From our filling breakfast at the bustling Cow Girl Cafe in downtown Paso Robles, we weren’t sure which route to take in our VW van to get to Villa Creek and MAHA Estate on Peachy Canyon, and our trusty GPS didn’t make it all too clear either. We could take Peachy Canyon up west from town for a few less albeit windy miles for 23 minutes, or go around and take Vineyard Drive for a less windy 23 minutes, or take the 22 minute route . With only a passing knowledge of Paso, we decided to take the most expedient, if possibly less scenic route, and leave the others for another day.
The 101 took us to a highway leading to the ocean, then to smaller and smaller country roads until we really felt like we were out in the boondocks, and even though it was a busy holiday weekend, few cars passed by. The day was warm, the air fresh, the oaks dry, but resilient even in the persistent drought. In short, a perfect day to be out in the country in a search for organic and biodynamic wines.
Our goal was to visit Villa Creek and MAHA Estate. All I knew was they were organic, recently certified as biodynamic, and I was signed up to write about them for the 2022 edition of the Slow Wine Guide. MAHA is all estate fruit, using their best barrels and all certified biodynamic while Villa Creek also uses purchased fruit.
A steep hillside with vines let us know we were in the right place. The young trees in the parking lot didn’t provide much shade. The low slung rustic unobtrusive building up a few steps through fragrant lavender turned out to be the tasting room– homey, yet elegant and gracious with windows sheltered from the summer sun.
We tasted outside at a picnic table under a gracious tree where I learned the story of MAHA and Villa Creek from the founders’ daughter Camille Cherry while we tasted a number of their wines with a focus on the MAHA estate fruit and comparing two vintages:
Cris and JoAnn Cherry met in college, fell in love years later, and married at Cris’s family’s Villa Creek Ranch near Cayucas. Drawn to Paso Robles wine country, they opened their Villa Creek restaurant there, and soon began making their own wine with purchased fruit for their Villa Creek label. But they had bigger dreams.
One day, on a bike ride in Peachy Canyon, they spied MAHA, a no longer productive walnut orchard that offered what they were looking for including coveted limestone, which while rare in California, the west side of Paso Robles and Templeton contain the state’s largest exposed limestone layer. In 2004 they purchased MAHA where they could plant their own biodynamic vines. While they appreciate the philosophy of biodynamics, it was the quality of the wine that won them over. Cris makes the wines and JoAnn, who often works in encaustics, creates the art for the labels, and is the creative director for the winery.
The Three Phillips: Long convinced that organic is better on the palate and for the planet, time the Cherrys spent with AmByth’s Phillip Hart got them going in the right direction with biodynamic practices. Then in 2012 and 2013 they hired two consultants, both named Phillipe: Philippe Coderey, who they describe as the more practical, and Philippe Armenier who they say is more celestial.
According to daughter Camille, her parents had “have always kind of been people of the earth.” With organic and biodynamic practices, Camille says, it’s “good for you, but also you’re working with the earth instead of against… and you get the flavors of each specific site.” They’re not just farming sustainably but in a regenerative fashion.
In 2012, they planted their first block of Grenache, followed by other Rhone varietals all surrounded by oak forests. With marine influence, high elevation, and steep hillsides of calcareous soils which mitigate the need for irrigation, MAHA offered the ideal site for dry-farmed, head pruned, biodynamic vineyards. While head trained vines are less common in California, Grenache in particular as well as Zinfandel and other vines do well with this pruning technique because it offers shade and allows the grapes to ripe more evenly.
In 2015 they were certified by Demeter, so more recent bottlings will show this on the label. and they are currently pursuing regenerative organic certification, because they think it’s the right way to go as a business, and having certification offers credibility that helps the rest of the world understand what their commitment is to planet and people– that it’s not just about profit. The next round of releases will show that the grapes are Demeter certified biodynamic.
While they started out in 2005 with screw caps, by 2011 they switched to cork with wax caps for the aesthetics. (To those naysayers: just put the corkscrew through the wax and the cork comes out easily!) MAHA facilitates optimal fermentation conditions: clusters and grapes are hand picked and double sorted by hand on vibrating sorting tables in their Demeter biodynamic certified facility. Cris Cherry makes wines with minimal sulfur use and native yeasts. Between Villa Creek and MAHA, they have 60% estate fruit and 40% sources with all of it certified organic except the fruit from James Berry. As a biodynamic farm, they have a compliment of sheep and three Pyronese to manage them.
An Italian Inspired Organic Menu
- fresh oysters from Morro Bay
- organic fresh picked caprese salad with AmByth biodynamic olive oil and vinegar
- Roan Mills organic foccacia with red peppers
- vegetarian organic stuffed mushrooms
- organic fresh pasta and romesco sauce from Roan Mills
- organic pasta with smoked blue fin tuna
MAHA Biodynamic Wines
samples for my review
- 2019 Before Anyone Else
- 2018 Understory
- 2018 Backlit
Tasting Held at A Friend’s Biodynamic Garden with:
- Clos des Amis Winemakers Bruce Freeman and Gretel Compton
- VeroVino Importer/Distributer Sheila Donahue
- Wine Predators Sue Hill and Gwendolyn Alley
- Honorary Wine Predator and assistant Steve Zambrano
2019 Before Anyone Else
The name references the sun, which sees the day before anyone else.
