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Epoch Wines: Rich Legacies (part 2)

Epoch Wines: Rich Legacies (part 2)

We highly encourage you to reflect back on Epoch Wines: Rich Legacies (part 1) to learn about the family, winemaker, and vineyards behind the brand before reading part 2 (below by Lindsey Strawn). This two-part series will provide a better understanding of how one concert pianist, two geologists, two vineyards and lots of history make for a truly awesome story of an award-winning small production winery located in Paso Robles.

Epoch Estate Wines on VAULT29


A huge part of our story at Epoch is about preserving two integral pieces of Paso Robles history.  When we purchased our Paderewski Vineyard in 2004, not only did we hit the jackpot as far as soils and views were concerned, we were also buying a property that was once owned, planted, and cherished by Polish pianist and Prime Minister, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.  In 2010, we were fortunate enough to purchase the old York Mountain property, which was the site of the first bonded winery on the Central Coast.  Besides being total geology nerds (sorry, Mom and Dad), my parents (particularly my mom) are total history nuts as well.  To own two properties that boast such rich history is a dream come true, and we make it a priority to preserve and share both the Paderewski and York Mountain legacies through our wines and the Epoch experience.

Paderewski’s story in a nutshell: Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a solo concert pianist from Poland, and as crazy as this may seem, he was kind of considered the Elvis of his day.  He put on quite a show, and he traveled throughout the world performing.  In fact, he was the first solo pianist to ever play Carnegie Hall.  Pretty cool, right?

Paderewski standing in his future vineyard in Paso.

Paderewski standing in his future vineyard in Paso.

During his tour of the U.S., he was encouraged to make a pit stop in Paso Robles, a small town that might just have the cure to his rheumatoid arthritis in the form of its natural sulfur-rich mineral baths.  When not soaking in sulfur (which by the way, did cure that arthritis!), Paderewski explored Paso and fell in love with its beauty and charm.  He loved it so much that between 1914 and 1916, he ended up purchasing 2,846 acres on the west side of Paso.  Though he never built a home on either of his ranches, he planted almonds, various fruit trees, and Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines.  As you may have guessed, we now own 577 acres of the ranch where he once planted these grape vines.  We were so obsessed with this story that we just had to name the first Epoch vineyard after this impressive man.

There is much more to Paderewski’s story, but here are some highlights: in 1918, he helped President Woodrow Wilson create his “Fourteen Points,” playing an integral role in point 13 which established an independent Poland.  In 1919, he was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the newly independent Poland, and he signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of his country.  Between his departure from politics in 1922 and his death in 1940 a lot happened on the political front in Poland.  When Paderewski died, his body received a state burial at Arlington Cemetery per the request of President Roosevelt.  Paderewski asked that his body not be returned to Poland until it was free again.  In 1992, under the leadership of George H. W. Bush, Paderewski’s body was returned to the free-at-last Poland.

Needless to say, this guy was a total stud, and the fact that he found solace and a home-away-from-home in Paso Robles is pretty awesome.  We pinch ourselves daily that our happy place was once also cherished by this man, and we are proud to carry on the Paderewski name and legacy through our vines and wines.

The York family in 1903 – Andrew York is in the middle – standing in front of the original York Mountain homestead, which we have completely restored as a home for our family and friends

The York Mountain story in a nutshell: In 1882, Andrew York, a native Illinoisan, who caught the winemaking bug, purchased a 120-acre homestead in Templeton, CA.  Andrew quickly expanded the existing vineyard with cuttings from Napa.  In 1895, York along with his three sons, began construction on their wine cellar by hauling boulders from the countryside and purchasing the essentials for their new winery.  At this point, the York family named their winemaking venture, Ascension Winery, and this became the first bonded winery on the central coast.  Again, pretty cool, right?!?

Over the next 80 some years, the York winemaking endeavor changed hands throughout the family several times, and the winery saw a few name changes (Ascension Winery to A. York and & Sons to York Brothers to York Winery).  Despite those adjustments, the operations ran continuously (even during Prohibition when they were forced to sell simple grape juice), vineyards were planted, the winery itself was expanded using bricks fired on site, and most importantly, their wine was made and enjoyed by the local community. 

