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Paso's wine family wolf pack: Barton Family Wines knows home is where the heart is 

Jenny Barton has what you’d call an electric smile. 

Petite and powerful with a welcoming vibe that radiates true warmth, she ushers visitors into the remodeled Barton Family Wines and Grey Wolf Cellars tasting room she owns alongside her husband and winemaker, Joe Barton. The afternoon sun is shining brilliantly on this warm harvest day. A crisp, coastal breeze is flowing through the famous Templeton Gap.

click to enlarge BETTER TOGETHER:  Joe and Jenny Barton enjoy a glass of wine in their estate vineyard, which overlooks the 80-year-old Barton Family home. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • BETTER TOGETHER: Joe and Jenny Barton enjoy a glass of wine in their estate vineyard, which overlooks the 80-year-old Barton Family home.

Why the big smile? Today, work is play. She’s also showing off the winery’s newly remodeled outdoor lounge area, which overlooks Highway 46 West’s sprawling green vineyards and cow-studded knolls. The Tooth and Nail Winery “castle” floats in the distance, completing the storybook dream sequence.

But when Jenny looks around, she doesn’t just see a chic outdoor fireplace flanked by a modern sectional or a killer sunset. She also sees bits and pieces of her own rural childhood flashing before her eyes. The newly added antique metal siding and low tables perfect for propping up a glass of wine? They’re all salvaged from old turkey feeders and fencing.

“The metal all came off the turkey farm I grew up on in Frazier Park, over the Grapevine. My dad made these tables for us yesterday, and the barn wood—that’s real barn wood from the ranch, homesteaded in 1919,” Jenny says. “My favorite new part of the winery is by far the bar. It’s made from the first barn that my great-grandfather built on the family homestead. Joe made it into a real piece of art.” 

It’s fitting that Jenny’s history is intertwined within the property, which stands as a monument to her husband’s family heritage. History lives in the tiniest details, and the details are many (just ask about the Barton family crest, which naturally features an arm and hammer, a wolf, and a chalice).

The tasting room is actually located inside the Barton family’s 80-year-old farm house, where the clan once lived, ate, laughed, embraced, and prepared for long days in the vineyard. Now, it offers a robust lineup of delicious Rhone wines, fruit- forward reds, and even a cozy corner where you can throw on a vinyl record and relax with a glass of chenin blanc (this space was once Joe’s parents’ bedroom).

click to enlarge THIS OLD HOUSE :  Before becoming a modern, industrial-chic tasting room, the Barton family home was a cozy place for holiday dinners, midnight snacks, and plenty of love. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • THIS OLD HOUSE : Before becoming a modern, industrial-chic tasting room, the Barton family home was a cozy place for holiday dinners, midnight snacks, and plenty of love.

Outside on the new, extended “porch,” tables are occupied with friends noshing on cheesesteak mac and cheese and saucy pulled pork sandwiches produced by Chef Jeffry Wiesinger of Jeffry’s Catering, located onsite. 

Nearby, Joe’s new distillery venture KROBAR—which he owns alongside friend and fellow winemaker Steve Kroner—attracts a new kind of tourist to Paso’s idyllic west side.

These renovations represent a fresh, bold chapter for the Barton family’s long love affair with Paso wine. Grey Wolf Cellars truly began with the dream of Joe’s parents,
Joe Sr. and Shirlene, who first fell in love with premium wines after owning a restaurant together in Colorado. In the early ’90s, the couple returned to their native home of California, settling in the fledgling wine region of Paso Robles, citing their love of the warm weather and—most importantly—warm people.

The Barton family established Grey Wolf Cellars in 1994, and got to making their first wine, a blend of locally sourced cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, with gusto. This juicy red meritage debuted in 1997, marking the first of many wines handcrafted with attention to detail from luscious local fruit. One year later—with the help of Joe Jr. (then a Cal Poly viticulture major), the family planted their own vineyard. It was hard work, but the Bartons aren’t known to complain.

“When my family first moved in, there was just a beat-up old farm house. It was falling down, with pigs out front and an old blacksmith’s shed out back,” Joe said with a laugh. “I remember the day we bought this place, now 20 years ago, just hauling junk, praying we’d be ready for harvest festival weekend. In just one month, we vowed to turn this place into a tasting room.”

click to enlarge LOUNGE WITH A VIEW:  The view from Barton Family Wines’ new outdoor lounge area is pretty epic. So is this brisket Reuben sandwich, crafted by Chef Jeffry Wiesinger of Jeffry’s Catering, located onsite. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • LOUNGE WITH A VIEW: The view from Barton Family Wines’ new outdoor lounge area is pretty epic. So is this brisket Reuben sandwich, crafted by Chef Jeffry Wiesinger of Jeffry’s Catering, located onsite.

The whole Barton family—including Joe’s sister and uncle—pulled together and did just that (having a solid foot in the carpentry trade helped).

Hammers were swung and old farm equipment hauled away. Joe’s mother, who still resides on the property today, was amazed at the transformation, which included opening up the ceiling and redoing the floors. They did indeed open, just in the nick of time. Joe never tires of telling this story, and people never seem to tire of hearing it.

“Over the years, every person who’s ever lived in this house has come by,” Joe said. “It’s amazing. The guy who did the original wood floors stopped by, and he showed me where the rock came from that made up the fire place.”

Although those early days are marked with a frenetic excitement that can only come from building a new life from scratch, there is also a black mark that stings to this day. A devastating loss came after Joe Sr.’s tragic death in a car accident on Highway 46.

The year was 1998; the winery had just begun to find its footing, and the family was shaken to its core. Joe Jr. doubled down his efforts to keep the family dream alive.

“I was just finishing Cal Poly at the time; my mom still worked as a teacher in Bakersfield. Still, we never let the tasting room doors close,” Joe says. “We’ve stayed family owned and operated and we’re proud of that; it’s been hard, but we’ve enjoyed building the property so much. Every year, there’s always something new to experience and share.”

In 2011, the winemaker released the Barton label, known for complex, nuanced white wines and restrained, elegant reds. Joe says he loves the Templeton Gap’s supremely balanced reds—and both labels showcase more than a few—but he personally likes to kick back with a clean, acidic, floral white wine.

MEET THE BARTONS:  Barton Family Wines and Grey Wolf Cellars are located at 2174 Highway 46 West. The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. For more information, go to bartonfamilywines.com.
  • MEET THE BARTONS: Barton Family Wines and Grey Wolf Cellars are located at 2174 Highway 46 West. The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. For more information, go to bartonfamilywines.com.

That’s what we drank as we stood atop the hilltop portion of Joe’s estate vineyard looking toward the old Barton home.

Surrounded by his own ripening fruit, Joe was able to easily point to neighboring vineyards that he still loves to work with. When you’ve been in the area as long as the Barton family, abstract words like “Willow Creek,” “Templeton Gap,” and “Adelaida District” meld into a first-name basis relationship that’s as real as a firm handshake.

Family has and still continues to touch every aspect of the operation, paying homage to the words Joe Sr. proudly emblazoned on his first Grey Wolf label.

Pull out an old Grey Wolf bottle and you’ll see it written in unshakable black and white, a message from the past that bodes well for Paso’s hardworking wine wolf pack: “A family is a circle of caring, strong and eternal.” 

Hayley Thomas Cain is howling at the moon. She can be reached at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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