Robert Dunning had to be coaxed into entering his wines in one of the largest and most prestigious wine competitions in the country. The end result from the 1996 Orange County Fair competition was a Gold medal for the Merlot, and Bronzes for both the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then Dunning Vineyards has established a strong following among premium wine lovers for their limited release Estate Wines.
The inspiration to establish a small, family-owned winery came after 15 years of successful experimental home winemaking with local grapes. Robert had been producing great wine from Paso Robles vineyards non-commercially for years. But grapes were getting harder and harder to find and Robert was quickly outgrowing his sources. He wanted complete control from the vineyard to the bottle in an effort to produce only the finest wines. In 1991 he began planting his own vineyard with Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in partnership with his brother John and sister Barbara. According to Robert they are not completely done. We want the “right grape for the area.” In 1999, under Robert's management, Syrah and Zinfandel were planted on the property adjacent to the Dunning ranch and the first crop will be harvested in 2001.
From the Ocean to the Fields
Robert came to the area from Malibu, California. In 1960 his family purchased 80 acres in the hills west of Paso Robles where the vineyard and winery are now located. Robert, his wife Jo-Ann and son Garrett live in the farmhouse on the property aptly named the “Vintage House” as the limestone cellar served as the wineries’ first barrel room. This structure was built in the early 1900's and is on every bottle of Dunning Vineyards Estate Wine. Over the years he helped out at neighboring vineyards receiving practical, hands-on operational lessons.
Wishing to further expand his technical knowledge, Robert then took classes in both enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. “The schooling is good for the technical part, but winemaking really comes from the fields,” Robert feels. “Matching the right varietal to micro climate along with proper canopy management is very important.”
Because of the two advantages of the climate and the soil, Robert believes his westside Paso Robles vineyard is in the perfect locale. As a result of hot summer days and cooler nights, the hillside vineyard receives the coastal sea breeze as it filters through the canyons which benefits both the red and white varietal grapes. The reds need the heat and the whites need a cooling-down period to bring them to peak flavor. The rocky limestone soil produces lower yields, but concentrates the flavor.
Topping off these ideal growing conditions, Robert does much of the work himself, including pruning the vines, hand-selecting the grapes, and then fermenting and aging in small lots. “My focus is on quality,” Robert says. “Making wine from your own vineyard, that's what it's all about.”
The small intimate winery currently produces less than 2000 cases annually, with expectations to grow to about 4500 cases as the new vineyards begin bearing fruit..Robert prefers to remain small so he can retain the closeness with his visitors. Dunning Vineyards is a member of the Paso Robles Far Out Wineries and the Paso Robles Grand Crew.