YMW after the San Simeon Earthquake

YMW after the San Simeon Earthquake

In 1970, York Winery and the surrounding property were sold to the Goldman family.  Besides another name change to York Mountain Winery, the winery continued to run without interruption.  In fact, it did so until the late 1990’s when the winery itself was forced to close due to retrofit requirements, making it one of the longest continuously run wineries in the U.S.  In 2003, the Central Coast was rocked by the San Simeon Earthquake (a 6.5 on the Richter Scale), and the historic winery was officially condemned due to earthquake damage.  Though wine under the York Mountain Winery label continued to be sold out of a nearby trailer, this beloved property and operation entered foreclosure in 2009. 

This sad ending saw a very happy beginning in 2010 when we (my family and Epoch Estate Wines) purchased the property out of foreclosure and began to bring this historic property back to life.  While operating our Tasting Room out of a tricked-out single-wide for seven years, we worked on obtaining the permits to rebuild the condemned winery while simultaneously restoring the old York homestead (pictured above with the York family) and building our new winery.  Reconstruction on the century old ruins of York Mountain winery officially began in 2013 under the leadership of Lake Flato Architects and B.K Architects LLC.  After four years of pain-staking renovation (we literally created our own version of paint-by-numbers with the original bricks and stones, removing and labeling them one-by-one, to then reinstall them in their exact location after reconstruction), we FINALLY opened the doors to the repurposed winery as our new Tasting Room in December!    

The phases of York Mountain: 1882 – 2002: before the San Simeon Earthquake; 2003 – 2009: post-Earthquake until foreclosure; today: as our new Tasting Room.  You can see the original bricks, stones, beams, and wine press used throughout all of these phases of YMW’s lif

The bricks fired on property in 1906 are not the only elements of this beloved structure that we have preserved.  The original redwood beams and the stones from the original cellar also play essential roles in our new Tasting Room.  A basket press that was once used by the York brothers now sits amongst the rafters to replicate the original positioning which allowed gravity to bring juice from the crushed grapes to the main floor.  Many other original York relics are showcased throughout this building, as we want our visitors to learn about this rich piece of Central Coast Winemaking history that we feel blessed to carry on through Epoch Estate Wines.   

New Tasting Room 

Oh and I forgot the coolest part of this history chapter!  The two pieces of our legacy story, Paderewski and York, collided in 1934 when Paderewski brought harvested Petite Sirah and Zinfandel grapes from his vineyard to York Mountain to be turned into award-winning wine by the York Brothers.  Once again, how cool is that?!?  We have come full circle as we now bring fruit from Paderewski Vineyard to York Mountain every harvest to be crafted into wine.  It’s just Epoch wine now. 

We take our job of being historians for Paderewski and York Mountain very seriously.  We like to think you can taste this in our wines and are able see it come to life when you visit us atop York Mountain! 


Ok, so if you are still reading this (I warned you, we have a LOT to tell), the bottom line is that we want drinking Epoch to be an experience unto itself.  We call these Epoch Moments.  That experience can be at home: we hope sipping on a glass of Block B and enjoying its unique chalkiness inspires you to close your eyes and picture the calcareous soils of Paderewski Vineyard.  Or that this same bottle challenges you to cozy up with Jordan’s VINPRESSIONs to see how the wine dancing across your tongue is a living, breathing piece of art.  That Epoch experience can be taken to the next level upon visiting us, something we sincerely hope you will do soon!  Sipping on a flight of our wines while sitting in a building that boasts bones from the first bonded winery in the Central Coast is something pretty special.  Let’s not forget that the juice you will be drinking is from fruit farmed on a property that was once farmed by a Polish Prime Minister and the Elvis of his day. And if drinking our wines does none of the above, that’s ok too!  We just hope it leads to something super fun and memorable, an Epoch Moment unique to you! 

With that, we invite you to come visit us soon to see all of these forces in action!  We are open daily from 10 – 4, and while walk-ins are welcomed, appointment are strongly encouraged!  We hope to see you soon! 

If you are interested in joining our Allocation Waitlist for our biannual wine releases or buying a few of our wines now, you can do so here.  And in case you didn’t get your fill of information here, our website is chock-full of more details about Epoch, our wines, Paderewski, York Mountain, and believe it or not, much more.

Thanks so much for taking the time to learn more about Epoch Estate Wines!  Cheers!