Bright and tight!
Color: Pale lemon chiffon, a bit cloudy.
Aroma: Sue noticed Gardenia, vanilla, butterscotch, guava, limestone, fresh straw. I noticed a minerality not quite petrol or sulphur, but it is intriguing. Waxy flowers, not quite ripe stone fruit. After we compared notes, we both agreed on the butterscotch and guava.
Palate: Outstanding mouthfeel, visceral slickness that envelopes the mouth, tart lemon mid palate, clean minerals, fresh and lively, rich butterscotch pudding, finish, front of the palate, tart acidity with roundness. Sheila found a nice toast on the back palate. The wine makes the oyster so sweet.
Pairing: This is a seafood loving kind of wine. Sue felt that it could handle anything from clean fresh oysters, to rich creamy seafoods. Great with the spinach artichoke dip; it goes well with the garlicky richness. Great with the ocean flavors of the oyster and with the tomatoes and basil in the salad. The smoked tuna pasta Alfredo was fantastic with the wine. The wine worked so well with the smokey creaminess of the dish. Sheila liked the wine best with the oysters; she loved the contrast between the two. Gretel felt that the arugula in the salad was a bit too strong for the wine, but the oyster and the pasta were a lovely combination.
Blend 77% Grenache, 18% Carignan, 5% Mourvedre; 30% whole cluster, 30% new oak
Color: Plum, dense, cloudy, yet pretty and bright, unfined and unfiltered without being filled with sediment, there is a nice density
Aroma: Pretty florals, roses, carnation, baking spice like cinnamon and clove, mint, fresh Santa Rosa plum, there is a complexity that comes with a blend making it hard to put your finger on any one thing, raspberry, pomegranate, earthy rhubarb, sarsaparilla, very complex, very inviting,
Palate: Red zinger tea, hibiscus, chalky mouthfeel, dry yet mouthwatering, jolly rancher cherry on the finish, this a fantastic wine to enjoy now. We wondered how wonderful it would be in five or ten years. This is a contemplative wine, it invites the senses and an appreciation of time and space.
Pairing: Great with the rosemary and pepper in the focaccia, The sweet romesco sauce goes perfectly with the wine.
Blend: 37% Petite Sirah, 27% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 16% Carignan
Again, the name references the sun and the light.
Color: Deep dense indy purple, cherry red rim.
Aroma: Blueberry, mixed berry pie or cobbler, root beer, black licorice
Palate: Black licorice, clean mouthfeel, fresh raspberry, blueberry, rhubarb,
Pairing: Absolutely fantastic with the romesco sauce pasta; Sue felt that this wine with this sauce was one in the top 20 pairing matches that she has done throughout the years. The fruit forward of the wine is a perfect match to the sweet fruit of the roasted red pepper in the romesco sauce. What a perfect pairing. The wine loves the rich creaminess and the garlic in the artichoke dip. The stuffed mushroom bites were over the top with the wine. Sue was happy with the artichoke spinach, but I preferred the feta olive stuffed mushrooms with the rich juicy wine.
Also of note: the rose pictured with the label artist, Camille Cherry!
Look for my reviews in the 2022 Slow Wine Guide for these Paso Robles Wineries:
- Biodynamic AmByth (read about my visit here)
- Organic Castoro (read about my recent visit here; read about Castoro and other Paso Robles white wines here and their zinfandel here)
- Biodynamic MAHA (read about my visit here)
If you’re curious about other Italian grapes grown in Paso Robles: Sangiovese from Paso Robles? Certo! A Ranchita Canyon Vineyard Vertical Paired with Spiced Lamb Stew.
And for more unusual Italian grapes grown biodynamically, here’s Italian grapes from biodynamic Montinore where they are growing Teroldego and Lagrein which we paired with an instant pot stew..
You’re invited to join us to find out about other “Paso”abilities this month with Wine Pairing Weekend writers Saturday 8am Pacific for our twitter chat by following the hashtag #WinePW (find discussion prompts here at the bottom of the Castoro post).
Check out these wines and pairings from members of the Wine Pairing weekend group of wine writers:
- 2013 Lone Madrone Nebbiolo + Heirloom Bean Gratin with Tomatoes and Sausage by Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
- Hatch Chili with Turkey and Paso Wine by David at Cooking Chat
- Exploring the Pasobilities that Paso Robles Has to Offer by Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass
- Italian Varieties in Paso Robles by Susannah at Avvinare
- Justification for Short Ribs with a Chili Wine Glaze by Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Organic Castoro Cellars: Italian Roots in Paso Robles? and Working with the Earth at Biodynamic MAHA here on Wine Predator
- Paso Robles – The Variety Will Astound You! by Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Roasted Vegetables Shine with Single Varietals from Paso Robles by Cam at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Tomato Cauliflower Soup with Dirt Diva Red Blend from Paso Robles by Terri at A Good Life
- What’s So Special About Paso Robles? by Cindy at Grape Experiences