“Victor Hugo Is Not (Just) A French Author”

hugoI remember sitting outside around a wooden patio table, feeling the hot sun and the still, heavy air. We were tasting wine with Vic Roberts — his wine, in fact.

We’d just tasted a surprisingly wonderful Syrah Rose, and were working our way through his full-bodied reds. Vic was telling stories and joking, and we were just getting ready to start raving about his wines when…the wind went from zero to 20 miles an hour in about 20 seconds. Suddenly we’re grabbing everything that’s not nailed down, and we can feel the temperature stop climbing and start falling.

That’s why Vic’s wines taste the way they do. His vineyards sit smack in the middle of the Templeton Gap, a natural break in California’s coastal mountains that allows cool ocean breezes to get sucked inland every afternoon, and cool down the grapes growing in this warm inland region.

Templeton is in the Paso Robles AVA, which sits in the middle of the huge Central Coast wine region and is about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Vic Roberts came to Paso in 1983, as has watched (and participated in) the huge growth of the wine industry there.vic

It was bound to happen — Paso has micro-climates and soils that can make great wine, and now they have great winemakers who are helping the region gain national and international respect.

So what about Vic? He and his wife own Victor Hugo Winery. “Victor Who?” you say? Don’t I know him from somewhere?

Sure. You know him as the author of classics such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he shares a French heritage with the Paso Robles Vic (Victor Hugo Roberts). That’s about all they have in common, except that Paso Vic stole a name from French Author Vic: The Hunchback .

Vic grows several red varietals, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah and all five Bordeaux red grapes. He makes killer Zin, Cab and a Bordeuax bllend called Opulence, but the one we tasted recently is a blend of “everything we didn’t bottle someplace else.” Victor Hugo Hunchback Paso Robles 2008 includes four grapes: Syrah (32%), Petite Verdot (28%), Cabernet France (24%) and Merlot (16%).

The nose showed lots of dark fruit, with the earthy/spicy edge that Syrah gives. Plums and spice also noodled their way in. The palate gave up lots of dark berries, coffee and vanilla, but it wasn’t overly jammy. That’s what I liked most: the verging-on-opulent fruit was balanced by a backbone of acid and soft tannins.

That’s what those cool breezes do: they build structure in the fruit, and allow it to ripen without the sugars going sky-high. Just look at the alcohol content of Hunchback. At 13.5%, it’s a relative lightweight by California standards. And you now it when you drink it — it doesn’t tire out your palate but remains intense but light.

Vic has also aged this wine in French and American oak, which I think accounts for the interesting spice. But he only makes about 600 cases of Hunchback, so you may have some trouble finding. But if you do, let me (and Vic) know how you like it. Cheers!

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