Epoch (part 1)

Epoch (part 1)


  1. A period of grand or remarkable events
  2. A division of geologic time
  3. Epoch Estate Wines

Epoch in a few sentences: Founded in 2004 by geologists, Bill and Liz Armstrong, Epoch has quickly developed a big reputation for handcrafted, small-production wines with abundant personalities.  Located on the storied York Mountain, Epoch is an ultra-premium producer of wines from Rhone, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo varieties grown on their two west Paso Robles vineyards – Paderewski and Catapult.  As the steward of both the historic York Mountain Winery property and the Paderewski Vineyard, Epoch is committed to the land it cherishes, the quality wines crafted, and the rich legacies now shared with the next generation of Epoch drinkers. 

Liz & Bill Armstrong, Epoch Owners

Liz & Bill Armstrong, Epoch Owners

Let’s go ahead and dig a little deeper into that…

I am Liz and Bill’s eldest daughter as well as part of the team at Epoch, and I am going to be leading you through this deep dive into who we are at Epoch.  So sit back, relax, preferably with a glass of vino, and enjoy!
— Lindsey Armstrong Strawn

We are fortunate to have a LOT of stories to tell at Epoch.  So when thinking about how to sum us up, I feel the easiest thing to do is to break us down into four main categories: farmers, winemakers, historians, and memory-makers.  Here is what I mean… 


True, the wine has always been the end goal, but the Epoch wine you drink always begins in our vineyards, land we feel abundantly blessed to own, cherish, and yes, farm.  All of our fruit at Epoch comes from our two estate-grown vineyards, Paderewski and Catapult Vineyards.  Both of these vineyards can be found in the Willow Creek District of west Paso Robles and both were fallow when we purchased them.  Fallow?  Yes, they were basically pretty piles of dirt (the proof is in the photo below), and we had the opportunity to turn these blank canvases into vines. 

The Armstrong kids at the then-fallow Paderewski Vineyard in 2004; Lindsey is the one on the right!

The Armstrong kids at the then-fallow Paderewski Vineyard in 2004; Lindsey is the one on the right!

Being geologists, my parents understood how fortunate we were to work with these intense soils that bared little resemblance to typical California soils: for Paderewski, this meant lean, rocky soils that were rich with limestone; for Catapult, this meant extreme rocky soils packed with silicious shale and little limestone content.  Both were soils we loved and knew would make great wines; soils that encouraged the vines to struggle while finding nourishment deep within the ground.  The reward of this hardworking vine is berries packed with wicked complexity and intense flavors.

Liz & Bill Armstrong in the Paderewski Vineyard

Liz & Bill Armstrong in the Paderewski Vineyard

No one can claim to be a farmer without obsessing over the weather, so there is that too!  Just like our soils, our climate here is intense.   The Paso Robles wine region benefits from the largest diurnal temperature swing of any region in California.  Daily, temperatures can vary as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, creating the ideal environment for achieving that perfect acidity in ripening wine grapes. 

Working with blank canvases, both vineyards’ clone selections were carefully chosen to create the perfect match between soil and vine.  The vineyard blocks were meticulously laid out based on their unique exposures, soil attributes, and mesoclimates.  Today, each block is happily producing fruit specific to their exact location.  Our holistic and site-specific wine-growing goals have naturally led us to organic and biodynamic farming practices. These methods allow us to nurture and protect our vines while still abiding by our low impact and low demand philosophy.

A few Paderewski Vineyard stats:

  • Planted in 2004
  • Acreage: 67 under vine, 577 total
  • pH: Low to Mid 8s
  • Elevation: 1200' average, 1350' highest
  • Red varieties: Grenache, Mourvédre, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel
  • White Varieties: Grenache Blanc and Viognier



A few Catapult Vineyard stats:

  • Planted in 2008
  • Acreage 28 under vine, 47 total
  • pH: High 5s
  • Elevation: 1000' average, 1030' highest
  • Red Varieties: Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah, Tempranillo
  • White Varieties: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier


It feels weird to have farmers and winemakers listed as two separate pieces of the Epoch puzzle when we fully subscribe to the philosophy that nothing outside of our vineyard, climate, and grape varitety should affect how the wine tastes; however, as we all know, critical decisions must be made once the fruit makes its way to the winery.  Our Winemaker, Jordan Fiorentini, works closely with our Vineyard manager, Kyle Gingras, throughout the year to watch over our vines, so the transition from the ranches to the winery is seamless. 

