Peachy Canyon Winery: Old Jesse James Hideout Turns Sustainable Winery

Photo via Peachy Canyon

Peachy Canyon Winery is a sustainable, family-owned winery located on the westside of Paso Robles' popular Highway 46. The winery is named after a horse thief who took refuge in a cave near the vineyard; Jesse James made use of the same hideout. Peachy--the oddly named horse thief--was eventually caught and hung in town. Jesse James' uncle, Drury James, co-founded the town of El Paso de Robles and was part owner of the famous La Panza Ranch where James and his brother, Frank, took shelter after holding up a bank in Russellville, Kentucky, on March 20, 1868. Jesse was ailing a gunshot wound from the robbery.

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

The winery has four estate vineyards, totaling 100 acres, and also sources grapes from other growers within the Paso Robles AVA. The Old School House Vineyard, located within the county's Templeton Gap, was purchased in 1998. The property's landmark attraction--yes, a school house--was built circa 1886 and now serves as the winery's only public tasting room. Their other vineyards include Snow Vineyard, Mustang Springs Ranch and Mustard Creek.

A Family Affair

The Beckett family relocated to Paso back in 1982 when they sold everything they had to buy a walnut farm in the area. It was there that Doug Beckett met hobby winemaker Pat Wheeler who had a garage-based winery. Soon Doug had his eyes set on an even larger commercial venture, a winery. Pat, who was hoping to leave the Golden State (crazy talk!), was less interested. So Doug, along with his wife Nancy, moved all of the winemaking equipment from Pat's garage to the farm near Peachy Canyon Road.

Thanks to a load of Zinfandel grapes from Benito Dusi's vineyard, Peachy Canyon Winery officially launched their label in 1988 with just a few hundred cases. Since then the Beckett's have gotten a wee bit more ambitious, production this year is set for 84,000 cases!

Photo of Josh Beckett via Peachy Canyon

While Doug and Nancy still head the winery, their sons Josh and Jake also play a big part in the family business. Josh has worked at the winery for about nine years and has been the winemaker since 2003. Jake is the winery's General Sales Manager.

You Gotta be Nuts!

Josh explains that before the original vineyard was in fact a vineyard, it was an organic walnut grove, "There was no certification back then but it was definitely organic because [with] dry farmland that's all you do -- prune and cultivate, and that's it. Like out there, there's no spraying, no nothing going on out there. You just turn the soil, shake the trees and pick the nuts up off the ground, and you prune in the winter, and that's it. That's all you do with walnuts."

Walnuts were sold to both Diamond Foods of California and a tiny little candy company known as See's Candies. In fact, the original vineyard near Peachy Canyon Road still grows both crops. It's about one-quarter walnuts and the rest is grapes.

Photo via Peachy Canyon

The walnuts didn't stick around but the sustainable farming practices did.

Doing It the Old Fashioned Way

All four vineyards compost the waste accumulated during harvest; grape skins, stems, seeds, everything is recycled and put back into the vineyard. By doing so, Peachy Canyon is able to avoid using fertilizers.

Cover crops are grown throughout the vineyards every year. Barley is the crop of choice as it prevents runoff during the rainy season. Other plants include vetch, legumes and other beans. In the Spring, the barley and other plants are mowed and disked back into the soil.

"We like to see the grass and we like to see the different weeds because we know there's life in there [the vineyard] and there's healthy stuff going on. There's worms, there's all this stuff out there. Without that greenery and without that life, it [the vineyard] wouldn't be there," says Josh.

Pests are kept to a minimum using beneficial insects such as ladybugs, praying mantis and lacewings. Organic style oil is used to thwart leaf hoppers, the vineyards' most common pest. Netting is used to keep out the birds.

Peachy Canyon has been SIP certified since 2007 like some of its neighbors such as Halter Ranch and Robert Hall.

Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch

Josh explains that while they do sometimes water and spray, "we don't get on a regimented spray program or a regimented irrigation program. We go out there and spend time [in the vineyards], and we'll see what the plants actually need and don't need, and don't just water just to water. [We] don't just do things because. A lot of the big, huge farms, they have to. They don't have a choice."

Deadly Zins

While Peachy Canyon grows a plethora of varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and Petite Verdot but they are really known for their Zins.

Their 2008 Old School House Zinfandel is brooding with dark cherries, cocoa and just enough citrus to keep it fresh and light. This School House Zin is bound to land you in detention. Josh really hits it home with his 2009 Cirque Du Vin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec that borders on blasphemy. The wine gracefully dances between herbal notes and ripe fruit. Both of these wines can be purchased online for $36 and $17 respectively.

There are two things I never turn down and one of them is a Cab Franc. So I am hesitant to mention Peachy Canyon's 2008 Cabernet Franc. The wine is a tsunami of cherries and currents anchored by a touch of oak and some herbal undercurrents. It retails for $25 and is also available online along with their other wines.

While Paso Robles is no longer the Wild Wild West, you could very well end up in a duel over Peachy Canyon's wine.

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Peachy Canyon Wine Pairing Recipes
Red Cabbage With Mustard Seeds & Coconut
Chickpea Flour Crepes With Leeks
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