Tolosa: The Citric Center of Chardonnay City

By Darren Delmore

The visually fortified Edna Valley was all abuzz when sultry sleek Tolosa Winery opened up its tasting room in 2004. Tolosa’s name itself is a tribute to the history of winemaking in San Luis Obispo. 200 plus years ago the friars at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa planted the virgin vineyards in the area. The Edna Valley as wine people know it, seems young in spite of this dusty trail, getting slowly reestablished in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Today, this region’s aglow with success in newer varietals that never surrounded California’s Missions: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. These are indeed the three varietals that yield the most intense results in Central California’s Edna Valley, with its constant afternoon onshore windflow and coastal proximity. Tolosa Winery focused on these three from the start, plus a few surprises along the way, like Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc.

In spite of the visible size of this winemaking facility, the Tolosa Winery only produces a few thousand cases of wine each year. Functioning as a modern production zone at first, the handsome visitor area came a ways down the road. Its steely winery overlook and the modern interiors of the tasting room may make you feel like you’re in a New York City wine cavern throbbing with downtempo beats and pacifiers on request. But actually you’re in the breast of the Chardonnay corridor, the citric center of Chardonnay city if you will. And Tolosa made its original splash with a legendary unoaked Edna Valley grown Chardonnay, showcasing the untamed tropical vibrancy of the Burgundian varietal, which has become the winery’s quaffable thoroughbred. They simply call it “Unoaked”, but it’s one of the most talked about wines in the valley, and that’s comin’ from a man who’s leisured many an afternoon in these here parts with one woman or the next.

Recently, on a heavy undercover journalistic mish, I lurked into the wine den on a bustling Friday morning and opted to taste strictly the 2007 Pinots, which were many. There was also a House Flight and a Limited Release Flight available. I was inspired to visit by an October evening wherein I’d crushed a Tolosa 2007 Edna Ranch Chardonnay at Cracked Crab in Pismo with Peter Taras who’d been dry for too long. He had himself some female trouble recently, and that golden, vanilla laced culprit saw us shooting pool at Harry’s and dancing to a horrible cover of “Two Tickets to Paradise” with some chicks from Modesto that had enough Concealer on to build a sandcastle out of it. The tasting room veteran du jour who was pouring the flights in a Hawaiian printed silk shirt was probably sitting on a home cellar full of older vintage Chardonnay going back to the mid-90s and growing. I started my experience with the 2007 Edna Ranch and liked its charming, easy sensibilities. Then Greg, the employed giver of the sacramental blood, got into the good stuff. The Cuvees. The heavy hitting, rare gems that normally pass through the systems of men with bulgy 401ks and quarterly bonus regimens. Maybe at golf courses, mainly. The way he went on and on with the food pairings made me pray that this well wined and dined fanatic didn’t have a prostate the size of a 3 liter magnum! A sip of the savory “Marley” Anne Pinot Noir in that glittery central california sunlight sent me straight back to that Junior Gong concert at the Pozo Saloon where I ended up in handcuffs, only to be released hours afterward on mistaken identity. “Beyond” Pinot Noir was next, and it was truly next level. I picked up one of each.

If you’re a fan of cool climate Syrah, with its concentration of color, forward peppery spiced ensemble and boysenberry-ness character, then you should certainly dip your ‘stache in the Tolosa juice. Their 1772 from the 2007 vintage is really something.

As much as these reds wowed this palate of mine, I had to do the Chardonnays. Call it back tracking, waltzing down memory lane, what have ya. They’re the heart and soul of this place, after all. It was impulsive of me to ask, but the quenching reward was well worth the social roll of the eyes as I rinsed up. Tasting both the Unoaked and the Edna Ranch reaffirmed why so many SLO town natives, like me, are throwing these back at the bevy of local restaurants that are serving it. They are balanced, expressive local wines that show well ’round dinner time.

Solar since 2009 and sustainably farmed, go see what they’re all about! Wine and Cheese pairings available on Saturday and Sunday from 11-4. Barrel tasting tours by appointment.
Tasting Room Hours: Daily, 11-5
Highway 227, San Luis Obispo, CA. 93405