Hollister native turned Paso Robles winemaker wows the Vertigo crowd at tasting
For Ulloa Cellars owner Nancy Gonzalez Ulloa, her June 7 wine tasting at Vertigo Coffee in San Juan Bautista was like homecoming week. A Hollister native who now makes her wines in Paso Robles, Ulloa is still enough of a local to have a few of her San Benito High School classmates, and teachers show up for her event.
Ulloa also went to high school with Vertigo manager Ryan Morris, who decided to feature her wines in the reintroduction of the coffee shop’s series of wine events that has already included local luminaries like Ryan Stirm and Nicole Walsh. And if the customer reaction to Ulloa and the four wines she was offering was any indication, the relaunch is off to a great start.
“We are trying to grow our wine program here,” he said. “We wanted to allow our customers to learn a little bit more about the wines, meet the winemakers and feel more comfortable and confident when selecting wines.”
Born in Guadalajara and arriving in the United States when she was 12 years old, Ulloa began her study of wine after graduating from San Jose State with a degree in Sociology. After studying viticulture at Cuesta College and enology at Allan Hancock, she moved to Paso Robles and began volunteering at various wineries before working in the cellar at Seven Oxen Estate Wines.
Starting a side venture, she began working with obscure white varietals, releasing her first wine, a grüner veltliner, in 2019.
“I love white wines,” she said. “So I want to be selfish and make things that I want to drink. I think that the methods that I utilize to make my wines are very in tune with my cooking, very complex and full of layers and flavors. I like to use the tools of winemaking to give my wines more body and texture.”
Ulloa herself is part mystic and part winemaker, as evidenced by the crystals, charged by exposure to the full moon, on display at the tasting table at Vertigo, side-by-side with her wines. She uses them in her winemaking, resting complimentary crystals on top of the barrels as the wine ferments, and dedicates the results to the goddesses pictured on her labels.
“I like to have a balance between the science and my intuition to decide what to do with the cellar,” she said. “And I like to have the autonomy to do what I feel is best for my palette.”
Ulloa tends to ferment her wines in 50% stainless steel and 50% neutral oak, with the exception of a version of her Grüner Veltliner, which is fermented in a 500-liter hand-made terracotta amphora.
“I like acidity in wine,” she said. “The stainless steel is like a time capsule for whatever you put in there. It’s going to retain that acid or those flavors, but then the neutral comes rounded up and gives it texture and that softness.”
With her very approachable wines, above all, Ulloa wants to produce something that “demystifies the experience so that people feel more comfortable with trying things. It’s a beverage and your supposed to enjoy it without having to be thinking about what you’re drinking, right?”
The Wines of Ulloa Cellars
2022 Pinot Blanc – Sourced in San Barbara, Ulloa says the actual vineyard is a mystery known only to her. The fruit comes through in a delicate mix of guava and mango and a bit of white peach, with a hint of acidity that resolves itself in the finish. It is very smooth and very easy to drink.
2022 Gewurztraminer – With an aroma of jasmine and bubble gum that pops out of the glass, the floral notes continue in the wine itself, bringing orange blossoms and rose petals, with some passionfruit components. Ulloa suggests lychee as well, and the focus is certainly more on tropical fruits with a warming note of ginger. This was my favorite of the tasting, with a great body, a silky mouthfeel and a relaxed acidic finish.
2022 Grüner Veltliner – “This wine is a tribute to Shakti,” she said, “Which is the feminine energy of the universe that makes a world go round.” An Austrian grape sourced from Edna Valley, white pepper, grapefruit, and cantaloupe come forward in this unusual varietal. Ulloa uses the same grapes from the same harvest to create the two versions of her grüner veltliner, with this one fermenting in half stainless steel, half neutral oak. This wine more resembles the previous three, with bright acidity and a bounty of fruit that make this versatile enough to serve light fare, though I think it would also work spicer dishes from a Mexican menu.
2022 Amphora Grüner Veltliner – “I want my wines to have elegance and personality,” Ulloa said, “and this one is a little funkier than my other wines. Using the amphora made me want to do something different, something nerdy.” This version of the grüner veltliner is a bit darker in its color and in its taste than the other. It is earthy rather than crisp, with a duskier tone derived from the terracotta with notes of dried apricot, fuji apple, and tarragon and a sweet aroma of lemon with a touch of gunpowder. Of the two, I preferred this one for the added depth that comes from the fermentation in terracotta. It is a must-try.
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