By Brian Williams OF VINO MAGAZINE

Photos courtesy of Epoch Estate Wines


York Mountain Tasting Room:
A nod to the past, present and future

Literally no stone or brick was left unturned in Bill and Liz Armstrong’s quest to bring life back to the York Mountain Winery.

Today, the iconic piece of property nestled in the oaks trees of York Mountain west of Paso Robles off of Highway 46 has been transformed into the tasting room for Epoch Estate Wines, the label started by the Armstrongs in 2004, when they purchased 350 acres originally owned by famed Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski that dates back to the 1920s. The aptly named Paderewski Vineyard sits in the Willow Creek District of the Paso Robles AVA.

The repurposed York Mountain space stands as both an homage to the historic past of winemaking on the Central Coast while at the same time giving Epoch a befitting place for people to begin their exploration of terroir and wines by critically acclaimed winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.

York Mountain Winery was established in 1882 and was the first bonded winery on the Central Coast.

“Every little piece along the way is fun,” says Epoch Vice President of Sales Kristen Darnell, who has been with the winery since the start. “There’s stories everywhere.”

Darnell is happy to tell those stories as well as a number of “fun facts” to visitors.

The winery’s name — Epoch — is a nod to the Armstrong’s love of geology, having met in a class while at Southern Methodist University. Epoch is a geologic term, defined as a moment in time characterized by monumental events or happenings.

“We like to think of our name being very fitting in that it’s a new epoch at York Mountain,” Darnell says.

Epoch is an ultra-premium producer of wines from Rhone, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo varieties grown on their two west Paso Robles vineyards — Paderewski and Catapult. Production is at about 7,000 cases a year and the wines are highly allocated and sell out quickly.

The tasting room opened to the public at the end of 2016 after being rescued by the Armstrongs in 2010. It’s airy and modern, but like the wines that visitors taste at the expansive redwood-topped bar, there is a lot more going on.

“We received our certificate of occupancy on Dec. 22, 2016 which is exactly 13 years to-the-day after the San Simeon earthquake condemned the building,” Darnell says.

The Armstrongs purchased the York Mountain Winery property in 2010 out of foreclosure after the building was condemned, following the 6.6 magnitude San Simeon earthquake in 2003, and began their meticulous restoration project.

“A lot of the pieces that made the original building were still here and accessible,” Darnell says. “Bill and Liz said, ‘We want to put this back together, but we want to put this back together the way it’s supposed to be.’

“So many great pieces and stories,” Darnell says.

In the end the layout and the square footage of the finished product is the same as when it was York Mountain Winery and the “walls are placed where they are placed because that is where they were,” Darnell says — the last part being a recurring theme throughout the rebuild of the tasting room.

The Armstrongs enlisted the talents of Lake Flato Architects to design the project, which was led by architect Brian Korte AIA, now a partner with Clayton & Little. Everything that could be repurposed from the original building was put to use in the new plan that is built to the latest building and safety codes, Darnell says.

The bricks, for example, used in the walls were hand-fired onsite by the York family in the 1906. It took them a year to do the four walls back then and each wall was five bricks deep.

“It was like a house of cards. We carefully disassembled with the intention to reassemble,” Darnell says. “We literally had a team out here with a hammer and chisel, chiseling off the old mortar and palleting the bricks in a way that we knew roughly what area they came from.”

The pillars and beams are from the first pier in Cayucos that was dismantled and transported by the Yorks to the winery.

“This is another very special piece for us that we carefully took down and put back up where they were,” Darnell says.

The old winery’s barrel room is a working barrel room, but only a small amount of Epoch’s wines are aged within its walls. The eastern wall of the barrel room is stone and, like the bricks, each piece of the wall was removed and numbered. A mason rebuilt the rock wall using the numbers to put each back into its original spot.

Darnell goes on to point out that the bar top in the main tasting room is redwood from vats and fermenters used in the York Mountain days.

While looking at the ceiling, Darnell points to the wooden press used by the York brothers to crush grapes and send the juice to the main floor by gravity. It is mounted on steel rails overhead where it was originally used by the Yorks.

That’s only some of the stories, Darnell says.

“There’s fun historic stories,” Darnell says. “There’s current things that are happening every day. And there’s fun things that we are all looking forward to with anticipation. We have a lot of stories to tell.”

The stories continue each day at Epoch Estate Wines and their York Mountain Tasting Room, 7505 York Mountain Rd., Templeton. Appointments can be made by calling 805-237-7575, by email or online at