Jordan Fiorentini, Winemaker

Jordan Fiorentini, Winemaker

I will spare everyone the details of how wine is made, but there are two things you should know about Jordan (there are actually a million things you should know about Jordan, but for brevity’s sake, I will stick with two): 1) she loves to experiment with vessels (she particularly has a crush on concrete) and 2) she’s an artist; for her, winemaking and the subsequent process of drinking it, is all about noticing and expressing the art’s intricacies.  I will let her explain that herself.  But first, meet some of our vessels:


  • Custom concrete fermenters
    • Currently used for fermentations, but they can also be used for aging if we desire.  Each board-formed tank weighs 14000 lbs and holds up to four tons of fruit.  The conical shape allows for more cap compression during fermentation.  The five-inch thick walls are lined with tubing that allows glycol to cool or warm down the tanks
  • Concrete tulips
    • Coming all the way to us from France, these beauties are used for fermentation and aging.  They can hold us to 580 gallons or 240 cases.  We are the first in the USA to sport these Italian vessels
  • Concrete eggs
    • Hailing directly from France, these concrete eggs have been with us since the beginning.  The egg shape allows the wine to continually flow inside, thus requiring no need for battonage (lees stirring).  Each egg holds around 180 gallons or 75 cases of wine.
  • Amphora
    • Crafted by hand in Florence, Italy, this fragile vessel is made by affixing coils of wet clay together.  We are still experimenting with the amphora, but we have used it for both fermentation and aging.  It can hold 132 gallons or 55 cases.  Amphorae were originally used in ancient Rome and Greece for storage of food and wine.
  • Oak barrels
    • We like diversity when it comes to our oak.  We use various sizes of barrels for aging as we are constantly searching for what fits each wine best.  In general though, Jordan does prefer puncheons.  Almost all of our oak barrels and puncheons are from France, however, a few barrels hail from Hungary and are used to age our Tempranillo.

VINPRESSIONs by Jordan Fiorentini, Winemaker

As a winemaker, releasing the wines I’ve made to the world is always a thrilling and anxious moment, especially because I cannot be in the room with the consumers when they pop and pour the bottles.  A normal winemaker responsibility is to write tasting notes of their wines, usually upon release, to explain the wine to the world.  I have written such tasting notes for many years, however I always longed for a better means of communication, because I experience wines in more than just words.

Mouthfeel and texture are two important, intricately linked sensations in winemaking and are the grail by which I make and experience wine. A wine’s texture is its structure, its physicality and the backbone of its essence.  The texture is filled in with all the wonderful aromas and flavors, which are ever changing from the obvious to the sublime.

Being a very visual person and wanting to communicate these sensations that are very difficult to describe with words, I experimented with drawing my tasting notes with graphite on paper versus just writing words for them in 2012. At that moment, my visual tasting notes, what we call VINPRESSIONS, were born.


Each VINPRESSION is my best attempt at communicating with the consumer in a personal, visual format about how the wines smell, taste, and feel while they are being tasted.  Instructions for reading each VINPRESSION are quite simple – read these drawings from left to right as the wines travel to the front, middle and back of your palate.  Although the VINPRESSION looks abstract, I draw them as if they were on a four-quadrant graph.  The left side of the graph describes the sensations on the front palate (as the wine enters the mouth), the center of the graph explains the mid palate and the right of the graph is the back palate (the finish). 

Shown on the drawing, if the lines drop to the bottom left quadrant, the wine is hitting the bottom of my front palate, and likewise if it ends high on the top right quadrant, it touches the back top of my palate.  A round, full wine touches all quadrants of the graph and if it has no hard edges on the palate, there will be no sharp angles, just round ones.  A wine that finishes long will show extending lines to the right.  Sometimes a wine’s tannins curl back and prickle the mid and front palate after swallowing and this is shown too through lines moving from the right to the left.

I do give my overall impression of the wine in words on the VINPRESSION to start the tasting experience.  I also use words in the context of the drawing at the time and place they are experienced on the palate.

These VINPRESSION tasting notes are an exciting journey, and with each new tasting note I “draw,” I learn more about how to better communicate the way wines taste.  I hope you have fun with these sketches and that they broaden the way in which you think about wine – they have and continue to do so for me. 

learn about the historians & memory-makers of Epoch Wines (Part 2), here.

