New Paso Brand: Vina Robles

Dec 31, 2018

Growers and makers of expressive, approachable Paso Robles estate wines, Vina Robles owner Hans Nef and managing partner Hans -R. Michel began farming winegrapes in 1997.

It was a mere 30 years after the region’s first Cabernet Sauvignon was planted by Dr. Stanley Hoffman and the legendary André Tchelistcheff; an exciting and pivotal time in the region’s history. Entrepreneurs who would become known as pioneers of the region were experimenting and making discoveries that would shape the future of the Paso Robles wine industry. It is this spirit that drew the two longtime friends and agriculturalists to the region, and inspired them to purchase land that would become their first of six Paso Robles estate vineyards.


The 40+ wineries that existed in 1997 have grown in number to more than 200. It is now no secret that growing conditions in Paso Robles are optimal for producing premium and ultra-premium wines. Major contributing factors include:  1) The Paso Robles AVA lies along California’s Central Coast, only 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean and between two perfectly placed mountain ranges—these natural temperature controls create a Mediterranean-like climate of warm days, cold nights and long growing seasons; and 2) The area has a unique predominance of calcareous soils along with high soil pH values that are not typical of other California AVAs.

Furthermore, Paso Robles is incredibly diverse. It is the largest geographic appellation, stretching over 614,000 acres, with 40,000 planted to vineyard. Encompassing rolling plains, river bottoms and rocky mountainous areas, elevations range from 700 to over 2,400 feet. While calcareous soils dominate, this diverse topography presents more than 30 soil series, primarily bedrock derived soils from weathered granite, volcanic and marine sedimentary rocks. Rainfall varies more than 20 inches in the extreme, and the warmest areas accumulate about 20% more heat than the coolest.

By 2012 Mr. Nef and Mr. Michel recognized how the diversity of terroir within the region contributed to nuances in fruit grown in different areas. They took up a petition with a few likeminded vineyard owners and ultimately helped to establish 11 sub-AVAs/districts in 2014.


The Vina Robles vineyard team currently farms a total of 2,400 acres on six estate vineyards, all are SIP Certified® Sustainable. Only the finest blocks from each site are farmed for Vina Robles wines, the balance is sold to other area wineries. Spread out over the region, these six vineyards represent five of Paso’s eleven sub-AVAs:

  • Terra Bella Vineyard – Adelaida District
  • Creston Valley Vineyard – Creston District
  • Huerhuero Vineyard – El Pomar District and Geneseo District (the only vineyard in Paso Robles that straddles a district border)
  • Jardine Vineyard – Estrella District
  • Pleasant Valley Vineyard – Estrella District
  • Collins Vineyard – Geneseo District


Kevin Willenborg is a versatile winemaker with over 30 years of extensive experience, covering many of the industry’s key regions including Bordeaux, Napa, Sonoma, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, as well as California’s Central Coast. Throughout his travels, Willenborg’s fine wines of distinction have garnered numerous reputable accolades.

Having studied Fermentation Science at the University of California at Davis, Willenborg’s fast paced career started in 1984 while interning at Chateau Petrus. Here, he not only learned the key elements of shaping a world class wine from ground to glass but also received a great introduction into the industry’s traditions and philosophy.

Thereafter, Willenborg held key winemaking roles at Louis M. Martini in St. Helena, CA and Cedar Creek Estate in Kelowna, Canada, where he was successful with the challenging grape growing environment of the Okanagan Valley and designing the layout for their new winery facility. Later on, Willenborg lead the winemaking program at Firestone Vineyard in Los Olivos, CA, overseeing over 500 acres of estate vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. Prior to joining Vina Robles, he spent two years as associate winemaker at Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, CA where he was responsible for managing all vineyard and winemaking operations.

In spring 2012, Willenborg was hired as winemaker at Vina Robles. “Each wine has its own life. That life begins with the planting and development of the vines. It is then transferred from the earth through the vine as the grapes are harvested, crushed, fermented into wine and eventually bottled,” he explains. “The role of the winemaker is to respectfully steward this life with care and attention to detail.” Willenborg’s winemaking philosophy is in line with the Vina Robles vision. His team approach to “winegrowing” and passion in working with the vines allows him to craft elegant wines that are truly expressive of the Vina Robles estate vineyards.


This wine is made with fruit grown on the first vineyard that Vina Robles planted in 1997, their Jardine Vineyard. The soil is composed primarily of alluvial sandy loam, some gravelly loam and clay loam. This combination allows for excellent drainage, leading to low vine vigor and assertive flavor development. The Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc fruit is pressed on the skins to retain its sensitive aromas and flavors, and does not undergo malolactic fermentation in order to maintain its fresh, crisp style. Citrus, stone fruits and lively acidity are at the essence of this fruit-forward wine.

Vina Robles grows their Chardonnay on their Mistral Vineyard in southern Monterey, where its proximity to the bay and Pacific breezes create the perfect environment for this cool-climate variety. The fully ripened grapes are picked during the early morning while temperatures are low, and immediately delivered to the winery. Fermented in both stainless tanks and French oak barrels, this wine is aged on its lees for six months to increase complexity and enrich the mouthfeel. The result is a rich and full-bodied, beautifully balanced Chardonnay.

With its sun-soaked slopes and coastal ambiance, Paso Robles boasts an ideal terroir for echoing the flavor and spirit of the refreshing, dry rosés of southern France. Vina Robles makes theirs with Syrah from their estate Huerhuero Vineyard, and adds just a touch (3%) of Viognier to further aromatic expression in the finished wine. Cherries and plums dominate the aromas and flavors of this homage to its Mediterranean brethren.

The fruit for this Cabernet Sauvignon is selected from two Vina Robles estate vineyards in Paso Robles – Huerhuero and Creston Valley. Located in the hilly terrain between the El Pomar and Geneseo Districts, vines grown on Huerhuero Vineyard benefit from its limiting calcareous subsoils as well as the moderating Pacific breezes that blow through the Templeton Gap in the afternoons. Creston Valley Vineyard has picture perfect high terrain, southern exposure and shallow soils with noticeable granulated limestone. Both of these vineyards produce Cabernet Sauvignon of expressive flavor and structure. A classic Paso Cab, this wine has velvety tannins, perfect acid balance, and is loaded with dark fruit flavors.

Petite Sirah is a classic grape grown in California for more than a century, and is well suited to the limiting soils found in the estate vineyards of Vina Robles in Paso Robles. Upon extensive blending trials after eight months of aging, the final lots are selected and blended for overall synergies – structure and minerality from their Creston Valley Vineyard, and silkiness and expressive fruit from Jardine Vineyard. The blend is then aged for an additional 12 months in barrels to fully integrate before bottling. The resulting wine is complex with expressive, dark fruit and great tannin structure.

A fresh Rhône-style blend from their Jardine, Huerhuero and Creston Valley vineyards, the Vina Robles RED4 showcases the structure of Petite Sirah, the spice and cherry qualities of Syrah, the forward fruit of Grenache, and the rustic character of Mourvèdre. Winemaker Kevin Willenborg weaves these four varieties into an intriguing, youthful wine each vintage. A natural go-to for just about any meal.

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