Curtis Hascall stays true to the fruit at Shale Oak Winery letting the nature of the terroir sing, with a zing of oak on the reds and an alchemist’s touch when blending.
Hascall joined the ranks of mad food scientist after graduating from Cal Poly and was focused on making beer when he found himself dragging hoses during harvest time at Paso Robles Norman Vineyard. After a few years with Norman and a trip to harvest at a winery in Australia, he was hooked.
Shale Oak opened in 2008 and Hascall has had a hand in every vintage, working with Kevin Patrick Riley, past winemaker for Shale Oak and owner and winemaker at Proulx Wines. Now Hascall is the full-time winemaker and has since released a line of wines inspired by Japanese kanji that represent three of the five elements or Godai.
The three vintages are Kū, Ka and Sui and were chosen, according to Hascall because they relate to the idea that the quality of the wine made is a direct result of the environment.
“Each element plays its part and has an impact on the vines and fruit,” he said.
Hascall began by making the Kū and developed the vintage in 2008, winning a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2011. The Japanese translation for Kū (空) or sora, is most often translated as “void,” but also means “sky” or “heaven,” represents those things beyond our everyday experience. Bodily, Kū represents spirit, thought and creative energy.
“The Kū is made up of three varietals from our favorite barrels and lots,” Hascall said explaining that the name was fitting for this vintage, as it is extraordinary. “It features our Syrah with its big and dark base, some old vine Zinfandel with a bit of spice and fruit to balance the finish, and a bit of Petite Sirah that adds an intensity to the overall flavor.”
The second vintage, Ka was released in 2012 and of the three, received the highest accolades, winning double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. According to Hascall, Ka (火) or hi, means fire and in the most literal Japanese translation, represents the energetic, drive and passion in the world. Ka can also be associated with motivation, desire, intention and an outgoing spirit.
“When making the Ka, I felt like I was playing with fire blending these reds with so much oak on them,” Hascall said. “I really like oak
In 2008 Curtis Hascall got his foot in the door as assistant winemaker at Shale Oak Winery and is now the full time winemaker with a few fun tricks up his sleeves that make his wines seemingly stand out in the forum for all of their accolades.
and like to push the limits with it and since Ka means fire, drive and the intent, it felt like the perfect fit for this wine. I would describe it as being like a big teddy bear of a man that is both bold and approachable, like Dwayne Johnson the actor and wrestler who plays The Rock.”
The final vintage, so far, inspired by the second element in Japanese philosophy, Sui has been developed over time with its first vintage released in 2010 and winning gold at the Central Coast Wine Competition that year. Most recently, in 2014 the Sui was awarded the bronze in the same competition and was recognized with silver in 2013 at the SF International Wine Competition.
“Sui means water, fluidity and magnetism,” he said calling it an appropriate name for a somewhat exotic blend. “This wine is incredibly bright and clean with notes of honeydew melon and minerality that I think perfectly balanced acidity.”
Sui(水), in other Japanese translations can also be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and as Hascall said, “magnetism.” This is a wine that people can gravitate to and Hascall said, “is best on a summer day.”
Hascall also makes strait varietals from Petit Verdot and Zinfandel to Albariño, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. So there is a wine for every taste at Shale Oak even a tasty Grenache Blanc.
Since those early days, Shale Oak has become SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice Certification) and boasts a land management plan with water conservation at the forefront.
“We let nature take its course with the grapes we grow on the property and source from locations with the same or similar practices to maintain quality,” Hascall said. “We have an outstanding rain harvesting plan, water run-off reclamation system, and reverse osmosis system that treat winery wastewater, convert it to compost tea, and use it for landscape irrigation. We also have two tanks devoted to collecting rainwater as well as water run-off, and this in general lessens the draw on the land.”
Wines that let the terroir shine with oak on the reds, concrete on the whites and occasionally some steel are Hascall’s bread and butter. To taste the Kū, Ka and Sui as well as the many other wines made at Shale Oak, the tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday and closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information, visit shaleoakwinery.com.