Rock Star Winemakers: Jared Lee of Pear Valley

Passionate about every aspect of winemaking

Pear Valley Vineyards winemaker Jared Lee takes his hands-on philosophy of winemaking very seriously and says it’s the key to the award-winning wines being produced at the eastside Paso Bordeaux house and also the key to his own passion. Lee oversees every step of production, from the vineyard to the bottle.
“That’s the appeal,” he said. “To me, that’s what’s so interesting and what keeps me fired up about. It could be a tractor one day, the lab the next and today I’m in the cellar. For me, that’s really the fun — it taps into all of those different areas and keeps me interested.”
A native of Marin County, Lee moved to the Central Coast shortly after graduating high school in order to join a friend who was living in the area. He attended Cuesta College and met his future wife there before moving back to the Bay Area to finish college, eventually going to work as a manager for Diablo Grande Vineyards near Livermore. From there he went to work selling boutique wines for Baccahus and Venus in Sausalito, which is where his palate really started to develop.
“It was there that I was actually tasting wines regularly and going out on buying trips,” he said. “To me, that was probably one of the more beneficial lines of work because I was tasting every day and kind of getting in tune with what was being made throughout California.”
Although the shop specialized in California wines, they also sold imports from France and Italy.
“So I was able to get more of a grasp or an understanding of varietals and locations and styles,” Lee said.
In 2008 Lee and his wife moved back to the Central Coast to start a family.
“I fell in love with the Central Coast when I was down here, so it was an easy decision to come back here,” he said. “And we wanted to do the family thing, so we knew this was a good choice.”
Lee went to work at Paso Robles Wine Services, a custom crush facility, in time for the ’08 harvest and met winemaker James Hendon. When Hendon was hired as the head winemaker for Pear Valley Vineyards, a previous client at the custom crush facility that was preparing to open its own production facility, Lee was also hired on as the assistant winemaker.
“It was cool because I had never really been involved with a facility that’s brand new,” he said. “So I was plumbing tanks and trying to get this place ready for crush. In ’09 we processed here for the first time and I’ve been here ever since.”
Lee took over as head winemaker when Hendon left in 2011 and in 2012 he took over management of the winery’s farming operation and grower relations as well. Lee wears many hats at Pear Valley, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s probably one of the most gratifying or satisfying things about it,” he said. “I can recall the various hurdles or ups and downs or that perfect vintage or things that happened along the way. I like to be completely involved and completely in control. I think that’s the key to some of the wines that we’re making here. It’s just the connection with the product itself — it’s not just purchasing fruit or bulk wine, it’s actually fostering, working the soil and crafting wine from that, so for me that’s one of the most satisfying things.”
Lee said that his ultimate goal as a winemaker is to make “really honest wines.”
“The owners always wanted to make really high-quality wines at an affordable price,” he said. “They wanted to make wine accessible to everybody, which it should be. So for me, it’s just about making honest wines that kind of reflect our area here and reflect the intense amount of attention that everything gets, from beginning to end. We’re doing everything ourselves and we’re doing everything by hand. (We want to make wines) that are varietally correct, not being swayed by trends and scores, just trying to make wine that reflect our little patch of land here and our commitment to making quality wines.”
Pear Valley Vineyards is located at 4900 Union Road, Paso Robles. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 805-237-2861 or visit www.PearValley.com.