There are so many paths that take people into opening a winery! One of the most interesting first careers? Being a real-life Top Gun fighter pilot! That’s exactly what drew us to visit Volatus Wines.
We were well into our second day of a winetasting tour in Paso Robles, and we were having a great time. After a wonderful tasting at Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery, we had time for one last winery. We had heard of Volatus Wines and the association with Top Gun, and thought that it would be a fun visit. We were minutes away from proving that we were right!
We noticed that Volatus Wines shared a building with another winery called Changala, in a building that looked like it could have started as a single family home. There was a large parking lot, with a lot of cars already there. We later learned that the other winery was having a wine club release party. There was still plenty of space, so we picked a spot and headed for the tasting room. On the way, we discovered that there were some happy, friendly winery dogs roaming the property. Because of the dogs, it took us about 15 minutes to walk the 30 feet from the parking lot to the tasting room, but everyone arrived happy and relaxed.
Once we successfully made it ALL THE WAY into the tasting room, we met wine guide Ella, who set us up for our tasting and gave us some background on the winery. The owner/winemaker, Hal “Bull” Schmitt, was a Navy fighter pilot in his first career. He actually was a Top Gun instructor, although it is unclear whether he ever actually met Tom Cruise. While winetasting in Paso Robles while in the Navy, Hal met winemaker Rich Hartenberger and offered to help with the coming harvest. As the saying goes, the rest is history. Fast forward nine years, and Hal and his brother Kevin started their own winery. Named Volatus, the latin word for “to fly” Hal’s fighter pilot past was everywhere in the tasting room. We were ready for our tasting!
Ella started us with their 2018 “Charlie” Chardonnay, made from Templeton Gap fruit. It was bursting with grapefruit and lemon drop notes, a perfect start to our flight. Their 2016 Cavu, a blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc, was a fun, off-dry summer sipper. We were able to compare it to their 2017 Cavu vintage, which blended Viognier and Roussanne. We loved the honeysuckle aromas, buttery mohth feel, and flavors of raspberry and pineapple.
Then we were into their Red collection, starting with their 2019 Pinot Noir, from the Adelaida district. This was soft and supple, with a smooth finish. Not your typical Pinot Noir, but delicious! Ella then poured what turned out to be a favorite for us: their 2017 “Fox-3” blend of Syrah and Grenache. Rob described it as, “bold and dangerous” and we put it at the top of our Take Home list. Their 2017 “Boys are Back” Syrah was intriguing because it lit up every area of the tongue simultaneously. Food friendly, we thought of pairing this wine with Thanksgiving stuffing and mashed potatoes.
Next up was their 2017 “TOPGUN” Cuvée, with vegetal aromas and plum flavors dancing on the tip of the tongue. A fun blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot. We finished our flight with their 2017 “Bloody Well Right” Tannat. Round and assertive, we loved the long plum finish with dusky, tannic notes. Once we thanked Ella and purchased our wine, we spent some time with a dog (again) and set off toward home. Another great Paso Robles tasting tour!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?