ONX Estate

ONX Estate

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature ONX Estate discussing their unique private vineyard tours! Find ONX wine experiences using the VAULT29 app!

"Private Vineyard Tours" by Ann Day-WIlls & Brian Brown

Since our inaugural vintage in 2008, the ONX team has been focused on producing wines that portray individually distinct personalities, which also in turn possess consistent commonalities recognizable as a family of cuvees. Our six estate blends are an expression of ONX Estate, located in the Templeton Gap district of Western Paso Robles bordering the Santa Rita Creek.  Each blend highlights a particular grape, alongside a cohort of blending varieties to produce a wine of character and completeness.   Our goal is to craft individual wines that communicate both the personality of the vineyard and the vintage from which they are born, albeit each from an independent angle and through a different colored lens.

The ONX journey began when proprietors Steve and Brenda Olson began searching the Paso Robles area in 2004 for a specifically cooler Westside Paso Robles vineyard location. They purchased the initial 43-acre site in 2005 and since have added additional acreage giving ONX Estate 122 acres of contiguous land along the Templeton bench. Located just 9.75 miles from the coast, the Olsons recognized immediately how the warm days of summer quickly gave way to late afternoon cool-downs in this unique location.

Winemaker, Brian Brown

Winemaker, Brian Brown

The seed for ONX Estate was planted in the mid 2000’s when Brian Brown was introduced to Steve Olson by a family friend. Brian spent a weekend with Steve and Brenda during which time they mapped out a vision for developing the property into an ultra premium vineyard. They decided not to play it safe limiting themselves to just traditional or more popular varieties, and instead planted numerous blocks with a mixture of Rhone, Spanish, Bordeaux, and Italian varieties. The Estate was ultimately planted with over 20 micro-blocks that contain 13 varieties and many with multiple clones, providing Brian Brown, Winemaker and Director of Operations, a diverse assortment of fruit to develop the best flavor profiles for the uniquely expressive blends of ONX Wines.  

Old Tractor Shed 

Old Tractor Shed 

The vineyards of ONX Estate are truly the heart of ONX Wines, and Steve was determined to create a hospitality experience that centered around the land.  Although we have a large estate, more fruit is sold to premier wineries in Paso Robles, than is used for our own wines.  Being such a small producer, approximately 2500 cases, we do not have a public tasting room. Instead, we developed an old tractor shed in the vineyard into a hospitality and education center where we greet our guests before heading out on a tour of the vineyards.  We are proud to now offer small batch-exclusive tours designed to transcend the ordinary and bend the wine world’s collective consciousness.  In addition to the tractor shed, we also developed several distinct “embedded oases” carved from the land—each a destination unto itself.

Oaks Oasis

Oaks Oasis

“Touring the vineyards at ONX is all about discovery,” said ONX Winemaker Brian Brown. “We want to share all of the individual environmental ingredients that blend together in the glass; this creates a platform for revealing what makes each of our cuvées unique.”

Meadow Oasis

Meadow Oasis

Visitors are invited to sink their boots into authentic wine country soil and immerse all five senses while visiting the estate. Well-worn wood and the glint of antique silver make for a warm welcome at the ONX Tractor Shed. A reverence for the land is evident along every step of the way, from the ONX Creekside Oasis—with its moss-laden oaks overlooking the Santa Rita Creek—to the Meadow Oasis, offering a cheerful picnic spot enlivened by rustic-chic accoutrements and fresh-cut flowers. For those seeking a 360-degree view of the ONX Estate vineyard, the Oaks Oasis awaits. Hazy sunlight filtering through rows of Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo vines make for an experience matched only by ONX wines.

Winemaker, Brian Brown

Winemaker, Brian Brown

 “It is an exciting time to be making wine in Paso Robles,” Brown said. “This is the fastest growing wine region in the state, and the zeitgeist is practically tangible.  The positive pioneering spirit of the area and the collaborative nature of the vintners set the stage for experimentation in the cellar and a deeper understanding of the possibilities of the terrior.”

We invite you to experience ONX Estate on your next trip to Paso Robles.  Be ready to get your boots dusty as you explore the heart of Paso’ s Templeton Gap.

Be sure to add your ONX wines experiences in the VAULT29 app!

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