Rock Star Winemaker: Dorothy Schuler
Bodegas Seeks to Preserve Iberian Wine Traditions of the Past
Renee Cole, VINO
Nestled on a corner property along 13th Street, Bodegas Paso Robles presents a memorable, unique front and even more memorable tasting experience for those fortunate enough to venture into its tasting room.
The cozy, small space, wood and marble finishings, comfortable leather couch and ambient light invite visitors to stay and relax with a glass of well-crafted wines, created and often served by the co-owner and winemaker herself, Dorothy Schuler.
Schuler, one of a small percentage of female winemakers in town and member of Women of the Vine Cellars, said that though she makes the wines and enjoys devoting much of her time and energy to perfecting the fruit-eliciting, alcohol-subduing process, it wasn’t her idea to start the business so much as her husband’s.
She took over the reins after a change that left the couple with money invested in an idea but the originators uninterested in supporting it.
“It was sort of on a fluke,” Schuler said. “This was not planned. It was actually my husband’s project, and he and another friend of his who was a salesman in town started this.”
Schuler originally agreed to take care of the bookkeeping, but after the salesman backed out and her husband, an engineer, accepted a job in England, he left her with the project and its accompanying responsibilities.
“I said, ‘Honey, we’ve got all this money in this, what do you want me to do?’” Schuler remembered. “And he said, ‘Just run with it, it’s yours.’”
Schuler seems to have taken the advice to heart, having grown the business to an impressive distribution of about 2,000 cases, after seeking the tutelage of a local expert on Spanish varietals early in the venture. She crafts wines in the same tradition as her European counterparts, focusing on the blending process and emphasizing the value of pairing her wines with food. Most of her wines contain a comparably low alcohol content, so that the full flavor and intricacies of the fruit will intrigue the palate.
In addition, Bodegas wines contain the unique flavor of Spanish and Portuguese grapes — grapes that have created an small, elite following among California winemakers, despite California’s affable climate toward the varietals.
“These grapes, nobody was using them very much any more,” she said. “Even in Spain, where they are from.”
Schuler uses grapes such as the full-bodied and vibrant tempranillo, the highly peppery bastardo, and the floral, perfumy malvasia, as well as more traditional varietals like the steady cabernet sauvignon and garnacha blanca, commonly known by its French name: granache blanc.
This year, Schuler plans to add deep, red alicante bouschet and white rodella to the mix.
“I’ve got two whites now and I think I have seven or eight reds,” she said. “It’s not just a couple of bottles of wine. I blend almost everything, but not everything — but almost everything. And that is the Spanish and Portuguese tradition.”
Schuler said that one of the most important aspect in winemaking, for her, is the process. As a prolific writer prior to her winemaking endeavor, she found that processes enriched her work.
“Art is a process. I like things that are process-oriented,” she said. “I like that about wine-making. I like that I can get dirty when I make wine. Wine-making is not for people who have to have their fingernails perfect. I like mucking around in things, and artists do too. It’s a mucking-about process.”
Schuler’s history speaks of her affinity for processes. She was associate editor of both Tri-Athlete magazine and Winning, Bicycle Racing Illustated in Brussels; she was on-staff at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and she worked for Tarcher Publishing before it was absorbed into Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, to name a few of her occupations.
Before that, she studied history and literature at the University of Buffalo. Schuler originally hails from one of the oldest families in Atlantic City, N. J.
“I have a distributor in New Jersey, and we laugh all the time; I’m probably the first person in the family who made wine and paid taxes on it,” she said, referencing her family’s experience during Prohibition.
She explained that she enjoys making Iberian grape-based wines because in doing so, she’s preserving some of the traditions of the past.
“There’s a whole lot of us out there who really like that tradition,” Schuler said. “I’m one of them.”
729 13th St., Paso Robles