Winemaker Damian Grindley spent more than a decade traveling the world making award-winning wines for different companies, big and small, but now he’s settled in Paso Robles and turned his attention to making small batches featuring distinct Paso flavors with an international flair under his Brecon Estate label.
“I was kind of a stealth winemaker,” Grindley said. “I was the guy who would come in and make these super high end wines, get the Parker Scores or fix their problems, but this is finally my own gig and I should have done it years ago. I used to call myself the stealth winemaker, but now I’m trying to come out of the shadows and be more of a rock star winemaker.”
Grindley was born and raised in a small town in Wales, United Kingdom, a place that he says is not well known for wine.
“There aren’t many Welsh winemakers,” he said. “Where I was brought up, unless you were a doctor or something, you were probably considered soft in the head for drinking wine back in those days. It’s an unusual background for a winemaker.”
After earning a degree in horticulture and going to work in the landscaping business, Grindley says he stumbled into the wine industry when he took a weekend job driving a van for Majestic Wine Warehouse, one of the largest wine distributors in the U.K.
“It was the sort of place that they’d have Opus One open to taste and all this great stuff,” he said. “You got a very wide international palate very quickly. They’re not making any real amount of wine in the U.K. so it was a pure international market.”
Grindley quickly worked his way up the ladder at Majestic and eventually served as the assistant manager and then the manager before deciding to go all-in with his career in the wine industry and moved to Australia to complete the Masters of Winemaking course at the University of Adelaide.
“I jacked it all in, threw it all out the window and went and got my hands dirty making wine in Australia and I loved it and never looked back,” Grindley said, adding that he also met his wife and got married in Australia.
An avid cave explorer since his youth, one of the ways Grindley paid for his schooling was to map out caves located beneath vineyards.
“You can actually go into caves and see the roots from the vines coming through the ceiling and trying to find water,” he said. “What they were concerned about was that during harvest their tractor would fall through into the cave because it was so shallow. Funny enough, at the end of it I knew all the vineyard people, so I knew where to get the good grapes.”
After graduating from the Masters in Winemaking course, Grindley traveled the world making wines for different companies, the first being La Crema Winery in
Brecon Estate winemaker Damian Grindley traveled the world making wines for different companies, the first being La Crema Winery in the Russian River Valley, which won the International Wine Challenge Winery of the Year award that year.
the Russian River Valley, which won the International Wine Challenge Winery of the Year award that year.
“I worked for some of the big companies and I worked for some of the little companies,” he said. “Big companies are great — they give you the corporate discipline and it’s like dog years. In a little winery like this you might see one stock ferment in 10 years and there you see like 20 per year.”
Grindley eventually returned to Australia where he again worked for many different companies big and small, developed his own boutique labels and sold multiple brands to other companies before deciding to move to the U.S. to launch his own label. He purchased the former Norman Winery property on Vineyard Drive and established Brecon Estate, named after the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales where Grindley spent most of his 20s exploring vast cave systems.
“You get to a stage in your life where you want to do your own thing,” he said. “So this isn’t about big brand and what-have-you, it’s an all hands-on little thing, no compromise, do the thing right. Because this is the one that’s going to be here for my kids some day.”
While Brecon Estate wines use some of the same styles and flavors that are prevalent in many Paso wines, they also bring something unique to the table by adding influences from other parts of the world.
“We’ve worked in Australia, we’ve worked in Europe and we’ve worked here,” Grindley said. “So stylistically, maybe we’re a little bit more international.”
Grindley said that he chose Paso Robles as the home base for Brecon for a couple of different reasons, one being the laid back attitude of people in the area.
“Here, it’s like Australia,” he said. “You kind of lean against a neighbor’s pickup and you have a beer over the tailgate and chew the cud. It’s like that in Australia. It’s a little bit more laid back, so that’s what I like about it.”
As a winemaker, Grindley said that Paso’s microclimates provide easy access to any type of fruit that he’s interested in using in his blends, rather than relying on the same old estate fruit year after year.
“That’s boring for a cave explorer who’s used to going around a corner and being somewhere that nobody else has ever been before, so we carry over that philosophy to the wines,” he said. “It’s that willingness to explore. We’ll blend a little bit of that over there with a little bit of this over here and stick it in some barrel that comes from somewhere strange and come up with something new and exciting and that’s the thing that we love about it. I’ve never been that good with rules.”
Brecon Estate is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 7450 Vineyard Dr., Paso Robles. For more information, call 239-2200 or visit breconestate.com.