Somewhere in the middle of a nondescript, industrial part of town in Paso Robles, California—populated with tin warehouses and appropriately dubbed “Tin City”—is a Frenchman born of the Languedoc region laboring in the wee hours of the morning over wine vats and excited about a concrete fermentation tank that has newly arrived in a rented facility he shares with another local winery. The work isn’t romantic, but it was romance that created his winery and it’s passion that drives him. This is Guillaume Fabre, a master winemaker of Paso Robles.
Solène is the name of Guillaume’s wife. A “clos,” as Guillaume describes it, is a small, closed intimate part of the vineyard; traditionally, a clos was protected by a wall. “I love the name Solène,” he continues. “People think it means ‘sun.’ But it doesn’t. Her smile looks like the sun, but she’s a tough woman who can sometimes be hot-tempered” Guillaume came to west side Paso in 2004 as an intern at L’Aventure, one of the pioneering wineries of the region; prior to his arrival in the U.S., he was around wine all his life, following his dad in the vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux. When he knew he wanted to make his own wines under his own label, he had to ask fiancée Solène, who was living and studying in Spain, to join him in America in order to create a winery and build a dream together. Clos Solène was born in 2007.
Today, Guillaume has developed relationships with 15 of the premium, “cru” sites of the Paso Robles wine region, particularly in the Willow Creek and Adelaida districts, including James Berry vineyard, Heart Hill, L’Aventure, Caliza and Denner. He recognized right away that there is something special in the terroir of the place, and, sure enough, Paso is gradually becoming recognized as the top site in California for Rhone varietal wines and blends—Syrah and Grenache, in particular—while the region also makes some damn good Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Viognier and Roussanne. How did these vital relationships for the winery come about? Guillaume, armed with only his passion for Paso terroir, would simply visit these vineyards after finishing work at L’Aventure and make friends. What was their response after he told them he wanted to make wine with their fruit? Guillaume jokes, “People said, eh, he’s French—why not?”
It’s this publication’s stance that Clos Solène is making some of the greatest Rhone-styled wines in America right now. While winery club members would probably prefer that Guillaume’s outfit remain a local secret, as the winemaker is sticky on his commitment to making no more than 2,500 total cases per year, some secrets just can’t be held forever. There’s an exquisite balance and freshness to these wines that begs for attention and indulgence. Textures are velvety and sexy, almost titillating. Flavors are so robust, they’re nearly overwhelming if not for the winemaker’s sense of balance and texture. What makes the wines so exciting and, thus, viscerally relevant, is the romantic vision realized in the expression of each of the blends. These are not wines meant to be passively enjoyed. They are captive and immersive, each bottling capturing a piece of the heart of the winemaker. (see reviews below)
There’s nothing fancy going on at the winery. It’s as tight a budget and working-class a facility as a premier winery of the region could possibly be. And everything’s done by hand—no tractors, no automatic sorting machines. Other than Guillaume and his wife working up the sweat equity day and night, there’s just a few others helping run things. And you get the feeling that’s the way it’s going to stay. Because this kind of great wine isn’t made with a big marketing plan. This kind of great wine is made with all heart. Guillaume is the kind of guy that gives you the impression that he might love wine too much, and perhaps he ought to spend less time at the vineyard and relax a bit in front of the television. Impossible à faire! as the French would say. “It’s just something I have to do . . .” says Guillaume reflectively. “It’s the vineyard. Looking at a site, it’s a connection. It’s hard to describe . . . I think it’s a shame, because we’ve lost a lot of what our grandparents taught us. We went towards more mechanical. It got easier, and we lost some parts. We went away from what’s important.”
Owners: Guillaume and Solene Fabre
Winemaker: Guillaume Fabre
Location: Paso Robles, California
Current Production Level: 1,500 cases annually
Winemaker and owner Guillaume Fabre describes his house style as “American wines with a French palate.” Balance and texture are the hallmarks of each wine, while he strives for “elegance and softness with good structure.” All grape varieties that go into his blends have a separate, distinctive fermentation program. Spending time at the vineyards to the point of obsession, Guillaume oversees every aspect of managing the vines and is especially careful on the timing of picking off the grapes. He mentions celebrated chef Thomas Keller as one of his primary influences, and this source of inspiration translates to Guillaume’s love of trying different things, always experimenting—all to find the greatest expression of Paso Robles terroir possible, a terroir—with a vast array of soils and a mixture of limestone, shale rock, clay and minerals—that he passionately describes as “offering a large spectrum of complexity.”
FLEUR DE SOLENE 2014
$70 | Blend: 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Cabernet Franc
| 94 pts
This is the place to start; illustrates what Clos Solène is all about—bold and beautiful flavor, lush texture, impeccable balance, brilliant structure, elegance. So rich, concentrated and intense but an artfully constructed epic. This is Lawrence of Arabia in a bottle. Listen for Maurice Jarre’s stirring orchestral music as you journey through the expansive expression of dark, dark fruit on the palate: blackberries, black cherries, boysenberries and plums. A taste of just how epic a great Paso Robles wine can be.
