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Shoutout to Gary Eberle

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Running into Gary Eberle again at this weekend’s big Cab event in Paso Robles brought back beautiful memories. I first met Gary when I was sent by the magazine I used to work for to write a story about him.

That must have been around 1990. I’d heard of him, of course, for by then, he was already famous as one of the founding fathers of Paso Robles (the old Estrella River brand, followed, in 1981, by Eberle). But Paso, unfortunately, back then was not particularly esteemed as a wine region, so Gary’s wines had more respect than love among the critics’ club I was about to join. One of the country’s top critics said his Cabernets “ha[d] shown promise at times” but were “variable in quality.”

Now, before I go any further, it’s time to deconstruct this off-used critics’ meme. When a winery “shows promise” it means that it’s officially on the critic’s radar, and that he has some reason to like it. However, what troubles the critic is that he can’t quite convince himself that the wine is worth really committing himself to. If I may indulge in a gender metaphor, it’s like he’s dated her a few times, is interested…but he’s interested in a lot of different wines and isn’t ready to go steady yet.

Still, he can’t quite bring himself to throw the wine under the bus. They had some fun times together…remember that summer night with the barbecued steak? Things were just about perfect, with the stars twinkling in the black sky and the soft August breeze teasing out the jasmine, and the second bottle nearly drained. But she’s only a working girl, a Paso chick with sunburn on the back of her neck, more Brad Paisley than will.i.am. The critic isn’t sure she’s the girl he wants to bring back and introduce to Mom…or bear his children.

Hence “variable in quality.” Do not, gentle reader, make the mistake of thinking this means that the critic has tasted every one of the winery’s wines over many vintages and found that, one year, the Cabernet is 91 and the next it’s 83. That may be the case; it may not; it may simply be that the critic (for whatever reason) is loathe to commit, and the finest excuse for not committing–a 24 karat excuse, one no one can ever disprove–is that the wines “are variable.” Who would argue with such a statement? “You think the wines are NOT variable?” the critic exclaims, his eyes wide and pitying. “Then, my friend, I’m afraid you haven’t tasted them consistently. Or, even worse, you do not have the palate to discern variable quality.

Then it hits Twitter: “Big critic says wines variable.” Next thing you know, the guest wine blogger for the Cedar Rapids Press Blowhard writes, “The wines are known to be variable” and, voila! a reputation is cemented.

End of segue: Back to Gary Eberle. At Saturday’s Cabernet Collective event, most of the younger winemakers on the panel paid homage to Gary. As well they should have. It’s hard to exaggerate Gary’s influence on Paso Robles. It’s a sign of a maturing wine region when a new generation comes in and recognizes the role that the pioneers played. That’s not always the case: there are appellations in California where new people come in and act like they invented everything…as if nothing had existed before they arrived..how ridiculous. It’s beautiful and refreshing when new people give props to those who came before them.

  1. It is also likely that Dr. Eberle has spawned as many new winery proprietors, winegrowers and winemakers as did Robert Mondavi.

  2. Ray Krause, that’s probably true. It would be interesting to see a list of all the winemaker’s who have passed through his winery.

  3. Talented “cellar rats” emerged from his early days tutoring at Estrella River, Nils Udsen (Castoro), Tobin James, Chuck Mulligan (Harmony Cellars) and Tom Meyers (Castoro), et al. Gary could tell you more but you know how shy he is about talking about himself.

  4. I remember that Eberle was the only Paso Robles winery included in the first printing of Laube’s Cabernet Sauvignon book that as expected was otherwise liberally loaded with North Coast brands. Having lived in SLO in the mid-eighties, I was able to taste some of his earliest vintages from 1982 and 1983. His Cabernet Sauvignon was an outlier when the region was a hotbed for Zinfandel and Muscat Canelli.

  5. Steve I am not going to bare your childern.

  6. Mitch Cosentino says:

    But Gary, many of us know how well you have worn that Blue dress over the years!!

    (For others, another story for another time)

  7. Joel Peterson says:

    Steve – thanks for mentioning Gary and his wonderful contributions. You hit in on the head – the sign of a region getting respect and gaining notoriety is when we honor those who came before and laid the groundwork for those here today. If not for Gary Eberle & others (Ken Volk, Jerry Lohr & family, Nils Udsen, Toby, the Hope family, Justin Baldwin) we wouldn’t have the standouts we have today who garner international respect (and high scores). I love that Paso celebrates this. It’s also why the wine-making community here is so tight knit.
    Finally, I think it’s interesting that Gary is remembered for his contributions to Syrah (first plantings here, etc) but he’s known for those great 80′s Cabernet’s. Even history only wants to talk about Cabs. I had the pleasure of briefly working in those caves as well and I’ll always remember it fondly (except when it rained…)
    Joel Peterson, Hope Family Wines

  8. Thank you for giving Gary the recognition he deserves as the pioneer of Paso Robles.

  9. Christopher says:

    Thanks for giving Gary Eberle a shoutout! My first memories of tasting wine was at Eberle in Paso, going on the cave tour, joining the wine club, and getting a VIP tasting down in the caves. I’m still a member and continue to enjoy Eberle wine year after year.

  10. Keasling says:

    Hear, hear.

  11. Mitch you should see my new little black dress. Very sliming and goes great with my pearls.

  12. You can put an Eber in a dress but it’s still just a ……

  13. Joel sez: “Finally, I think it’s interesting that Gary is remembered for his contributions to Syrah (first plantings here, etc) but he’s known for those great 80′s Cabernet’s.”

    Though I think Gary’s Cabs are absolutely first-rate…I think his contribution of pioneering Syrah is a noteworthy achievement for which he does not receive his just recognition.
    I first visited Gary at EstrellaRiver around ’77. He had already gotten some good recognition for his Cabs (and Chards as well) and was well towards putting Paso on the fine-wine map. But when I told Gary I was really interested in trying his Syrah and Barbera. He gave me this sorta cockeyed look as if to say..”Wow…I’ve got a real nut-case on my hands”. When I tasted his first Syrah from barrel, w/ lots of very pretty/bright/floral strawberry fruit (and much different from many Paso Syrahs now in vogue), the light went off in my head that “Wow…Syrah does have some real potential in Calif”. And then the rest is history…with the first four truly great Syrahs coming out in ’82. But it was Gary who got the whole show going.
    I always thought they should have had a special ceremony at HdR to recognize Gary for his seminal contributions to Calif Syrah, and suggested to them that they do such. Guess it’s too late now.
    Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.
    Tom

  14. I always liked Gary’s bon mot: “What’s the difference between a btl of Cabernet and a teen-age girl??
    You can sit down and reason w/ a Cabernet”.
    If I recall it correctly.
    Tom

  15. Another Ebele-ism:
    “Red wines will make you famous
    but white wines will make you rich.”

  16. Steve thanks for the love.

    Hi Tom. Build any bombs lately?

  17. Claudia Schug Schuetz says:

    Gary is a man who deserves great respect! I am very glad I’ve had the priviledge of importing his wines. He is a talented winemaker, visionary and mentor!

  18. Great to see the support of an industry pioneer like Gary. Gary has done a lot for the industry as a whole (Syrah) and Paso Robles (AVA). Gary is very quick to share and give credit to other deserving pioneers who do not seem to get the same kind of “media-love.” This credits him with an even greater respect from me.

    The wine industry needs more people like Gary.

    In my opinion, his support of maintaining a large AVA helps to keep the region cohesive. Further, I believe that cohesive support has helped move the region in a better position to the success they have today.

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