Paso Robles is the land of the big red wines — Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvédre, Grenache and Sangiovese. There are more than 200 wineries in Paso Robles and they are either exclusively, or primarily, red wine producers. While some of those producers also produce white wines, there was no one in Paso Robles focusing exclusively on white wines until now.
Monochrome Wines was started by David McGee in 2016. Paraphrasing Coco Chanel, “to be memorable, you must first be different.” And David wanted to be different. After all, starting a new winery today making more Cabernet Sauvignon makes it all the more challenging to get noticed. So, David, being the contrarian, is focused on white wines in a predominately red wine region.
After working in the aerospace industry and then the medical device field, David and his wife decided they needed a change. They traveled to Paso Robles, fell in love with the place and relocated. David completed UC Davis’ online winemaking program and worked at Villa Creek and Alta Colina before starting Monochrome. On his team is consulting winemaker Riley Hubbard, who works at Desparada, and previously at Law Estate and L’Aventure in Paso Robles.
Monochrome, meaning “in varying tones of only one color,” is representative of David’s passion for photography and the parallel he sees between wine and photography. In the wine world, white wine is often perceived as simple or unexciting, compared to red wine, and is sometimes under-appreciated. In photography, black and white art is also sometimes underestimated. But, when you think about fine art photography, it is typically black and white. And, when you think about some of the great wines in the world, many of them are white wines. White wines can be complex and memorable and tend to pair better with a broader style of foods.
Monochrome is based in Paso Robles, but they do not own any vineyards. With the idea of working with vineyards within a three-hour drive from Paso Robles, they source their fruit from vineyards along the Central Coast, ranging from Santa Rita Hills in the south to Arroyo Seco in the north. To select vineyards and grapes, David plotted weather patterns around the world and then looked within the Central Coast, they source from a diversity of climates and soil types specific varieties from similar climates.
Monochrome is not making textbook white wines. “Why make wine that tastes like everyone else’s?” David asked. When the grapes are harvested, David creates a number of small lots, treating each one differently. One batch may be fermented warm while another gets a cold soak. Some use cultured yeasts and others use natural yeasts. Some batches use new oak and some neutral oak. None of the wines went through malolactic fermentation but they all spend eight months in barrels sur lies. In the end, for the first vintage in 2016, they had made approximately 30 different wines from only six varieties (Albarino, Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier). The wines were then blended to create five different wines, for a total of 495 cases.
Each of the wines is labeled “California White Wine” on the front as they are not doing any varietal labeling. This is because David wants to eliminate expectations and wants us to experience the wine without any upfront bias.
2016 Monochrome Barrel Distortion – Made with 100 percent Albariño from the Plum Orchard Lane Vineyard in the Templeton Gap District, 53 percent is fermented in stainless steel, 43 percent in neutral oak barrels and 4 percent was skin fermented. Intense aromatics and flavors of green apple, pear and a touch of tropical fruits, the wine is silky on the palate with acidity that hits the roof of the mouth. The wine has good structure and salinity on the finish.
2016 Monochrome Variations on a Theme – Made with 68 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 32 percent Marsanne from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Griva Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, 28 percent is fermented in new French oak, 43 percent in neutral French oak and 28 percent in stainless steel. This variation on a Bordeaux blend has floral, citrus and apple notes on the nose. On the palate, the wine has tart citrus notes but the Marsanne adds richness.
2016 Monochrome Blasphemy – Made with 100 percent Chardonnay from the Donnachadh Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, the wine is barrel fermented, 25 percent in new French oak and 75 percent in neutral French oak. Some of the grapes were cold fermented, some warm, some with native yeasts and some with cultured yeasts. The resulting wine has an intense aroma with a lot of depth. There are notes of citrus, apple, vanilla and spice. On the palate, it envelops the mouth with richness, but delicate acidity and salinity cut through.
2016 Monochrome Analog in a Digital Age – Made with 81 percent Marsanne and 19 percent Chardonnay from the Griva Vineyard in Arroyo Seco and the Sonnachadh Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, 81 percent of this wine is fermented and aged in amphora and 19 percent in neutral oak. The wine has mineral, stone fruit and floral aromas and the acidity lightly dances across the tongue with a long-extended finish.
2016 Monochrome Wall of Sound – Made with 52 percent Viognier and 48 percent Roussanne from the Shokrian Vineyard in Santa Barbara County and the Zaca Mesa Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, 22 percent of this wine is fermented in new French oak while 78 percent is fermented in neutral French oak. Tropical fruit, stone fruit and citrus aromas exude out of the glass. On the palate, the wine hits the mid and back palate while the acid tingles the tip of the tongue.
These are wines that can be paired with almost anything – seafood, fish, vegetables, chicken and pork. Monochrome Wines is definitely championing the fact that white wines can be complex and interesting. They are producing wines with richness and body but also bright, lingering acidity.