Cayucos Cellars – Our History
History, tradition, and curiosity have always been an important inspiration to Cayucos native Stuart Selkirk. In the early 1980’s, curiosity caused him to ask a neighbor of Swiss decent what the heck he was doing with a load of grapes in the back of his truck? In response to his question, neighbor Paul soon had Stuart turning the handle on an old hand-crank grape crusher. The next few days brought the job of punching down the fermenting grapes in a large wooden vat and moving the finished wine from the vat to the cellar via a bucket brigade.
This was Stuart’s introduction to the historical art of family wine making. The traditional values of the Swiss way of wine making handed down generation to generation is what inspired Stuart early on and formed his love of wine making. Soon a small vineyard was planted on the home ranch and the long task of developing one’s own style of wine making began. Mostly self taught, Stuart loosely follows an inspired benign wine making style, (“let the grapes make the wine”), that uses neutral oak barrels and little intercession with the natural process of wine development. The grapes used in production are from the ranch vineyard, the Templeton Gap area, the Adelaida and a small amount from the Paso East side for balance.
From a very small first year production in 1996 to our current production of 500 to 800 cases annually (admittedly still very small), Stuart, with wife Laura, sons Clay and Ross and daughter Paige create a small family operated winery atmosphere with excellent hands-on quality wine making for your enjoyment and satisfaction.
Cayucos Cellars Winemaking Philosophy
Winemaking at Cayucos Cellars is a decidedly different affair than winemaking at most other wineries. The natural process of fermentation by wild (also known as natural or ambient) yeast, extended ageing of the wine in neutral (used) oak barrels for periods of time ranging from three to six years, extremely low sulfite counts at bottling, and a hands off winemaking technique are the cornerstones of our small family winemaking program. Unlike many winemakers who add sulfur dioxide or potassium metabisulphate during crush, to kill the wild yeasts in preparation for introducing commercial yeast, we allow the wild yeasts to take the grapes through fermentation in the age old natural manner.
Yeast, as a matter of fact, exists in several different genera, each of which can play a part in the fermentation of wine. One genus in particular, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is inherently tied to the fermentation of wine grapes. Within this specific yeast species, there are several hundred different strains or selections. Yeast can be found in the air around us, in the vineyards, and within the winery itself. By sparing the wild yeast an untimely death, we are afforded the luxury of exposure to multiple strains of yeast, which each may add its own individual level of character to the wine. The various abilities and aptitudes of each individual wild yeast strain can lend a deep complexity to what will ultimately become the end product, while the use of cultured yeast, which is usually cultivated as a single strain, seems to produce a more monochromatic depth to wine than the multilayered action of wild yeasts. This is not to say that commercial yeasts produce bad wine. Quite the contrary, they often produce excellent wines. It is just that it is getting harder to differentiate between wines from different areas because of the standardization effect brought on by the use of commercially available yeast selections. However, there is a also a potential downside to the use of wild yeast, in that on rare occasions an undesirable yeast colony may overpower the others and ruin the wine. This, we feel, is a risk that is well worth taking.
The wines produced by Cayucos Cellars start with grapes grown in small Paso Robles and Templeton vineyards that are farmed using best practice methods. Once at our winery, the grapes are de-stemmed, then fermented in small ½ ton lots and pressed off into neutral oak barrels. These barrels are then sent to repose in cellar for one to two years before the wine is racked off its lees. At this point, no longer protected by the lees, the wine needs the protection of the aforementioned sulfur dioxide (at a very low 25ppm) to keep the little beasties in the wine under control. The wine then rests in its oaken casks for up to three more years until bottling. Finally, the wine benefits from at least nine months of bottle ageing before being released to the public.
Celebrate the Wild Yeast!