I’ve been there once before, met Tobin James himself, and I found his vineyard and his wines, exquisite. This man is as unique as his product.
I pull up and I’m instantly met by the vineyard mascot, Cisco, a friendly Australian shepherd and the finest four-legged welcoming committee in California
Tobin James greets me with open arms, treats me like family, and wastes little time in introducing a few wines for me to sample.
On my last visit to the Cellars, earlier this summer, I met Lance Silver, the charismatic and social anchor of the vineyard. This time around I had the chance to meet Claire Silver, his gracious wife and partner in the winery.
They have a synchronistic history and a vast experience that brought them all together. Signs of their success are everywhere. The town of Paso Robles has embraced them: You can see their logo of a sun setting over the hills throughout this rural community.
“Toby knew there was a promise of quality here,” Claire Silver pointed out, explaining that Tobin James was initiated into winemaking by Gary Eberle, who invited the young James out to Paso Robles, after meeting him at a wine shop in Cincinnati. “Toby was only 18 then,” recalled Silver, who added, “and he told Gary that he dreamed of becoming a Winemaker.”
Tobin James showed up at the Eberle Winery soon after that meeting, and was put to work, learning the ropes and eventually becoming Assistant Winemaker. From there, he advanced to work with Doug Beckett, as the founding Winemaker for Peachy Canyon. His deal with Beckett included the ability to make his own wine under the Tobin James label.
It was the 10-Mile Stop that would become the landmark for the Tobin James Winery, an old stagecoach building midway between Paso Robles and Shandon. Later, it would be refurbished into a three-suite guest house (reserved for wine club members) and a tasting room, which opened in 1994.
It wasn’t long after, he, Claire, and Lance came together and created their dream. They formed the successful winery that today produces 75,000 cases, up from its initial 6,000 cases a decade ago. “Everything has snowballed,” said Claire.
Their 12,000-member wine club is cleverly called “The James Gang”. Membership is free, which includes discounts off wine and invitations to special events, and much more.
Finally, I ask Claire what separates their wine from anyone else’s. “We grow some of our own fruit, but we don’t just rely solely on our estate fruit. We acknowledge how diverse the soils, the landscape and the climate are in Paso Robles. Some growers plant on the hillside vineyards on the cooler, maritime-influenced west side with its chalky soils while others develop intense fruit from vineyards on the warmer east side. By not limiting ourselves, we arm our spice rack.
The Tobin James wines are round, full-bodied reds, blended together for interesting, long finishes and beautiful mid-palates, resulting in harmony.
“All around Paso Robles,” she continues, “there are gems of vineyards. Our grower relationships are part of the dynamic: they know what we are looking for.”
And it shows. It creates a winning recipe for a winning team. “Our Credo is to surpass quality in every vintage: We will only expand production if we can also improve the wines.”
Tobin James Cellars produces Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Call the winery for distribution information at 805-239-2204
Tobin James: Pledge of the Big, Bold Red
The best way to describe the powerful, mouth-filling gobby fruited reds from Paso Robles is to create a label that double-dares you before you take your first sip. Want an expansive, hedonistic Zin? Try Tobin James 2004 Ballistic Zin. “Our wines scream Paso Robles in a glass,” mused Claire Silver, winery partner. “The fruit shines through and show their true varietal character – they’re not over-oaked – and multi-layering is an effect that is a common thread with all our wines.”
IMAGE: Ballistic Zin label