Since the turn of the millennium, a group of free-spirited winemakers – many under 40 - have shown that the area around Paso Robles can be fertile ground for daring, global grape experimentation.
One of the best of them is Brian Brown of Onx, a Napa transplant whose unorthodox red blends have been attracting fans and winning big contests in the last year or two. “I was getting a little restless (in Napa). I was ready to try out some new ideas,” Brown said as we tasted his most recent portfolio in the estate’s picturesque vineyards.
Brown’s pilot vineyard, planted in 2005, included the most common Rhône varietals: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Then after a weekend retreat, a vision emerged for the young vineyard. Working on a hunch and his love of European wine beyond France, Brown planted several blocks with a mixture of Rhône, Spanish, Bordeaux, Portuguese and Italian grapes.
Onx released its first experimental vintage in 2008. Over the last few years, the winery has won awards and impressive scores from Wine Enthusiast, the San Francisco Chronicle and Stephen Tanzer. Onx’s wines triumphed at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, winning two gold medals and one double gold.
“I guess you could say I went through an evolution. In Napa I made what I call chocolate and vanilla.” (Brown was referring to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the two dominant “flavors” of the Napa Valley.) “Don’t get me wrong -- there are a lot of different styles of chocolate and vanilla. But when I started off here, I wanted to try new flavors that people had never tasted before.” “We’re not being radical for the purpose of being radical. It’s all about being attuned to the locale. This is what we can do in this place, on this property. And we’re learning how to do it better every year.”
Try one of his experimental blends and then take a chance to experiment with something new in your kitchen, at work or in the bedroom. Life is too short to be just chocolate or vanilla.