With nearly 20 harvests under his belt, Kiamie Wine Cellars winemaker Adam Bauman half-jokingly says he's "just now starting to figure it out."
His blonde hair or his tales of being on tour with the Grateful Dead while in college, of traveling around the world surfing exotic locales, leads one to think Bauman is a free-spirited winemaker.
Not exactly, and this is most likely where his military family upbringing kicks in. He received appointments to West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force adacemy after graduating from high school in Orange County.
"I was an Eagle Scout, I was an athlete," he says. "Ended up going to the Air Force Academy for about a year. I wanted to fly planes and then I realized that really wasn't what I wanted. I didn't want to drop bombs on anybody."
Bauman is a firm believer in using Old World techniques to produce high-quality, balanced red and white blends at Kiamie (pronounced key ah' mee).
"I'm all about structure and well-integrated tannins and a long mouth feel," he says.
Translation, he's not making the "big fruit bombs" that have become synonymous with the Paso Robles AVA.
"What we try to do is take what we are given and try to let it be itself, but at the same time you have to drive it in a style, and our style is more traditional, more correct," Bauman says. "We make wine a little different than most of our neighbors."
Bauman is not saying the big fruit-forward wines don't have a place, they are just not something he wants to make. He could if he wanted to as Kiamie owners Arem Deirmenjian and Greg Johnson give Bauman plenty of creative freedom.
Instead, Bauman chooses to play to his and the westside Adelaida District mountain fruit's strength.
Kiamie and Tolo Cellars have tasting rooms next to one another on the same property on Adelaida Road just before it intersects with Chinmey Rock Road. Notable neighbors include Tablas Creek Vineyard, JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery, Starr Ranch, Halter Ranch Vineyard and Dubost Winery.
Bauman has spent most of his winemaking career in the Adelaida District, learning from some of the AVA's best.
"I'm an Adelaida boy, a westside guy," he says.
Bauman, who has a degree in soil science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, has been the winemaker at Kiamie Wine Cellars since 2010 and learned from Paso legend Steve Glossner, who put JUSTIN and Paso Robles, for that matter, on the wine map in 1994.
The 1994 JUSTIN Isoceles was awarded the prestigious international Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the best red wine of the year.
Bauman first met up with Glossner when he was the winemaker at Adelaida Vineyards and then later at the then upstart Halter Ranch Vineyard. Glossner was also the winemaker at Kiamie before moving on to start PasoPort. He worked his way up to assistant winemaker at Adelaida and eventually started his own consulting business in 2003.
"Steve pulled me on at Halter as a consultant in 2004, 2005 and 2006 to get Halter off the ground," he says. "So I helped him do that and then I just started working for these small boutique wineries" — including Red Head Ranch, Orchid Hill, Whalebone, and Stanger.
During his travels abroad, Bauman worked harvests in Chile and France, where he landed at the highly lauded
Bourdeaux house Château Cheval Blanc.
Every stop only helped to reinforce his belief in Old World practices.
"You are not making world-class Cabernet in plastic boxes, you are making it in static closed-top tanks, whether they are concrete or stainless steel, and using extended maceration," he says. "I am a huge fan of that and I think a lot of people don't do that. Napa does it more so, but I think in Paso not as much. I really tried to find my niche, with this kind of extended maceration, getting these velvety well-integrated tannins. That is kind of what I have always been after."
Extended maceration, leaving wine on the skins for as long as three to four weeks following the end of fermentation, is used primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon.
"The wine goes through these huge waves of tasting great one day and not so great the next, and then it finally finds this balance, an equilibrium," Bauman says. "They are so tannic, but so integrated and fine grained. I'm all about tannin but it can't be clunky and weird.
"Then you are basically just a steward from that point on," he adds.
Another Old World trick of the trade is fining, a process that is done prior to bottling. Basically it's like polishing or taking off the rough edges of the wine with products like gelatin.
"I'm a huge proponent of fining and me working in France really hit that home, because they are doing that," he says. "I think that is kind of a lost art around here. Not many of them are doing it or have that much experience doing it."
These techniques fit perfectly with Kiamie's Rhone and Bourdeaux blends. Kiamie sources fruit from highly-sought-after vineyards located "3-5 miles as the crow flies" from the production facility, which sits a stone's throw from the tasting room.
"Twenty years in and there are lots that come off the truck into the winery and you just look at it and you are like winner," Bauman says. "All I have to do is not mess this up. It's really conducive for us to making consistent quality wines that have this pedigree."
Kiamie produces Meritage, a straight Bourdeaux blend; R'Own Style Blend, a Rhone-style blend typically of Syrah and Grenache; White Kuvee, a white Rhone blend; a non-saignee Rose; and the flagship Kiamie Kuvee, which is typically Cabernet Sauvignon, along with possibly Zinfandel, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The winery produces between 1,000 and 1,200 cases per year, 1,500 on a good year, Bauman says.
Bauman enjoys working for small wineries and encourages people to give them a try.
"There are so many cool wineries and I encourage people to get off the beaten path and not just stop at the big boys and not stop at the ones that get all of the scores," he says. "The scores help, but we don't really care about it, it's more about making something that we are proud of, that reflects this area and seeing people smile and making something that people enjoy.
"Because at the end of the day it's just a glass of wine — enjoy it with food and friends," he says.
Kiamie Wine Cellars is located at 9750 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles. The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, call 805-226-8333 or visit www.kiamiewines.com.