Pairing the punk and the funk with the terroir is the mission of extreme winemaker and co-owner of Cypher Winery, Christian Tietje, taking the pretension out of winemaking and drinking as only a rebel can do, inspired by the punk rockers of the 80s to boldly go where no winemaker has gone before.
Born out of a backyard in Berkeley, Tietje and partner Susan (Sam) Mahler combined passions to open their first winery Four Wines; Mahler bringing her expertise in sciences to the table and Tietje the spirit of an artist, punk rocker and chef all in one. Since the first project, Tietje has branched out and opened Cypher Winery with Mahler, where they are known for their outrageous Rhone and Zinfandel blends.
"I started off cooking and have been a professional chef for years working in Chicago, Boston and on the West Coast," Tietje said. "I actually came to wine through my love for food. I am an extreme personality and I tend to take things to extremes. So not only did I fall in love with wine, but I just had to make it. It is like being an addict. I just can't stop the discovery and am always finding the next best varietal to play with."
After moving to the Paso Robles area over a decade ago, Tietje put in the time to learn from some of the best winemakers in the area and started working at the Vicente property in Zin Alley, now Turley Winery, and made his very first bottle of zinfandel with some of the stock there. He said he was enamored with those big bold zinfandel flavors and has become well known in the region for only taking the best crop he can find.
"This is why I am called the "Zin Bitch," I won't take anything but the best," Tietje said. "After opening Four Wines with Sam and selling it, we started a new project, Cypher Winery, and this is where I am today making wines with my extreme mentality, inspired by the music of punk rockers from the 80s as I mix it up and slap a label on it that provokes and promotes the extremity of the wine in the bottle."
Tietje describes himself as "loud, like the bull in the china shop," when taking
about his mentality for making wines that are outside the norm compared to other winemakers, saying no one has ever brought a rock 'n' roll element to wine, and he knew that was what he wanted to do with. Cypher wines are named with this mentality in mind, with Anarchy, Monarchy, Loco, Zinbitch, Gargoyle and The Biker, to name a few.
An exhibition of Tietje's wine knowledge can be tasted in the 2013 TNT label. It features Tannat, a varietal almost unheard of in this winemaking region. Tannat is a red wine grape, historically grown in South West France in the Madiran AOC, and is now one of the most prominent grapes in Uruguay, where it is considered the "national grape."
After opening the Cypher tasting room off of Highway 46 West in 2014, Tietje added his personal touch to wine and food pairing as well, serving up all kinds of tasty seasonal bites, wood-fired pizza made with his personal recipe and so much more. The setting allows people to sit on the patio or in the tasting room and eat, drink and be merry with some classic punk-rockers playing in the background and wild times with Tietje, where the decanter comes out and wine is poured into the mouths of patrons — because who needs a bottle or a glass to taste something good?
Two newer projects Tietje started include the 3-Ball label that is devoted to the creation of the ultimate Zinfandel blend, drawing from the top three growing areas — Paso Robles, Sonoma and Amador — and his most recent project, the creation of the Sea Monster label. The impetus being the creation of a white wine that actually pairs well with sea food.
Every project Tietje has undertaken has wowed the wine world, not just for the taste, but for the method that has inspired others to take risks with blends and bend the rules.
"What would be the fun of it if we didn't try something new," Tietje said. "I have never been afraid to try new things and hope to create an atmosphere where fellow punk-rocking risk takers can enjoy a great bottle of wine without pretension."
Cypher Winery is located at 3750 Highway 46 West in Templeton and is open Monday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information about Cypher Winery,