We were buzzing about the wine country in Paso Robles recently and headed off northeast from town to Cross Canyons Road. Lots of grapes and a few wineries out in this area including, Silver Horse, J. Lohr, Ranchita Canyon and Locatelli Vineyards.
There is a new guy in town (actually two guys) that are in the process of putting up an impressive facility on a 168 acres vineyard property. Brits Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, both involved in highly successful Hollywood careers partnered together to create the winery and vineyard of Villa San-Juliette.
As producers of the TV hit American Idol, and many other projects (So You Think You Can Dance & America’s Got Talent), the two men took the time tested path of spending their hard earned cash to buy into the wine lifestyle and create a first class destination winery. Originally the purchase of the vineyard was planned as a consortium of buyers including collogues Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller, but one by one the investors pulled out leaving Nigel and Ken to live the dream.
(Their adventure of buying the vineyard and learning the wine business was chronicled in the 2006 FOX reality series “Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes”. The series follows Nigel and Ken as they negotiated with local farmers and winemakers, cursed the wild boars and vineyard pests and are welcomed into the community- while Nigel gets locked in the Hoosgow during the Paso Robles Pioneer parade.)
The winery property is magnificent with rolling hills and a new vineyard that was recently replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. A grand visitor center, winery, and barrel room are in various phases of construction, with a timetable to finish it all by summer of 2009. The facility will have excellent spaces for wine country weddings, wine events and of course, wine tasting.
Since Nigel and Ken lead rather busy lives in Los Angeles, they needed to hire a hands-on winemaker to run the show and move the brand forward. In comes the flamboyant Adam LaZarre who is coming off a tremendous run of creating successful new wine brands. He and wine partner Paul Clifton created the HRM Rex Goliath brand in 2002, which grew from 19,000 cases to 300,000 cases in just three years. The team was also responsible for starting Cycles Gladiator a popular brand at Hawn Estates.
With the success and fame as a winemaker and brand builder, Adam seems to be the perfect match for this new label. He is experienced, self confident, perhaps a bit brash and a “mad scientist” when working in the wine lab. With his movie star looks and strong winemaking resume he is also considered a “rock star” in the wine world.
Nigel’s and Ken’s long held dream of owning a vineyard had been reached and has grown into an ambitious project- not unlike many of their successful TV productions. Expect tremendous wine from this estate with distribution reaching upwards to 30 states by 2010. Already the raves are coming in on their first releases. Soon the urbane, childhood friends from Liverpool will have the chance to live their wine country dream.
To see the episodes from the series check out “Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes”