My Interview with Winemaker Vailia Esh of Desparada Wines in Paso Robles

by Randy Smith
(Covington, LA)

Vailia Esh is the vivacious proprietress and winemaker of Desparada Wines in Paso Robles.

Desparada is a fledgling winery on the rise in Paso Robles, one The Wine Write believes its readers need to get to know. Its 2010 vintage offered these bottles:

Sauvignon Blanc "A Fragment"
Cabernet Sauvignon "Purist"
Red Blend "Solacer" (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese)

The wines have been very well received by CellarTracker raters, and I'm thinking the Cabernet-based wines should be even better with some bottle age. They are certainly very good values.

Vailia is now sold out of wine (a nice problem!), but will bottle her 2011(s) in late February, 2013. The Sauvignon Blanc will be back (around $21), along with two red blends priced at an estimated $26. Her Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in October, and will be priced in the $32 range. These are all low production, handcrafted wines. The best way to get in line for these is to sign up for her mailing list now...she'll send out an offering email when the wines are ready.

Vailia recently took a break from cellar duties to give us a quick interview:

Q: How did you get started in the wine business?

VE: I worked in fine dining from the time I was 18 into my mid-20s. I was fortunate to work with an awesome Sommelier at one of the restaurants. He was knowledgeable, incredibly passionate and felt that educating the staff was his first priority. I caught the bug, like so many others.
I went from restaurants, to sales, to a brokerage, to importing, and then finally, production.
It's a really good spot, the cellar. I like getting my hands dirty, trying weird things and learning new stuff every day.

Q: Did you have any mentors or major influences when you began? Who do you respect most now?

VE: My Granny, Vailia, has been an influence my entire life. Though she passed away last harvest, her advice and support inspires me daily.
Women in winemaking, it's a pretty lean percentage...but an impressive and important one. That drives me. And there are so many amazing women, and men, in this business that deserve respect and a huge "Thank You"...from biodynamic growers, to Masters of Wine, to winemakers, to label designers, to cellar hands...the contributions are never-ending.

Q: What's your winemaking philosophy?

VE: I'd like to say unintrusive, hands-off and minimalistic...and while those are true, they are only half-truths. I feel it's important to make wine with passion and love and caring and thoughtfulness. That comes through in a wine.
If you do what you do with a commitment to your ideals, staying focused on those things that help you produce a wine that you're proud of, that you like to drink, then you're on the right track.

Q: Why Paso Robles and the Central Coast? What makes this area special?

VE: It's the relatively new frontier of wine in California...folks are not quite set in their ways. Traditional, special people. Diversity in climates, soils, farming up and down the coastal areas. You name it. I love how fruit and wines from the Central Coast show their unique personalities.

Q: What are your thoughts about a wine club?

VE: I think wine club members are about as important to your business as anything on the non-production side. Maybe even production as well, as many choices are made with the interest of your members in mind.
I don't have any yet, for the simple reason that I have yet to start a wine club. I wanted to wait until my production was enough to sustain regular shipments, and I feel like there's a lot of experimenting and getting the kinks out in those first few vintages (stuff like stylistic choices, names, identity of the wines and the brand.)
Now that I have a solid grasp on those things, I'm ready to make a commitment to a wine club. Beginning in January, 2013!

Q: Any up and coming winemakers or labels you'd recommend we try?

VE: I probably should be asking you that...who would you recommend I try? The last couple of years have been so busy that I must admit I haven't been drinking new, local wines as much as I'd like. As far as new and awesome locals, I think you've interviewed most of them!

Q: Vailia, what's the future hold for your label?

VE: I'm really enjoying the building, the creating, the stimulation of doing new we'll see. Do what you love and enjoy and everything falls into place.

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