Elizabeth White, Free Lance Wine Writer
Unexpected discoveries help keep life smooth, even when the road traveled is a bit bumpy. Recently, as my mother and I drove off the beaten path of San Luis Obispo County—lost, confused, and in search of a small winery located on top of Frog Pond Mountain on the west side of Atascadero—I wondered if our final destination was within reach. But finally, just when we had given up hope, we stumbled upon the right course, leading us to the home of Frolicking Frog (formerly EROS Cellars), Atascadero’s only winery.
Perched obscurely amongst oak trees and surrounded by stunning hillside views, we began to understand how “a fine wine begins with nature’s blessings and virtuous expectations.” Our gracious hosts for the afternoon, winemaker Stu Goldman and marketing and sales director Maria Montijo-Goldman, greeted us at their lovely home and winery, paying no mind to our 45-minute late arrival. Open only by appointment, they welcomed us with open arms. Although my mother and I already had the pleasure of tasting a few of Frolicking Frog’s smooth, delicious wines at SLO County events during the past year, we had no idea what an indulgent and educational afternoon lay ahead.
Stu and Maria led us to their quaint winery facility, full of American oak barrels brimming with ageing wine and vats of fermenting grapes. Removing the lid of one of the tanks of crushed Zinfandel and stirring its fragrant purple mash, Stu allowed us to revel in the awesome sight (and scent) of fermenting fruit. Melded for about two weeks, this spicy varietal would soon be barrel-aged for two years before bottling. This year, utilizing only Paso Robles appellation grapes, their annual production of 400 cases will include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel. These winemakers—who originally only produced Cabernet Sauvignon—have come a long way.
Moving to their stunning property almost 20 years ago (which now includes goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and wind chimes—to ward off rattlesnakes), Stu recounted why he started making wine, pointing to the Mission grapevines they inherited with the acreage, growing just beyond their house and laughed, “If life gives you lemons, what are you going to do?” After experimenting as home winemakers for several years, they went commercial in 2003 with Cabernet Sauvignon, venturing out in 2006 to include other varietals.
Stu’s “hobby gone wild” now keeps him busy, in addition to his full-time responsibilities as a goldsmith. Visiting vineyards throughout the year, Stu tastes for complexity and keeps an eye on the quality of the grapes he chooses to purchase. Close to harvest-time, he tests the ph and acid levels. Stu recounted that although this year ph levels were off and acids were low, creating more of a challenge to make a good wine, his confidence to create quality wine remained high. We soon got a taste of the past successful fruits of his labor.
Stu and Maria seated us at their stunning outdoor tasting facility next to the winery, where we readied ourselves for seven wines. The first pour, a taste of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), yielded a light buttery hue; a soft bouquet of vanilla, apricot, and honey; and a silky taste with notes of light citrus, vanilla, and stone fruit. As we moved on to their red varietals, the buttery vanilla nuances of their low-tannin American-oaked wines became a familiar theme, yielding smooth, creamy flavors. The 2006 Syrah ($27) splashed the color of cherries in our glasses, also hinting of cherries on the nose and palate, and alluded to a caramel finish. This pleasant red wine warmed up our palates.
The next taste, their 2006 Cabernet Franc ($26)—one of my favorite varietals—exhibited a rich, lush berry hue with a beautiful raspberry nose. Its lovely, smooth, caramel and buttery flavors finished with sweet berry undertones. The 2006 Zinfandel ($30) exhibited a soft purple tinge and light fragrance of berries and cinnamon, displaying smooth, buttery qualities with a spicy zing on the finish, reminiscent of a traditional Zin.
The fifth indulgence, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), exuded both a smack and shade of rich, dark berries. But its bold cherry and soft vanilla flavors left a smooth, mellow finish. The 2006 Petite Syrah ($32) played out with beautiful deep plum hues, wafting of berry and vanilla and its smooth, buttery qualities mischievously finished with fun, peppery undertones. And the last treat of the day—the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)—left us impressed with its robust berry color, nose and smooth flavor.
According to Stu, these smooth wines with soft tannins and balanced acids make for nice food-friendly wines. I couldn’t agree more. Meticulously picking out the stems before fermentation and utilizing particular yeasts to keep the tannins low (tannins act as a preservative), Frolicking Frog’s smooth, sip-friendly red wines can be stored for a maximum of five years. I purchased several bottles to take home with me in anticipation of future meals.
Elizabeth White, Free Lance Wine Writer – November 1, 2009