PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance virtually handed out its 2020 Winter Wine Awards this week — Cellar Worker, Vineyard Workers, and Environmental Steward.

The is the second year of the awards, meant to recognize individuals and organizations that excel. These awards are rolled out twice a year. They are voted on by their peers.

Cellar Worker

This award is meant to recognize a cellar team member who has contributed the most to help their team produce outstanding Paso Robles wine. Through leadership, dedication, and spirit, this team member deserves recognition.

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker, Tablas Creek Vineyard

Franchi grew up in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California with a family that encouraged and applauded her enthusiasm and fascination for wine. She attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to study Agricultural Business and Wine and Viticulture. While working on her degree, she got a job at Tablas Creek as a greeter-hostess and, from there, moved into the tasting room. 

Upon graduation in 2008, she started her production career working hard as a “cellar rat” under the guidance of Winemaker Neil Collins. To further her knowledge and appreciation of wine, she took the first level sommelier exam in the middle of her first harvest. Her hard work and eagerness to learn paid off when she was offered the title of Assistant Winemaker in 2009. Chelsea writes the Notes from the Cellar series on the Tablas Creek blog and thinks she has the best job in the world.

Vineyard Worker(s)

The Vineyard Worker award is for a vineyard team member who has contributed the most to help their team cultivate and harvest exceptional Paso Robles fruit. Through leadership, dedication, and spirit, these team members deserve recognition. This year we had a tie.

Aron Nevarez, Vineyard Manager, Denner Vineyards

Born in the village of El Durazno in Durango, Mexico, Nevarez moved to Paso Robles in 1992 at the age of 14. As a young teen, he worked in vineyards throughout the county. From 1994 to 1997, Nevarez learned all about Rhône varietals and their growing habits while working at Tablas Creek and GlenRose Vineyards. 

In 1998, Nevarez took over the position of Vineyard Manager at Rozet Vineyards (now Derby). He worked alongside John Alban for 6 years, perfecting his vineyard management skills. He joined Denner Vineyards in 2004 and has developed the estate into a prized site for premium Rhône and Bordeaux varieties. 

Although he is a licensed pesticide applicator, his approach to vineyard management is proactive rather than reactive, with minimal chemical usage. Nevarez believes if you are in the vineyard daily, closely watching the vines, you will see the slight changes that require attention and believes in composting rather than fertilizing.

Refugio Garcia, Vineyard Manager, Mesa Vineyard Management

Garcia has taken on and implemented the conversion of all acres of grapes under his management and those of the team to be certified CCOF organic for Castoro Cellars. He is constantly seeking new and cleaner ways to farm and care for the land. It has been a learning experience for the entire crew and his dedication shows and is appreciated by all working together.

Environmental Stewards

This significant award is meant for a business that has undertaken the greatest effort to ensure their operations are managed with the best ‘green’ business standards. In the vineyard, production, and stewardship, this business has shown leadership that deserves this award.

The Udsen Family, Castoro Cellars

The Udsens family has continuously led by example in sustainable business practices and farming. Castoro Cellars is 100% organically farmed — the largest organic grower on the Central Coast, with over 1,000 acres certified CCOF Organic — and completely offset with over 4 acres of solar panels throughout their properties. They also have 40 acres that are farmed biodynamically and all vineyards are SIP certified.

Getting through this together, Atascadero