July 2017 by Elizabeth Smith
Do you know the name David Parrish? If not, you should. This third generation viticulturist, vintner, and winemaker of Parrish Family Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA of California is truly a Renaissance man of the wine industry, having patented groundbreaking trellis designs in his early days as a student at UC-Davis and while holding key viticulturist roles during his career in the Napa Valley. He has been a wine grape grower since 1995 and a winemaker since 2004 when he founded his own winery. I had the honor of asking Parrish ten questions and in his own words, he describes what inspires him to do it all from vineyard to bottle.
1. Do you remember which wine during that fateful sunset evening inspired you to pursue winemaking? How did it inspire you?
It was probably a Cabernet Sauvignon that had me daydreaming about sipping and swirling my own wine one day. Viticulture has been in my blood since the time my grandfather started growing grapes in Atascadero, before Prohibition and the Great Depression. Seventy years later, I decided to take my grandfather’s passion a step further opening my own winery. I had no idea the love affair it would become. I began producing our boutique wine in 2004 and opened a tasting room in 2011. Today, we are busy building a new winery and tasting room which will open in early 2018. It just keeps getting better.
2. What transpired during the time between your work with Napa producers to your new venture in Paso Robles? Did you work with producers in other areas of California, the United States, and/or internationally?
I graduated from U.C. Davis in 1974 and started a vineyard trellising company which I’m still involved with today. I was fortunate to meet a group of Napa growers who wanted to make Napa a world-class wine growing region and one of my professors, Dr. Kliewer, convinced me to accept their invite to work with them. I moved to Napa and started working with Robert Mondavi and Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards. After a few months, I was working with most of the wineries in the Napa area on their trellises. I currently hold two dozen patents for trellis design and have worked with partners all over the world.
But, my heart always wanted to come home to the Central Coast and grow my own grapes. I planted 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on our Creston, California ranch in 1995 and in 2004 made the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon; in 2011 the tasting room opened in downtown Paso Robles. In 2013 and 2014 we planted 80 acres in our Templeton Vineyard and 30 acres in our Adelaida Vineyard; which will be the location of the new winery. We will always be a boutique, family-run winery and are thankful so many people have supported us and our wines which has allowed us to grow.
3. Why did you choose Paso Robles to make wine? Was there a reason besides living there?
Other than my grandfather’s roots, I wanted to return to the Central Coast because of the people. I spent a lot of time in Napa and know the beautiful fruit that can be developed there but, I wanted to work with family-owned wineries just like the one I wanted to build. I think there is something magical that happens when winemakers live on the land they love and are able to truly give it the daily attention and care it demands. I was glad that I was right about that instinct because the more our partner wineries develop, the more we all lean on and support each other. It’s uncommon and it’s characteristically Central Coast.
4. What is your favorite varietal grape to grow? Is it also your favorite to make? If not, please share why.
We grow great grapes, but my passion has always been Cabernet Sauvignon with its round, full-body and elegant finish. Recently, our Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast. I call it a problem child with its wild temper that can be matured into a lovely and complex expression.
5. What grape is the most challenging to grow in Paso Robles? Why?
6. What varietal wines do you currently make? Any new prospects on the horizon?
Estate Grenache Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay/Viognier blend, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, two Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blends, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon
7. Do you have any formal winemaking education?
I graduated from U.C. Davis in 1974 with a degree majoring in biology with a chemistry/math minor and completed several courses in winemaking. I’ve found the best way to learn anything is to simply study and experience as much as you can.
8. Is your family also involved in the business?
This has always been a family business to us, dating back from my grandfather. Today, my wife, daughter and son-in-law are all involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery; even the dogs have a job.
9. What do you love about Paso Robles as a place to live, grow grapes, and make wine?
The best part about Paso Robles is the people. Hands down. I’m a member of the Paso Robles CAB Collective which is an organization that brings wineries together on behalf of the entire region. We work together to help promote each other and to solve any issues in our vineyards, with our grapes, basically anything that comes up. We rely on each other for the betterment of all. It’s an amazing thing.
10. Is winemaking everything you thought it would be? Why?
It’s so much harder and also so much more rewarding. I knew vines from my trellis work, but being a winemaker is a completely different experience. Caring for and knowing about the fruit is consuming. I’m lucky my family is also involved so we can share the highs and lows together. It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are so great. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Elizabeth Smith is a French and Spanish professor turned wine professional. In 2013, her part-time role as executive assistant to a wine broker and importer became her stepping stone into the wine business. She moved to the Napa Valley from Virginia in January 2014 to begin her new full-time winery career. Elizabeth holds a doctoral degree in community college education from George Mason University as well as Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s advanced wine certification. She is currently the wine club and social media manager at Ehlers Estate and writes about wine tourism and wine for various online media outlets, usually while sipping wine with her cat, Einstein, by her side.