HOMMAGE À NOS PAIRS RESERVE 2014
$95 | Blend: 95% Syrah, 3% Grenache, 2% Viognier | 96 pts
If liquid wine had a form, this one would be the sexy silhouette of a gorgeous gown adorning an equally gorgeous star on the red carpet. Sensuous and alluring—from the wine’s impenetrable color purple to a strikingly harmonious combination of balance, structure, complexity and flavor—like a glass sculpture, she has strength and delicacy. All the velvety-best qualities of perfectly-picked Syrah fruit are on full display—Franco-American style Syrah at its peak glory. If Clos Solène has a signature wine, this one is it.
EL TORO 2014
$130 | Blend: 80% Garnacha, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah | 96 pts
The bull. A beast, but only charges angrily when provoked. You could make comparisons to a top-end Priorat, and this blend has that magical Flamenco-like spark of liveliness and style. Vibrant and thrillingly teeming with life, there is so much depth to the complexity here that, once you jump in, you know not how far you must fall to hit bottom. From head-trained bush vines of the James Berry vineyard come a very low and dense crop of Garnacha berries (Garnacha is the eastern Spanish-origin Grenache grape) that produce a wine of very concentrated black cherry flavor along with notes of mellow spices, black earth, dark wood and tar. A dark, mysterious and dangerous beauty.
LA ROSE 2015
$38 | Blend: 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah | 93 pts
One of the great American rosés. Made 50% in the Saignée method (antithetical to how it’s done in Provence) and 50% whole cluster, this is as personal and independent as rosé gets. Translucent salmon color, it’s incredibly refined and classy, bright, focused and lean, ending on graceful pink grapefruit acidity. Seriously, seriously structured and possessing poignant tannins. Elegance in rosé defined.
SWEET CLEMENTINE 2014
$60 | Blend: 97% Grenache, 3% Syrah | 95 pts
At a time when one wonders if sipping slowly on a fortified wine after a meal has become a lost art, comes a sweet wine that reminds us why certain traditions are vital to keep alive. Chances are you’ve never heard of sweet wines from Banyuls, an obscure region in the southeast of France, so kudos to winemaker Guillaume Fabre for making a wine as brave and iconoclastic as the Sweet Clementine (named for his daughter) that’s a tribute to the Banyuls wines he gained a passion for back in his hometown. Every bit as balanced, fresh and structured as his other wines, this dessert wine is pure delight—sweet notes of ripe plum, black currant and baking spices, syrupy texture that’s never heavy or cloying, with perfect acid balance that refreshes and invites you to take another sip.
$85 | 60% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah | 92 pts
An homage to the classic red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape from the southern Rhone, the softness of the velvety texture of the Harmonie is the standout quality—it’s just lovely. Its texture is juxtaposed against a very robust and forward delivery of black, purple and red fruit flavors. A combination of fruit from 20 vineyard plots goes into the bottle, so it’s amazing how much purity and finesse is accomplished. This diversity of fruit is living proof of the large spectrum of complexity that Paso Robles terroir offers, and the winemaker’s art is the conduit to our ability to experience this extraordinary terroir.
$85 | 100% Pinot Noir | 93-94 pts
The Pinot Noir fruit comes from the Bien Nacido area of Santa Barbara County, but the expression is truly Burgundy, France. Crisp, bright and so, so clean, there’s a transparency here that’s truly attractive and alluring. From mostly 50-year-old vines, fruit character is full of complexity and depth while the wine is structured like a tall, lean tower. From the brilliant nose of ripe dark strawberry, brown sugar and light baking spices to the accent of white pepper on the palate to the refreshing acidity of young red berries on the lengthy finish, “L’Imprevu”—which means the unforeseen or unexpected—is a charming surprise in the Clos Solène lineup. Store this for 7-10 years as you would a Pinot from the Cote d’Or.
HOMMAGE BLANC 2015
$60 | 80% Roussanne, 20% Voignier | 93 pts
Though round and feeling “fat” in the mouth after spending six months aged in lees, this is a driven and persistent white wine. With no malolactic fermentation in the winemaking process, a classic Rhone blend is rendered enthrallingly contemporary and New World by the winemaker—crisp, vivid and crystal-clear focused. It all starts with a nose of white flowers in the springtime, especially jasmine, plus a hint of mint. On the palate is vibrant lemon, Peruvian lime and green cantaloupe pushing forward to a lingering finish that ends with a snap! of fruit burst. While elegantly structured and classy, there’s no avoiding its sex appeal.