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james laube's wine flights

An Exciting Discovery From Paso Robles

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 6, 2006 1:26pm ET

When you can say that a winery makes a lot of great wine at terrific prices, well, that’s a magical thing.

This week I discovered such a winery—Four Vines, founded in 1996. In the words of one of its owners, "This is one of the largest wineries in Paso Robles you’ve never heard of."

Though Four Vines isn't exactly new, this was the first time the winery had submitted wines for review, and tasting them was a real treat.

Four Vines' concept was to tap old-vine Zinfandel from Amador, Napa, Paso Robles and Sonoma—an idea that gave way to a much wider range of wines and styles. Wine drinkers benefit from these diverse and economical options.

Christian Tietge, who is the winemaker, founded Four Vines and partnered with his wife, Susan Mahler, an earth sciences major with a passion for vines, and Bill Grant. Grant, a childhood friend of Tietge's and a successful businessman, oversees the winery business.

The wines I tried in a blind tasting were big and ripe, expressive yet well-balanced. While Zinfandel remains a favorite, the winery has moved toward varietal blends, and has one wine, a $14 stainless steel fermented, non-oaked Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley, called “Naked Chardonnay,” that is the cash cow, with 30,000 cases.

Another 28,000 cases of wine make up the rest of the lineup and the names they use for the wines—Anarchy, The Heretic and The Peasant—reflect a playful, cutting-edge irreverence. These are wines made by people with a commitment to excellence and value, and they seem to have fun doing it.

Here are a few of my favorites. Full reviews will be available soon.

The 2004 Four Vines Amador County Bailey Vineyard ($24, 421 cases) is the best Syrah I can recall from this Sierra Foothills appellation. It’s rich and flashy, packed with berry, pepper and spice flavors.

The 2004 Phoenix Paso Robles ($40, 98 cases) is a Rhône-inspired blend that combines power with finesse, offering a mix of cherry, rhubarb, tar, spice and earth flavors.

The 2004 Anarchy Paso Robles ($30, 900 cases) is another exuberant Rhône blend, exhibiting tiers of black cherry, blackberry, spice and a hint of cherry-rhubarb pie.

At $15, the 2004 Syrah Paso Robles (293 cases) is a great value. Firm, intense and complex, with earthy rhubarb, wild berry, sage, spice and cedar notes, turning elegant on the finish.

The Peasant Glenrose Vineyard Paso Robles 2004 ($30, 636 cases) is also fruit-driven, with layers of fleshy blackberry, cherry and boysenberry fruit. Intense and lively.

The Heretic Petite Sirah Paso Robles 2004 ($30, 885 cases) shows this grape at its best. Delightfully rich and deep, ripe and fleshy, with a complex mix of currant, wild berry and blackberry fruit that's sharply focused. For all its size, it's lively and vibrant.

These are truly exciting wines at excellent prices. Hard to beat that.

Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  December 6, 2006 5:40pm ET
I just tasted the Four Vine wines at an industry event in Hawaii - and I thought they were great, and at killer prices. The Heretic is a truely amazing wine. It's funny that it takes a trip to Hawaii to find out about such a great winery that's just up the road from our place.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  December 6, 2006 6:38pm ET
It's good to hear you wax enthusiastic about Paso Robles. I was just in the Tobin James tasting room in November and Lance Silver was lamenting that there wasn't much hope of more than about 5 vintners from PR ever being covered at any given time, based on input from you and Daniel Sogg. Even Matt Kramer only gave them about 8 minutes for his book. Any rebuttal? I love PR wines and their prices, so I'm really not hoping for much more coverage personally.
Harvey Posert Jr
napa valley —  December 7, 2006 5:34pm ET
As a bourbon drinker, I wonder how much wine can you make from four vines?
Michael Mock
West Des Moines, IA —  December 7, 2006 10:08pm ET
Here in Iowa, I've been enjoying a lot of different Four Vines wines for the past few years. My personal fave is the Heretic Petite Sirah, but all of their offerings are worth a taste. Thanks for highlighting a worthy if obscure winery!

As they say on the bottle of the Peasant, "Temperance, like chastity, is it's own punishment."
Lance Brown
December 8, 2006 4:26pm ET
James, I'm happy for Chris and Bill, that you have finally discovered what a great program they have going at Four Vines. Chris is an awesome winemaker with great passion for his job. Bill has done a terrific job promoting their product all over the country.

