Tobin “Toby” James was born in San Francisco and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He spent every summer of his youth working the family’s vineyard just across the border in Indiana. Toby knew from the time he was 18 years old that he wanted to be a winemaker.
He was working in his brother’s wine shop while attending the University of Cincinnati, when Gary Eberle walked in to promote the Estrella River label. Before Gary left, Toby had secured himself an invitation to apprentice at Estrella River Winery working crush. So shortly thereafter, in 1979, at the age of 21 and with five dollars in his pocket, Toby headed west to Paso Robles and began working at Estrella. Soon he was managing the barrel room as Cellar Master and handling all the Southern California marketing for the label. Gary was so impressed with Toby’s versatility that when he left to start his own Eberle Winery, he invited Toby to join him as his Assistant Winemaker.
Toby’s own first vintage came about in 1987 when a local grape harvester, Laz Morones, showed up at Eberle’s doorstep with six tons of Zinfandel grapes he was willing to give away that were refused by another winery. Toby took the fruit and made his own first Zinfandel that Gary named “Brain Damage.” That very first Tobin James wine win double gold medals. Tobin James Cellars was born.
In 1989 Tobin James became the founding Winemaker of Peachy Canyon, and secured the use of the winery’s facilities to make his own Tobin James label. His first wine, Peachy Canyon 1990 “Westside” Zinfandel, was ranked number 69 out of 100 on the coveted Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World in 1992. It was the only wine from the entire San Luis Obispo County recognized and there were only 31 California wines on that list.
In 1993, Toby purchased 41 acres at the end of Union Road, a parcel once known to Paso Robles locals as the 10-mile stagecoach stop. There he built Tobin James Cellars. The winery and tasting room opened in early 1994. — His dream of making wine and owning his own winery had come true. Lance and Claire Silver joined him as co-owners/winemakers in 1997.
Tobin James is very proud of the fun and unique Tobin James Tasting Room, and the winery’s awesome employees. Tobin James winery also boasts one of the largest wine clubs in the world; a testament to the “bottled sunshine” wines he makes and his popularity. Toby’s greatest passion is his family.
He and his wife, Ermie, who is the daughter of the grape harvester, Laz Morones, have four children, including a son at Fresno State majoring in Enology and Viticulture—another winemaker in the family!
We met in Paso Robles for our Foodie Chap Chat. However this was not my first encounter with the gregarious Toby. Many moons ago some mutual wine loving friends (Chris & John) invited me along to the Tobin James Cellars Harvest party and indeed it was a party …where good wine and conversation flowed and at the heart of it was Toby. He IS the face of the winery, the guy whose name is on the marquee, the guy you will see pouring in the tasting room. He is the reason many visit Paso Robles.
This coming weekend is Sunset Magazine’s SAVOR The Central Coast and Toby will be there too, holding court, sharing stories and wine. I hope to see you there at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
Meantime enjoy our wine filled Foodie Chap chat and the wine notes that accompany the story.
WINE NOTES: Tobin James
2008 Petit Verdot “James Gang Reserve”
Production 300 Cases
Total Acidity 6.4 g/l
Bottling Date 09/2009
Appearance – Deep, dark, rich ruby color
Aroma – Full fruit aroma, redolent of violets
Taste – Rich, thick and luscious. Boysenberry and currant jam. Soft, ripe tannins, with a long, lingering finish.
GENERAL NOTES ON PROCESSING
Grapes – 100% Paso Robles Appellation. A blend of 3 vineyards.
Grape Maturity – Harvested at 25. degrees brix.
Fermentation – Crushed to 1/2 ton bin fermentors and inoculated with Pasteur red and malolactic culture. Manually pushed down 4 times daily and pressed near dryness. Minimal mechanical treatment.
Barrel Aging – 21 months aging in French and American oak barrels.
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