Alma Sol Winery: Defining Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Alma Sol Winery Tasting Room © Cori Solomon

The sun is essential for growing grapes, and it is the soul of the winemaker’s passion that creates the fine wine from those grapes. Naming their winery, Alma Sol, John and Lisa Shaw’s interpretation of the meaning comes through with each sip of their wine. This attribute is especially true with their perception of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and its utilization in their Alma Sol Bordeaux blends.

For John, “Both the sun and soul are essential to life in general but also to feeding the passion for what we do as winemakers. Those two elements – in multiple meanings – drive how we care for and select our vines, grapes, and winemaking process.”

John and Lisa Shaw  © Alma Sol Winery
John and Lisa Shaw . Photo Courtesy of Alma Sol Winery

Alma Sol Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Beginnings

John and Lisa’s background is in academic publishing, and fortunately, you do not have to be in one location for this type of business. It all started in 2002 while visiting Lisa’s parent’s vineyard in Paso Robles. After meeting many winemakers in the area, they got hooked and began yearning to expand their knowledge of vineyards practices and the entire winemaking operations. At that point, they wanted to show what the family fruit could achieve if they produced the wine. The goal was to make the best Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon from the family’s fruit. Their first vintage was in 2009. Today they produce about 500 cases a year from their micro boutique winery.

I first met John and Lisa at the Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles in 2013. I have followed their growth in the wine industry since that time.

John & Lisa Shaw with Bernie and Wiley Long Ago © Alma Sol Winery
John & Lisa Shaw with Bernie and Wiley Long Ago. Photo Courtesy of Alma Sol Winery

Cuevas Vineyards

The Cuevas Vineyards, which Lisa’s parents own, are on rolling hills with calcareous soil on the east side of Paso Robles, in the Estrella District. They purchased the 80 acres in 1989, when Paso Robles was becoming the up-and-coming place. They planted the vineyard in 2000 with primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. In the beginning, they sold most of the fruit, and they still do, but a portion of the fruit goes for the Alma Sol wines.

Fruit from the Cuevas Vineyard has a floral aspect.

Cuevas Vineyard © Alma Sol Winery
Cuevas Vineyard. Photo Courtesy of Alma Sol Winery

Shaw Ranch Vineyard

In 2018, the Shaw’s purchased another vineyard, 20 acres of which 15 acres are planted on the west side of San Miguel District. The property was originally planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. The Shaws replanted the vineyard with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This spring, they plan on adding some Cabernet Franc; the Cabernet Sauvignon fights to survive in these tough soils. Because of this phenomenon, the vines produce small clusters and berries that ultimately give the wine intense flavors.

The property consists of two types of Nacimiento soils. Nacimiento soils are moderately deep, well-drained, formed in material weathered from calcareous and stone, and shale.

Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard is intensely structured with a dark fruit profile and supple tannins.

Shaw Ranch Vineyard © Alma Sol Winery
Shaw Ranch Vineyard. Photo Courtesy of Alma Sol Winery

Alma Sol Winemaking

As a winemaker, John strives to create wines with lower alcohol and a nice balance between flavor and low sugar levels. Acidity is very important. Alma Sol wines are food-friendly and very drinkable yet can age ten years or more.

John Shaw with Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon © Cori Solomon
John Shaw with Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Alma Sol Branding

The Alma Sol logo is reflected in the ancient sun cross that adorns each bottle. It signifies the soul of their Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon.

Alma Sol Winery Logo © Cori Solomon
Alma Sol Winery Logo

Alma Sol Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

The heart of Alma Sol wines is their Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, where John perfects his winemaking skills.

2017 Cuevas Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: The vintage was the lightest from the Cuevas vineyard. The wine ages 20 months in American oak, of which 50% is new. This wine displays purple fruit.

2018 Jackie’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Grapes come from Four Lantuern’s Jackie’s Vineyard in the Templeton Gap/Willow Creek District. The wine exhibits brambly flavors of darker fruits with hints of baking spices. I found a bigger, more robust, fuller-bodied wine with stronger tannins. Adding a small percentage of Petit Verdot to the mix gives the wine more depth. The wine ages 27 months in French oak, 80% new oak.

Alma Sol Jackie's Vineyard - Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon © Cori Solomon
Alma Sol Jackie’s Vineyard – Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

2018 Meritage: My favorite wine of the tasting combines Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and a smidgeon of Cabernet Franc. The grapes come from Estrella, Willow Creek, and the Adelaida Districts. Like most reds, the wine ages 27 months in French oak with 75% new oak.

Other Alma Sol Wines

Sauvignon Blanc: John finds this variety more challenging wine to create and the only wine in the portfolio created from grapes outside of  Paso Robles. The grapes for this wine come from the Sonoma Coast AVA. One smells the tropical fruit aromas even at a distance. The wine exhibits a nice bit of acidity.

B & W 2016: Paying tribute to John and Lisa’s Doxies, Bernie and Wiley. These two helped establish the winery with their unconditional love. Today two new Dachshunds are carrying on the torch, Jax, and Henry. The Shaw’s donate a percentage of the proceeds from this wine to Dachshund Relief.

Jax amd Henry - Alma Sol Winery Dachshunds © Alma Sol Winery
Jax amd Henry – Alma Sol Winery Dachshunds. Photo Courtesy of Alma Sol Winery

The wine is a 50/50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine ages 27 months in American oak with 50% new oak. I found a very drinkable well-integrated, balanced wine with subtle and soft flavors of blueberry.

Alma Sol B & W © Cori Solomon
Alma Sol B & W

2018 Ritual Syrah: Combining Syrah from two districts, Willow Creek and Adelaida, the wine aged 22 months in French oak, 25% new oak. This wine is the biggest of the Alma Sol wines as it delivers dark-rich fruit. The florals both on the nose and on the palate are very prominent.

Alma Sol Ritual © Cori Solomon
Alma Sol Ritual

2018 Petite Sirah: An old-vine Petite Sirah with earthy overtones. The grapes are picked early; therefore the wine delivers intense flavors. The wine ages 16 month

Alma Sol Tasting Room

Alma Sol has a tasting room in Thousand Oaks. They share their tasting room with Sunland Vintage Winery, which produces Italian-styled wines from Lodi. Alma Sol tastings are by appointment only.

Alma Sol’s aspirations define the sun’s importance in winemaking and the soul that lives within the grapes, grape clusters, and soil. This soul lies within everything and everyone. John and Lisa’s goal is to share that soul that is the heart of each glass of wine, especially within the Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon that Alma Sol produces and shares with us. Therefore, the best wines are paired with the people sitting next to you.

Visiting Alma Sol Tasting Room © Ken Bornstein
Visiting Alma Sol Tasting Room

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted visit to Alma Sol’s tasting room. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.