Winter Featured Winery: Tobin James Cellars

8950 Union Road Paso Robles, California 93446
8950 Union Road Paso Robles, California 93446

“It’s all True.”   That’s the saying on the reusable bags you can pick up at Tobin James Winery.   I love it because it summarizes so much of what makes Tobin James Cellars one of the most successful wineries in California.   Tobin is a rebel.   You’ll see why more so in this article.    It’s led to him having one of the most successful wineries in the state.   When you taste the wines we've chosen for this shipment, you'll see that he knows how to make great wines.  And once you pay a visit to Tobin James, you'll see why it's a mandatory stop for tens of thousands of fans of Central Coast Wine Country.    Cheers!  

Tobin James is kind of a legend around these parts.  He's a cowboy.  His tasting room is more like an old fashioned western bar and his parties are legendary.   Join his wine club and you're a member of the James Gang.   He also makes great wines which you’re about to discover with the selection in this shipment.  But despite getting immediate attention from trade magazines and competitions as a young winemaker 20+ years ago, Tobin was one of the first winemakers to understand that a lot of wine-drinkers aren’t inspired by ratings and awards.  They like what they like and much of that is about the experience they’re having when they first taste a wine. 


You're going to love these wines, and they'll be the hit of your holiday gatherings.  They just get all that much better once you've experienced an afternoon at Tobin James Cellars, because you'll always remember the fun you had each time you uncork a bottle.   That is the magic blend Tobin James has mastered and understood long before the wine world of the 80's and 90's did: Your assessment of a wine has as much to do about the experience as what's in the bottle.   Get treated as less-than by a wine-snobbish server in a tasting room, and no matter how good the wine, you likely won't be searching out that label any time soon.

Tobin's lack of pretense, in fact his blatant disregard for any cookie-cutter image of what a winemaker, winery or wine-tasting experience should be, has opened up the Central Coast wine country to a whole new mass of people who discovered it through a visit to his place.  He has created countless converts to the wine world through his down-home, come on in, kick back, and cut loose attitude.  And there's a reason he can relate to anyone from the dignitaries who clamor for time with him, to the Hanford cotton farmer who stops in on his way from the Central Valley.  

Tobin James grew up in farming and vineyards back East.  He has farming roots in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.   He always wanted to be in the wine biz, and when a guy named Gary Eberle  (He's kind of the Godfather of Central Coast Wine Country) came back for a visit to a distributor in the late 70's, Tobin said he wanted to come on out to California to be a vintner.  "Come on out and work harvest season." Gary said.   Little did Gary know who he was talking to, and Tobin was on a train a few months later.  

Tobin came with no place to stay, no money, and no real plan.   And with no track record to warrant a job, he offered to work for free at what was then Gary's winery, Estrella Vineyards.   Tobin lived in the bunkhouse to work the season and planned on leaving after the big crush.   By then he had proved himself enough to warrant a he stayed and become what he calls "a cellar rat".   He was driving tractors, hooking up hoses, dealing with the agricultural side of the wine business.   But when a marketing guy got the flu and couldn't go do a tasting down south, they sent Tobin.   


The rest, as they say is history.  Tobin was unlike any other winemaker at the tasting with his southern drawl, cowboy hat and infectious laugh.   People are simply drawn to him and consequently, Estrella wines were the most popular poured at that tasting.   (Remember they were being made by Gary Eberle, his brother and Tobin so they were good wines.)  But pretty soon the inquires started "Who is that guy?  He's a hoot."   They heard his drawl, and with Paso Robles not yet being on the map of the wine world, assumed he was from El Paso, Texas.   But before long, Tobin James was living in L.A. educating the rest of the world about the wines being produced in the little community of Paso Robles.   

The Tobin legend continued to blossom when a truck pulled up to Estrella with 6 tons of zinfandel grapes another winery had refused.  No one was making zinfandel at that time.   Tobin convinced Gary to buy them for pennies on the dollar because the hauler wanted to unload them and move on to do another job.   Tobin made Zinfandel and bam, it was clear the winemaking genes in Tobin James went deeper than his personality.   It won all kinds of medals.    After moving on to what is now Peachy Canyon Winery he pulled a fast one on owner Doug Becket by experimenting with blending, and the first blend he made using his Zinfandel and Doug's 1990 Zinfandel ended up making Wine Spectators December 31, 1992 100 top wines of the world that year. It was called Especial.  

By 1989 Tobin James was ready to branch out on his own and built his dream winery off highway 46 East and opening the tasting room in early 1994.  Again, he bucked the trend with its design as an old saloon.  "It will never work." said the naysayers. "The saloon thing just doesn't fit wine country."   Tobin had two words for them, and one of them was Bull.  "I said 'You're saying I'll never make it because you gotta have it all fancy with a harp in the corner?  Bull-____.  "I got Hank Williams'"   And 25 years later there are still winemakers scratching their heads at how busy his tasting room is daily, at how his "James Gang" wine club is so big.   "I've always been a bit of an outlaw." says Tobin.  "I work hard and play hard, and people want to have a good time.  The owner’s manual said snobby.  I said 'I don't know how to do that, man.  We don't even enter award competitions anymore.   We don't need to. People know who we are, and once they come in here and taste our wines, they come back."    Judging by the amount of people who came to greet him as they brought friends from north or south as we tried to do the interview for this newsletter, he's right. It's all true.   

Tobin says there's nothing that makes him happier than seeing Americans having fun, and a group gathered around the dining room table laughing and enjoying each other and toasting with his wines.   So as you head into the holidays, make sure there's a bottle of Tobin James on the table, and raise your glasses to the season, the people around you, and rebels like Tobin James.  


The Wines of Tobin James for

The Ruby Shoes Wine Club Winter Shipment

Click here to find out more about the amazing wines we've selected for our Winter Shipment.  Tobin himself will tell you all about his award-winning wines in our exclusive Taste With the Winemaker videos.



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