Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 9:08 pm | Fair 52º

Here & There

Donna Polizzi: At Whalebone Vineyard, You’ll Discover Much More Than Award-Winning Wine

Bob Simpson and family are the hosts with the most in Paso Robles, from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends to tempting ice cream and an attraction that dates back millennia

Lisa Jadali toasts her host, Bob Simpson, and Whalebone Vineyard & Tasting Barn in Paso Robles. Click to view larger
Lisa Jadali toasts her host, Bob Simpson, and Whalebone Vineyard & Tasting Barn in Paso Robles. (Donna Polizzi photo)

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Robert “Dr. Bob” Simpson was an obstetrician in Templeton for more than a decade, helping with the birth of around 4,000 infants.

In 1986, he and his wife, Janalyn, made the decision to buy a 128-acre cattle ranch from the estate of the late Hollywood director King Vidor. It’s a magnificent property on Vineyard Drive in the Santa Lucia Mountains west of Paso Robles.

They planted a 10½-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in 1989. Initially, many of the Simpsons’ grapes were sold to Meridian and Justin wineries.

But a hunting accident ended Simpson’s medical career in 1993, when he severed his index, middle and ring fingers on his left hand.

“I loved delivering babies, but taking my hobby of growing grapes and turning it into a family business that makes wine that people seem to love, is something that my entire family is proud of,” Simpson told me.

At first, Simpson made homemade wine. A few years, later he hired well-known local winemaker Dan Kleck for his expertise, and in 2001, they started their own label, Whalebone Vineyard.

In 2015, Jeremy Leffert was hired as Whalebone’s new winemaker. Among many awards, “Bob” Wine won the double gold in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Whalebone Vineyard specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends, which are made with classic Bordeaux fermentation techniques that create powerful, yet smooth wines.

The estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons are harvested when the weather gets cooler, in late October. This is much later than when the other grapes are typically harvested in the Paso Robles wine region. It’s considered why the Cabernet Sauvignon is so lively and smooth.

Simpson took my family for a long ATV ride to give us a full view of the property, which lies just eight miles from Pacific Ocean.

Huge clusters of mistletoe and Spanish moss hung in the oak trees surrounding the south-facing, limestone and shale hillside. This is where the vines grow in this perfect coastal climate.

The rolling hills and sloping vineyards were lush, green and breathtaking. You could smell the sweet and earthy soil.

Simpson shared that part of maintaining the vineyard was hunting down wild boar on a daily basis.

“We make sausage out of them,” he laughed.

When we returned from the tour, Jake, Simpson’s youngest son, showed us a huge rock with whale fossils in the broken limestone.

“We unearthed whale bones and fossils that dated back 30 million years,” he said. “Hence the name, Whalebone Winery & Vineyard.”

On a nearby ranch, a family friend had dropped a boulder off of a forklift and, to his surprise, discovered a six-foot-long thorax of a baby whale.

That bone is the picture that graces the Whalebone Vineyard & Tasting Barn’s Cabernet labels.

I’ve never had more fun during a wine tasting. This delightful family offered the perfect blend of craft, talent and humor.

One of Simpson’s daughters, Amanda, is the tasting room manager and another, Ali, makes the delicious sheep’s milk ice cream in a variety of flavors.

Literally, every one of the wines we tasted was wonderful. My cousin, Lisa, and I both favored the Whalebone Cabernet.

The tasting barn is full of temptation. If you love savory and sweet goodness, try the Lemon Chevre cheese. It’s a mild goat cheese with a hint of lemon. The Sopressata and Genoa Salami are mouthwatering. We took home great wine, garlic olive oil and a delicious Balsamic Glaze.

So ... if you want to drink fabulous wine and laugh so hard you’ll need a napkin, you need to visit the Whalebone Vineyard & Tasting Barn at 8325 Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles.

I can attest to the fact that, seven days a week, Simpson and his family consistently “deliver” good times and wine that is sensational.

You’d have to be a fossil to not have a good time at this place.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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