However, it seems that Wine Spectator "stumbles" over these not so new wineries far too infrequently. There are many wineries from Paso Robles to Washington that make amazing juice at reasonable prices. It seems to me that Wine Spectator spends most of its time reporting on the 91 point $150 Napa Cabs that we are all tired of hearing about. I get the impression that WS waits for vintners to submit their wine instead of WS using its resources to find new and exciting wineries to write about.

I feel that Wine Spectator can offer much more to the industry and to the consumer by reporting on the Four Vines type of wineries rather than all the excessive print currently given to the over hyped cult wineries from the 90's. I hope you can "find" more producers like Four Vines to share with us in the near future.
Patrick Birch
Redondo Beach, CA —  December 10, 2006 1:08pm ET
One of the joys of being a week geek is discovering small wineries on your own and then supporting them with direct purchases.Keep up the good work reporting on wineries of all sizes.
Jennifer Boyd-morin
DC area —  December 12, 2006 5:01pm ET
My local wine store recently recommended the Four Vines zin when I asked for a pairing suggestion for a pork dish I was making. The wine was fantastic with the dish. In fact, I just purchased another bottle since I'm making the dish again for Christmas. In case anyone's interested, the dish was a pork tenderloin w/a carmelized onion sauce and cherry chutney that was spiced with cinnamon, clove, orange rind, etc. The pinot that my wine guy insisted on just didn't stand up to the food, but the zin was an excellent match so I'm glad I pushed for it. Happy to see the winery mentioned here so soon after, although I do have to comment that I agree with Lance. It would be nice to see WS seeking out more smaller wineries that are producing good to great wines for their region instead of the old standby's. I know you guys have a difficult job, but we'd appreciate it!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 12, 2006 5:36pm ET
Lance and Jennifer, we too like to find new discoveries...after all, we're journalists. Because we review wines blind, most of the wines need to be submitted to be reviewed and we try to taste as many as possible. Clearly, wineries with tiny case numbers are more challenging to review, given our audience, but we like to acknowledge success at all levels, big and small.
Jack Chang
Alpharetta, Georgia —  December 13, 2006 11:21am ET
Arrggh, now you've leaked one of my best-kept wine secrets to the world! As both a retailer and consumer, I've been singing the praises of Four Vines for the past couple of years, for anyone wanting an inexpensive intro, the basic Old Vines Zin (well, it's mostly Zin...) is a knockout for under $15; James, I thoroughly agree with you on the Heretic Petite Sirah, absolutely mellifluous in flavor and texture; wondering if you had the chance to try the Dusi Zinfandel? Also around $30, less than 500 cases made, sigh, if only Christian Tietje wasn't already married, along with Peter Rosback from Sineann, one of my favorite winemakers to hang out and drink with! I'm only (half) kidding about letting the Four Vines cat out of the bag; the guys deserve their turn in the spotlight. Thanks, James, you've done Zin and Rhone varietal fans that are willing to think outside of the box a little a tremendous service. Cheers- Gina Cook
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 13, 2006 11:59am ET
Gina, tried the Naked Chardonnay in a blind tasting yesterday. Very impressive, $14 a bottle, no oak, lots of fresh, vibrant fruit. I believe the other wines are headed my way soon.
Jack Chang
Alpharetta, Georgia —  December 13, 2006 1:15pm ET
Agreed on the Naked, refreshing alternative to the Land O' Lakes on a popsicle stick style that many California Chard producers still embrace. I carry 8 Four Vines wines, Heretic, Anarchy, Peasant, Loco, the aformentioned Dusi Zin that rarely makes it out of California. Spoke with Chris' wife a few months ago and she told me about the Phoenix; all I said was, "if you guys make it, I've gotta have it!" Hope you dig the rest of the line-up when you taste it. Cheers- Gina
Stephanie L Yeary
San Diego, CA —  February 23, 2007 4:09pm ET
Awesome article on a stellar winery! I hope you get the chance to review the Loco. We went through 10 cases of it in one week! I think it's the best of their small production stuff, and that's clearly saying something. Keep up the great work!

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