visit that they are only open for tastings three weekends a year and l happened to be in the right place at the right time.
We arrived at the winery, which is tucked back in the sprawling hills of East Paso Robles, in the late morning. We were warmly greeted by Len Gelfand who is the owner and winemaker for Gelfand Vineyards. He could not have made us feel more welcome. Len has one of those magical stories that remind you that dreams really do come true. After retiring from his successful career, Len and his wife Jan purchased a 25 acre piece of land with the dream of starting their own winery. While they had both been wine lovers for a long time, neither had any formal training in wine making. But that did not concern them at all.
Len makes big wines. That is the style he likes, and it is great to see a winemaker simply make the wines that he loves. The full bodied and decadent wines that we tried on our visit almost make you need to sit down. They are that intense and captivating. The varietals that he favors lend themselves to the rich wines that Len enjoys; Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Syrah. While the wines are very opulent and rich, none of them were too much so. The wines are well made and balanced, and I look forward to drinking them again with a big, juicy steak or a brontosaurus burger. The ideal wine pairings in my estimation are definitely hearty red meat based meals that can stand up to the intensity of the Gelfand wines.
There was something else that makes this winery, and my visit there, so special. Len Gelfand is one of the kindest and most generous people I have met on my wine travels. He was willing to share any and all of his wine making techniques without hesitation and you can tell that he is not competitive about wine making at all. One of the people in my group makes her own wine and he was so open and forthcoming with her regarding the behind the scenes information that he did not need to share but did so willingly and eagerly.
That evening we dined at a wonderful restaurant in Paso called Thomas Hill Organics. I highly recommend eating here as it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Anyway, part way through our meal, Len and his wife Jan arrived and were seated at the table next to us. Len showed us the bottle of wine that he brought for his own meal that the restaurant will be adding to their wine list (they already carry his wines). Len opened the bottle, which again was for his own meal, and shared it with me and the other three people in our party. I was floored by his generosity. It is wonderful to meet people who are this kind.
This is a small winery so you are not likely to find Gelfand wines in your local wine shop. If you are a fan of big, bold red wines, I recommend you visit their website and purchase some directly. They also have a wine club to ensure that you get a steady supply of all the wines that Gelfand produces. They only make 1,600 cases each year from grapes grown on their own estate. When you taste the wines of Gelfand, you will gain a wonderful understanding of this gorgeous pocket of land in eastern Paso Robles.
Downsides? They are only open a few weekends a year but hopefully you will get lucky.
Rating: 3 out of 4 – recommend