Tweeter button
Facebook button
Digg button

Home » Fifty-Two Weeks »Santa Cruz County » Currently Reading:

River Run – The Start

January 7, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks, Santa Cruz County 2 Comments

If you read Wine Spectator, you are familiar with the last page, “Wine Talk”. Here, you may find an interview with a race car driver, an 80’s hair metal legend, or my recent favorite, Sean Connery. Often, in these short profiles, you will read a sentence something like this: “I remember when I had my wine revelation, it was… (insert memorable wine moment here)”. Wine has a gift, older than Bob Barker himself , of grabbing a person and often in a dramatic and lasting way. I was no different.

I had always wanted to like wine, but wanting to like wine and liking it are two different things. I collected a few bottles as a teenager, not to drink, just to have them. However, I had a hard time really enjoying what I drank when I first started trying wine. At the time, I thought I simply did not have the “acquired taste” for wine that I had heard about and I figured I would need to work hard to build an appreciation of wine over time. In retrospect, there is only so much quality in a $5 to $7 wine from the local super market, no offense Sutter Home or any other company with cute animals on the bottle. I am sure this fact had the most effect on my “liking” wine than anything. But… I remember the night this changed for me.

My childhood friend Jordan F., no, we will call him J. Fontaine, and I stopped by a little wine bistro in Ventura, California called Westside Cellar. We had been several times before, but mostly for food. It was March 22nd, 2008, and we wanted something new to try. There was a young man pouring that night, named Kevin Ruffin, whom we had never met before. “What can I get you guys tonight?” asked Kevin. “We don’t know, we want to learn about wine, but don’t know where to start. Do you have a recommendation?” Kevin told us he had just the thing and returned a few moments later with a silver and purple labeled bottle of wine. It was a 2006 River Run Carignane from the Wirz Vineyard in Cienega Valley (Cienega Valley AVA). Now, those who know wine will tell you Carignane is not much of a varietal to use to turn someone on to wine; it is primarily used in blends, not often showcased as the primary varietal. However, the inky purple wine that filled our cups that night was just as full and amazing as the moon that hung in the sky that beautiful night. It was our revelation. We both walked out with two bottles each that night. Over the last couple of years, the wine has proven again and again to be, for us anyway, a masterpiece. Aside from a few wines I cannot afford, but was privileged to try, it has remained one of the best wines I have ever had. It is the reflection of an artist, one J.P. Pawloski.

J.P. works in his family winery in the rural outskirts of Watsonville California near Aromas, about a half hour south of Santa Cruz. J.P. and his wife purchased the River Run property, which already had an un-used winery on site in the early 80’s. By 1982, River Run Vintners had been established and a beloved hobby that supplied their friends with wine had turned into J.P.’s fulltime business.

J.P. is truly a hands-on artisan wine maker, a fact evident by his bushy beard, straw hats, and colorful Hawaiian shirts, an appearance more Californian artist than wine maker. It is interesting to note that prior to River Run, J.P. actually ran rivers as a rafting guide in Northern California. He works with little to no staff, picking up his own grapes from carefully selected vineyards, such as Wirz. Working with a low production; the 2006 Carignane made up 200 cases of the roughly 3,000 cases a year River Run produces, J.P. crafts wines he likes the way he likes. J.P. has no degrees in wine making, no fancy schooling in the science of wine, only a passion to express the potential of the grape, the way he sees appropriate. Those who have had J.P.’s wines write about them as an experience, a true craft, and expression of a man’s passion. It’s fitting that his previous career was one of exploration as a river rafting guide in Northern California. He has clearly kept that zeal in the wines he offers.

In an era of massive wineries and corporate take-overs, it is both fascinating and encouraging to have artists still working at their craft. Be it in a basement, a garage, or at a small resurrected winery at the southern most end of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

Special thanks to David Royal for the use of his beautiful images.

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Eileen Kelterer says:

    Wayne, I had no idea what a great writer you are! Well done!! The web site is really polished and put together. Love the format. I was great getting to know how this all came about……the wine love I mean. I expect I will learn a number of things about you that I didn”t know by end of year. Great job and looking forward to more posts.

  2. Joey Davalos says:

    Wow, I must agree the 2006 River Run Carignane was one of my favorites! But like many I am just a novice in the world of wine. I never thought I would come to love wine, but it has been an exciting adventure over the past few years. I look forward to reading, hearing, and tasting vino’s from our own back yard.

Comment on this Article:


Bonny Doon: Day of the Doon IX {Photo Essay}

September 22, 2011

Bonny Doon: Day of the Doon IX {Photo Essay}

We have grown rather accustomed to long trips for short stays, so much so that a 500 mile weekend is not such a big deal anymore. There are a lot of events we are invited to and we can only attend a few of them. But when Randall Graham asks you to attend, you attend. […]

Secret Project {the reveal}

August 17, 2011

Secret Project {the reveal}

A few weeks ago I posted the “Secret Project” with some shots of  a friend’s new winery taking shape. At the time, the space was still in a raw state, holes in the ground, bare walls, cut concrete. In terms of photographing a new winery, one might say there was not much to see, no […]