Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
Within the Edna Valley Appellation in San Luis Obispo is an urban winery and tasting room at Stephen Ross Winery. Established in 1994, both the winery and their estate vineyard in this “cool climate” AVA are each five miles away from the Pacific Ocean.
What is it like to make wine? In 1989, when Paula Dooley, née Donnelly, met her husband, Stephen Dooley, a whole new world opened. Stephen was then the winemaker and general manager at Edna Valley Vineyard.
“I discovered that the world of wine is vast and dynamic,” said Paula, whose professional background is steeped in aviation and corporate finance. “Cultures all over the globe have been producing wines for centuries. Having our own winery feels like being part of something ‘bigger.’ I began tasting wines as much as I could to educate myself and started paying attention to how wine is made.”
Behind the Cinematography
Lush, green vineyards evoke serenity and images of picturesque views, but in truth, winemaking doesn’t come easy. At Stephen Ross, hard work, humility and tenacity are the invisible ingredients infused into every bottle of wine. Stephen’s Minnesota roots and a Central California terroir are equally integral in his accomplishments.
“His Midwestern roots play into how he conducts he (Stephen) conducts himself in business more than the actual winemaking,” said Paula. “He gets along with everyone and has longstanding relationships with our growers, distributors, and fellow wineries.
“Everyone thinks having a winery is relaxed and romantic, like in the movies,” said Paula, whose University of Texas business degree helped establish and grow the business. “It is work like everything else—so much hard work that you had best be passionate about wine to embark on a wine career. It is nice that people love, versus simply need (like a hammer) what we make, but it is still work to produce it!”
At Stephen Ross, a more subtle approach to winemaking is key. “Wine is a natural product. Mother Nature grows the vines and takes care of the fermentation,” explained Paula. As winemaker Stephen gets to guide that process so that the end-result is delicious tasting wine. Pinot Noir is particularly expressive of the site where it is grown. As winemaker, he has influence, but the vineyard is singing the song. “Pinot Noir is seductive with its terroir —that is how we have ended up making five or six Pinot Noirs each vintage.”
Sustainably Grown Winegrapes
About 25 percent of Stephen Ross grapes are estate-grown and harvested from their Stone Corral Vineyard in Edna Valley. The rest are sourced from premium parcels throughout San Luis Obispo County’s Edna Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Monterey County and Paso Robles.
A conscientious effort to maintain sustainability practices and surrounding themselves with future leaders of their industry is a priority.
“We have a great cellar crew of Cal Poly University Wine and Viticulture grads and students,” said Paula. “Our vineyards, estate and contracted, are either SIP Certified or Certified Organic. For example, just recently, we laid down a band of organic mulch, six inches deep, under the vines to suppress weed growth and hold moisture in the soil. We do what we can to be good stewards of the environment.”
In the cellar, what else is Stephen up to these days?
“He is making a barrel of 2017 Muscatel after a trip to Portugal and has recently been talking about giving vermouth a try,” said Paula. “There is always something new to explore!”
New Wine Releases
Ready for fall are three wines from Stephen Ross with high marks from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
2015 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands (93 pts.)
2015 Stephen Ross Grenache, Bee Sweet Vineyard, Edna Valley (91 pts.)
2015 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Maria Valley (92 pts.)
Stephen Ross Wine Cellars Tasting Room, 178 Suburban Road in San Luis Obispo, is open Thursday through Sunday. Call (805) 594-1318 or visit www.stephenrosswine.com.