Rebel of Paso Robles – Clos Solène Winemaker Blends Old World Tradition with New World Style


Clos Solène Bottles

“I don’t want to sound too French-y.” That was the moment of self-deprecation from the young winemaker, Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène, that officially won over the room of tasters — assuming there were any that had not already been enchanted at the first sip of his 2015 Hommage Blanc (Wine Advocate 94 points), a crisp white Rhône-style blend of citrus and wet stone.

A third-generation winemaker from the South of France, Fabre spent his childhood through his early 20’s on the family winery tending to the grapes and learning the old world rituals behind producing exceptional wine. After graduating with a major in winemaking, enology and vineyard management at the Lycée Charlemagne, Fabre took an internship with acclaimed winery L’Aventure in Paso Robles in 2004.  His goals were simple: to learn English and perfect his craft.  Following his internship, and a brief stint at his parents’ property in Bordeaux, Fabre returned to Paso Robles with his muse, a young woman named Solène (now his wife), and a dream to make his own wine.  Again, his goal was simple: to make impeccable wine, his way.

Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène

Doing things his unique way is Fabre’s calling card. An artist, Fabre is less concerned with “how it has always been done” — though he absolutely respects the traditions he was steeped in as a child and young man — and more focused on how it can be done to produce the finest product.  While the classic trinity of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (“GSM”) is the hallmark of Côtes du Rhône-style wines, Fabre has been known to blend in a hint of white varietals like Viognier to give his red blends a pop of acidity that make them more food friendly and drinkable at an earlier age. And while the Paso Robles AVA is best-known for its heritage Zinfandel and Rhône varieties, Fabre’s appropriately named Cabernet Sauvignon, L’Insolent (Wine Advocate awarded the 2015 vintage 95 points), is as fine an expression as any of its Napa Valley cousins.

Indeed, even Fabre’s approach to wine sales and marketing is outside the box. He works with recreational wine enthusiasts to organize small “pop-up” tastings, many in private homes. And Fabre’s wine club allows customers to select for themselves the wines they will receive — a far cry from the ubiquitous “take what you get” model many clubs use as a producer’s clearing house for less desirable bottles.

When I curiously observed that his Rhône-style reds were not bottled in the typical, fatter, Burgundy-like bottles, he matter-of-factly quipped, “I think the [tall, straight Bordeaux-style] bottles are much more elegant.” However, the uncommon shape of the vessel became irrelevant the moment I tasted Fabre’s 2014 Harmonie (Wine Advocate 93 points) — the epitome of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its velvety and complex parade of herbs and dark fruit, and as drinkable a GSM blend many vintages its senior.

Guillaume Fabre

So, what’s next for the talented Fabre and Clos Solène, currently a two person-operation assisted by some strategically placed electric blankets to help keep select barrels warm at night? Simple: purchasing his own piece of Paso Robles vineyard. I plan to buy a few extra bottles to help him get there.

Tastings can be arranged by appointment.

— Taste of Adventure


Italy’s Most Famous Butcher – Dario Cecchini

Dario Cecchini

Halfway between Florence and Sienna, encircled by the rolling Chianti countryside, is the Tuscan hilltop town of Panzano, home of the most famous Butcher in Italy, Dario Cecchini. Equal parts showman and larger-than-life butcher, Dario’s passion for his craft was featured in Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, as well as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Tuscany. A visit to Antica Macelleria Cecchini – which Dario affectionately refers to as “paradise for carnivores” – will be a treasured experience. Dario’s family has owned this shop for over 250 years, and he has preserved it in the style of an 1800s macelleria (butcher’s shop). A quirky juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary if you happen to arrive on a morning where Dario is blasting rock music from AC/DC.

Set aside at least a couple of hours to take it all in. Dario will welcome you with his beaming smile, holding court from a pulpit-like platform behind the counter. His American wife lovingly serves as translator as Dario expertly wields a shiny knife, sharing his philosophy on the art of nose-to-tail butchery, “having respect of the animal, of its life, of its death, and using everything to the very last tendon with conscience is what I have been doing every day for the past 38 years.” He’s also been known to quote entire passages from Dante’s Inferno as he works his magic to transform a side of pork into superb pork chops. Enjoy a hedonistic spread of charcuterie, olives, pecorino cheese, and oven fresh bread slathered with whipped lardo. Even those arriving first thing in the morning will be offered an accompaniment of robust Chianti from Dario’s own vineyard. Unsurprisingly, the macelleria is always buzzing with a meandering procession of villagers, artists and friends of Dario. Enjoy this slice of Tuscan life, and be sure to grab a bottle of Dario’s “Profumo del Chianti” (Essence of Chianti), a delectable blend of sage, lavender, thyme, rosemary, fennel pollen, juniper and salt that will immediately transport you back to Panzano when sprinkled on steaks or atop grilled bread with olive oil.

For those with a bit more time, snag a seat for lunch or dinner at the lively communal table at Dario’s Officina Della Bistecca. This isn’t an ordinary meal, but an 11 course beef-centric experience to be shared with locals and fellow travelers. Pace yourself, as you won’t want to miss the spectacular finale of the world famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. An extraordinary feast with endless Chianti and a side of raucous laughter guaranteed.

The charming village of Panzano itself is worth discovering. Spend the weekend, perhaps during the four-day Vino al Vino wine festival held the third weekend in September. For about 12 euros you can stroll along the main square sampling wine from local vintners and munching on Tuscan goodies, all to the sound of live music. And don’t miss the lovely Sunday morning market showcasing seasonal produce, cheese, roasted meats and more. Salute!

Taste of Adventure