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The flying winemaker 

It’s impossible to imagine a winemaker’s workload during harvest, whether they’re producing wines for a small artisan brand or a large production winery. In fact, most of the Central Coast’s artisan brands are made by winemakers who work at larger wineries. Not that they’re gluttons for punishment the job covers their bills so they can afford to make their own label on the side. But unlike the boring day job some artists get stuck with, winemakers are doing the work they love.

That certainly describes the Swiss-born Matthias Gubler, winemaker at Vina Robles in Paso Robles. He travels around the

globe four times a year to consult for wineries in other hemispheres. Gubler fits the European sobriquet, “flying winemaker,” a term for famous winemakers who consult for wineries around the world. He returns to his homeland where he makes his own artisanal brand, Clos Martha, focused on one special Pinot Noir that was grown in his uncle’s vineyard. He also consults for a Swiss family-owned winery named Jauslin Estate Winery.

He’s now working on a new brand with his future father-in-law at his Màehr-Niggli Estate Winery in Switzerland, yet to be named. As of this year’s harvest this vineyard also supplied Gubler with Pinot Noir for Clos Martha. His fiance Sina Màehr is the assistant winemaker at Vina Robles.

Last year Gubler also consulted for Vina Chillan Winery in Chile. “It was a great estate, but too far away for us to keep working together,” he explained. “I stay busy enough between Vina Robles, Jauslin Estate winery, and Sina’s parents’ winery.”

Despite his travels, Gubler is anything but divided in his focus on Vina Robles. In his tenth year with Vina Robles, Gubler has been their winemaker since their first wines were made in 1999. He’s also worked with the vineyard team since they began planting to grow the finest grapes possible. While still in harvest in mid-October, he invited me to the production facility in San Miguel to taste some of the 2007 wines, some still in barrels, and the new 2008 vintage wines. He’s as passionate as ever about the Paso Robles wines as he is about every other worldly project he’s working on.

Although most of Vina Robles’ wines are estate grown, Gubler buys some grapes from Penman Springs and Adelaida

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Springs Ranch (not affiliated with Adelaida Cellars) vineyards. “When I buy (grapes) it needs to be better than the sites I have,” Gubler explained of the latter’s higher elevation. “In the end it all comes down to the fruit. I always like the wine best when I don’t have to do much to it.”

This vintage he harvested his first Verdelho and Vermentino, two distinctive white varietals planted in Vina Robles’ Huerhuero Vineyard. With the wines still fermenting in stainless steel tanks, he admitted he isn’t sure whether he would bottle them alone or make them part of a white blend. We also tasted an array of impressive single varietal red wines and some of his special blends not yet released in markets, which Gubler is quite proud of from their estate vineyards.

He noted, “The 2006 is a good year but once 2007 is blended it will be more elegant and have more complexity.”

You can taste Gubler’s Pinot Noir at the World of Pinot Noir next spring (March 6 and 7, 2009). And if you haven’t visited Vina Robles’ hospitality center, I highly recommend it. The beautiful new tasting room provides panoramic views of wine country, and they feature a gourmet food market with artisan cheeses. They offer complimentary tasting of the estate wines, providing a great opportunity to taste Gubler’s distinctive Paso Robles varietals and blends that are available now.


SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration 2008

Thursday to Sunday, November 7 to 9

Each year the harvest parties begin Thursday evening when wineries south of Cuesta Grade hold their dinner parties in local restaurants. If you still hope to get in at this late date, call quickly to get make reservations for the last three wineries that still have seats available: Ancient Peaks at Dorn’s in Morro Bay, call 365-7045 Per Bacco at Cafe Roma in SLO, call 787-0485 and Tolosa at the Park in SLO, call 782-0500.


Saturday, Nov. 8—Grand Tasting and Auction

This grand tasting offers an incredible number of good wineries and restaurants, plus live entertainment at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Over 30 wineries, most of them located south of Cuesta Grade, will pour samples of an array of great wines. But this tasting includes wineries from Paso Robles and Santa Maria Valley that make wines from the Arroyo Grande, Edna, and Avila valleys.

Another plus, the live and silent auctions provide great lifestyle lots and collectible wines. There are many good deals to be won if you’re paying attention. Held from 1 to 5 p.m., “This is one beach party you won’t want to miss,” the SLO Vintners Association promises. It’s $80 per person, all inclusive, you’ll find more great wine and food than you can possibly consume, and you’ll have a great time discovering new favorites. Among the participating food restaurants and specialists to keep you fueled up: Alex’s, Catering Unlimited, Inn at Morro Bay, Lido, Novo, the Cove, the Park, Sweet Earth Chocolates, among many others. Tickets will be available for this event at the gate.


Sunday, Nov. 9—SLO Vintners Open House Events

Make sure you keep the bracelet provided during Saturday’s grand tasting, it’s your V.I.P. pass for getting in free at all of the parties going on at the wineries. Check out for a list of wineries where you can celebrate harvest, from Paso Robles to rural Arroyo Grande Valley.

You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at


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