Tom grew up in Pleasanton, attending Amador Valley High with my wife, Betty Gail. His parents, Bob and Pat Lane, are among the people who have known both of us the longest—since I was a 10-year-old reporter for the Abbie 4-H Club and Pat was coordinating community news for the Independent. Tom remarked they are still living in the same house they bought in 1954—that is putting down roots.
Tom’s winemaking roots date to his childhood when he and his brother, Don, helped home winemakers. He said, as we chatted last Friday afternoon at Bianchi Winery in Paso Robles, that he could foresee a career in winemaking back then. Tom started as winemaker at Navarro in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County in 1985 and became known for his skills with making dry Gewurtztraminer and Riesling.
He then moved back to the valley and took over winemaking duties at Concannon Vineyard in 1992. He eventually became general manager as well as winemaker before he headed south to Bianchi in 2004.
Like at Concannon, Tom makes an extraordinary number of varietals. In addition to the 29 acres on the estate, he purchases grapes from through the broader Paso Robles area as well as from the Santa Maria area and Monterey County. That allows him to make a wonderful Pinot Noir as well as the crisp white wines in addition to the reds you would expect from the Paso area.
We had not visited Paso Robles since the early 1980s, although we remember enjoying Estrella River wines made by Paso pioneer Gary Eberle, who went on to found his own winery. We were struck by the ever-increasing acreage of vineyards—these range from small 5- to 10-acre plots to those covering 100 or more acres. There are now more than 200 wineries in the area and more than 32,000 acres of vineyards—about 10 times more than the Livermore Valley.
The region has exploded in the last 20 years since the wines started to receive international recognition for their quality. There are major challenges at hand as the water table has been significantly lowered by all the wineries pumping to irrigate the grapes. There currently is a moratorium on new agricultural wells—one 300-foot deep Bianchi well has gone dry, while the 1,000-foot one is still working.
At nearby Cass winery, one of the partners said they had one well that was 2,200 feet deep—they used an oil drilling rig to reach the water.
Unlike the Livermore Valley, which imports water from the Delta through the South Bay Aqueduct to recharge the aquifer, there is no outside source of water in Paso Robles—it’s all what falls from the sky and they suffered through another dry year in 2016
As Tom pointed out, Paso Robles is in a coastal valley, just like Livermore, and gets the same dramatic temperature swings—although perhaps even more so, 40 to 50 degree differences between the daytime high and the nighttime low. The Mediterranean climates of both areas are ideal for grapes as well as many other trees, vines and vegetables.