October, 2016 Edition

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The Cab Whisperer

Bruce Hansen works the barrels to produce top-notch Cabs

Bruce Hansen is the Cab whisperer. All he produces on his east side Templeton vineyard and winery is high-quality, award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon. He's racked up several double-golds over the years at Hansen Vineyards and Winery.
All of the estate wines are 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the years, he has tried to grow other varietals but found his vineyard, which sits in the El Pomar District of the Paso Robles AVA, is suited best for Cabernet Sauvignon.
"With concentrating on Cabs, it works well for me," he says. "I think what your microclimate does best for you and if it fits you and the way that you want to do it, I think that is the way it should be."
Each Friday through Sunday tasters have the opportunity to taste anywhere from five to seven of the highly rated Cabs, and more times than not owner and winemaker Bruce will be pouring.
It's important for Bruce, 74, to be there so he can guide them through the wines and give them a glimpse into what went into making the wine.
"They will never forget the experience," he says. "They don't forget, and then I've succeeded."
Educating people that walk into the rustic, quaint tasting room is key to the experience.
"I think it is important the more knowledge the consumer has the easier it is for a boutique winery to sell his product," Bruce says. "I'd love it if every wine drinker could spend a week or two with different winemakers and watch what they go through in making the wine."
Bruce, who spent the majority of his adult life as a contractor on the Central Coast, has been making wine on the property since 2001 and has been growing grapes since 1994. He oversaw many of the builds for wineries in the Paso Robles area during the initial explosion in the late-80s and early-90s.
"Timing is everything and being lucky," he says. "Timing was just perfect for a guy like me in the wine industry. There were no wineries around me — a dozen or two dozen and here I was."
In 1996, he started selling grapes and learned his grapes were used in JUSTIN Winery's Isoceles and Cabernet Sauvignon and also sold grapes to B.V.
Bruce didn't sell everything the vineyard produced. He kept some back and started making wine. In 1999, he started building his production facility and tasting room. His first vintage was in 2001.
Making wine was something Bruce had learned from his dad, while living on the family farm on the west side of Lake Michigan. The family grew peaches, pears, plums and black sweet cherries and made wine out of them.
"It gave me a good solid base and theory on how to do it," Bruce says. "He was a purist. If you can't make it right then don't bother. I hold true to that today."
He credits Danny Panico of Dover Canyon for bringing his Cabs into focus.
"When I got here and I started to get into this," Bruce says. "I had a guy who was my mentor so to speak, Danny Panico from Dover Canyon. I learned a lot from Danny. We made wine together for two to three years. He put the polish on it for me."
Currently, on the bar at the tasting room Hansen there are Cabs from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Some years produce more than one wine, for instance Bruce has three from 2013, all bottled using different barrels.
"I ordered a group of about 22 barrels and I ordered them from the Allier Forest, which is about 4000 feet elevation," Bruce says. "They have really tight grains so they let the wine age differently, but you watch I have an 2012 where the trees are from a different forest and this wine here is identical, picked fermented all the same there is no difference in them other than the barrels and they are completely different wines.
"It's amazing what different barrels will do," he says.
The barrel room is where the artistry is for Bruce.
"I love the artistry in here, because I am forever moving wine from one barrel to another, just because the barrel is not giving the wine the respect that it should," he says.
Another integral component in winemaking is doing everything by hand. Bruce believes in punch downs and does not believe in pump over during fermentation. He would rather let gravity do the work if possible. He says pumping can have a negative impact on the wine.
"You can't keep beating something up and expect it to be good," he says.
Nurturing the wine is the approach that Bruce takes.  
"When they are young they are so tender and easy to destroy and hurt," he says. "You have to really carefully care for them the first year to two years."
Currently, Hansen hosts what he calls the Cab Challenge throughout the year. He asks people to bring their favorite Cabs to his winery on a predetermined date and from a predetermined vintage to taste alongside his Cabs and others from the same year. On Nov. 19, at 7 p.m., 2007 Cabernet will be in challenge. Determining a winner and loser isn't important in the challenge. The chance to taste some great Cabs from anywhere in the world with like-minded enthusiasts is what it is all about.
But Bruce still says his and many others being produced in the Paso AVA, will show well against any of the top regions in the state.
"To see the way things have gone, you would be naive to think it was inevitable," Bruce says. "This area has a uniqueness about it that is as good as or better than any other."

Hansen Vineyard and Winery is located at 5575 El Pomar Dr., Templeton. The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday. For more information, call 239-8412 or visit hansenwines.com.