By Raven J. Railey
With one eye on experimental young wine consumers and the other on the diversity of grapes flourishing in the west side of Paso Robles, one of the region’s newer wineries is betting its future on nontraditional blends.
“We’re lucky in Paso Robles that we have a great climate,” said ONX Wines’ Aaron Jackson. “We have the ability to grow a lot of different varieties.”
There’s also a core of “young winemakers here that are inspired to be progressive and avant-garde,” he added. “They’re not afraid.”
Jackson, 27, grew up in Cayucos and studied winemaking at Cal Poly. He worked with Four Vines in Paso Robles before pursuing a master’s degree in winemaking at The University of Adelaide in Australia.
“I think that consumers are definitely drawn to blends. The younger demographic coming up is more experimental, more adventurous,” he said, pointing to the growing popularity of fusion cuisines and infused vodkas.
Jackson oversees local winemaking for the four-person company. Meanwhile, Brian Brown oversees winemaking in Napa for ONX (pronounced “onyx”). Vineyard manager Ben Epstein tends its 30 acres of Templeton Gap vineyards, which grow up to 13 different varietals.
The custom in California has been to follow, more or less, European practices regarding winemaking. Bordeaux blends abound, for example, that put grapes originally from that one region of France together in the bottle.
ONX’s first vintage, from the 2008 harvest, included a Rhône-style blend called Mad Crush, along with two varietal wines: a petite sirah and a syrah.
But ONX’s 2009 wines — slated for release in October — leave tradition behind. Looking to “rewrite the book,” Brown and Jackson have created four blends. Each contains at least four different grape varieties.
“It’s really about unshackling ourselves from the confines of what European tradition has put on us,” Jackson said. “We’re not Europe. We’re California. We’re the progressive region.”
With its new release, ONX winemakers merge Rhône, Bordeaux, Spanish and so-called “heirloom” California grapes such as petite sirah.
“We talk about ‘blending without boundaries,’ ” said marketing director Jennifer Freck. “There’s a trend in the direction.”
Without its own facility or tasting room, the young winery is planning a “traveling tasting room” of events throughout the state.