By Camas Frank OF VINO MAGAZINE

Photos by John Patrick Images

HUNT CELLARS

Port in a storm of vines

In October, Hunt Cellars continues their tradition of intimate dinners in their tasting room, candle lit for the occasion, with six courses prepared by acclaimed local French Chef Andre Averseng.

While the meals feature epicurean delights paired with Hunt Cellars wines, a candle lit dinner generally isn’t as unique as this one. The man with his name on the entrance, winemaker David Hunt, personally serenades guests on a baby grand piano after the meals. It’s one of the little touches that wine club members and frequent visitors to the small tasting room on Paso Robes’ “Wine Trail” have come to expect over the last two decades.  Famous for their meals and councerts, the events sell out nearly as quickly as the next can be scheduled, and are one of the factors in something of a cult following as guests are introduced to local chefs.

One of the few local wineries to have a club for their Port as well as wine, Hunt is known for offering something of a complete sensory experience. The tasting room features a Cabernet Bar, knowledgeable staff a 1,200 square foot veranda where smoking a cigar or taking a stroll wouldn’t be out of place. Frequent guests describe the chocolates served with port as equally important as cheeses and other offerings with wines.

Vintners as a profession already being keenly aware of the nose on their product, chemistry and the interaction of compounds on the pallet, Hunt fields more than his share of questions on the topic. Living with functional blindness, people often wonder if it gives him some sort of edge in the trade even as other tasks are more difficult.

“I would say I do have a heightened sense of taste and smell,” he says, “but I know things from many [forms of experience]. I mix art and science.”

He doesn’t name competitors, but continues that the art can go missing in the modern wine industry, more importantly, he adds, “I’m a perfectionist. I taste some things that most people don’t think about.”

By way of example, he’s been known to add five gallons of a varietal to a 1,000-gallon tank to achieve the perfect blend, “that’s not even a percentage point, but I do it out of an innate understanding of what I’m looking for in my head.”

He’s free to be a perfectionist with every vintage, he says, because he knows what his vines will offer up well in advance.

“We have a magical vineyard at Destiny. There is a blessed consistency in the what the vines deliver,” he says. “The quality of the fruit has always been the best.”

Planted at the location he scouted in Paso Robles while Debbie Hunt was pregnant with their daughter Destiny, Destiny Vineyards bears her name. It’s an apt name as despite rough moments at the start everything worked out fine for them.

“I still had some sight when I first visited,” David Hunt explains, adding that he was searching for prospective vineyards on his own while Debbie was home suffering from gestational diabetes and he had to call to tell her he’d found the perfect spot. “The soil, the conditions were perfect.”

The family had been searching wine regions near and far for the perfect terroir , specifically Oregon, Washington, and across California before the Central Coast became quite so well known as a growing region.

The 550-acre property on Highway 41 in Creston met two out of the three criteria critical to producing excellent wine; the micro-climate and soil conditions were on the mark, but they didn’t know about water until they gambled on an agricultural well.

“All that was there was a residential well on the property. When I bought it we really didn’t know what we’d find,” he added, while they were able to make it a condition of escrow that water had to be present, it was up to the Hunts to invest in an agricultural well.

Luckily a hydrologist was able to pinpoint the perfect spot.

That water’s gone into the plants at Destiny Vineyards, ever since, delivering grapes that enable David to use his gifts since the late-1990s.

Their first planting consisted of: cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc, merlot, syrah, petite syrah, cab franc, viognier and zinfandel. The tasting room opened in October of 1999.

Recent examples of acclaim include critic Robert Parker’s high marks for the 2013 vintages.  With whimsical names joining the pallet descriptions: the Cabernet Sauvigon Reserve “Cabovation” received 91 points; Cabernet Sauvignon “Cloud 9,” 91 points;  Syrah Reserve “Hilltop Serenade,” 91 points; Syrah/Petite Syrah “Que Sirah Sirah,” 90 points; and the Grenach “Let it Be,” 90 points.

Those are just examples, Hunt points out that all his wines have names pairing musical themes with the the character of the vintage, and over 150 of them have scored points ranging from 92-98 points, with the the most of any winery to score as “Best of California,” until that competition was recently discontinued.

Destiny Hunt, the winemaker reports, played host to her first tasting at the cellars in June.

“She’s grown up around it. You can’t be a winemaker’s daughter without learning a thing or two along the way,” he says.

The Hunt Cellars Tasting Room is located at 2875 Oakdale Rd., Paso Robles — www.huntcellars.com.

David Hunt can be reached by telephone at 818-700-1600 or email at huntwine@gmail.com.