This is one of those Q&A’s where I’m learning about Stanley Barrios and TOP Winery as we go. I was just introduced to him by Nick Elliot of Nicora Wine, at the Garagiste Festival in November. The wines, in my opinion, were fantastic so we asked to do a Q&A with him and here we are. Be sure to check them out in Tin City but make an appointment ahead of time.
Matt: Where are you from originally?
Stanley: I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Inglewood California “City of Champs”.
Matt: Do you live in Paso Robles? If so, how long?
Stanley: Unfortunately, I’m still living in the Los Angeles area and continue commuting on a weekly basis. We’re hoping to be full-time residents in Paso sometime next year.
Matt: What brought you to the area?
Stanley: The wines! When I began getting serious about wine I was all about Cabernet and therefore used to frequent Napa Valley. When a friend of mine introduced me to the Rhone wines of Paso Robles I was hooked! He brought me around some of his friends whose wines I admire and just fell in love with the passion and energy of the people in Paso. I don’t think I’ve been back to Napa since.
Matt: How did you first get involved in the wine business?
Stanley: In 2012 I met Nick Elliott of Nicora at a wine storage facility in North Hollywood where he was pouring his wines. I was deep into my obsession with wine at that point, reading all the winemaking material I could get my hands on. The day I met Nick I convinced him to let me intern in his cellar and worked my first harvest for him at Nicora in 2013.
Matt: What different jobs have you had in the industry?
Stanley: None, other than all the activity that happens in the cellar.
Matt: What did you do prior to getting into the wine industry?
Stanley: I still hold a day job in Downtown Los Angeles at an investment firm. I manage the facilities department so spend a bulk of my time behind a computer doing project management, budgeting, and a lot of space planning.
Matt: When did you start TOP Winery and why?
Stanley: My wife and I started TOP in 2014. We both shared a passion for all things wine and always talked about starting our own small project but with limited resources and living in Los Angeles the idea of starting our own wine program always seemed so far-fetched. When opportunity knocked, we opened and bolted down a door stopper.
Matt: What is the meaning behind the name?
Stanley: We use a spinning top as our logo and use that as a metaphor for balance. Life is constantly in motion, but seldom in balance. We’ve been fortunate to have found our passion and do it for a living. Our name and logo are a representation of what we’re trying to achieve in life.
Matt: How many cases of wine do you make?
Stanley: Our first vintage was just under 200 cases. The following year (2015) we produced about 500 cases. For the 2016 vintage, we’ll be at about 800 cases or so.
Matt: Do you have plans to grow? If so, how many cases would you like to get to?
Stanley: Definitely. We’re going to cruise at about 800 cases for the next couple vintages and slowly grow from there, not to exceed 3000 cases for TOP.
Matt: What varieties are you currently making?
Stanley: We’re focusing on Rhones – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Roussanne. This year we experimented with a couple new varietals, one of which is not a Rhone varietal, and am extremely excited about it. You’ll have to come visit to get the scoop.
Matt: Where can people taste your wines?
Stanley: We’re currently pouring out of the barrel room at the Nicora/Torrin winery in Tin City. Because we still live in Los Angeles we also coordinate tastings in the LA area with those who are interested. Just shoot us an email and we’ll make it happen.
Matt: What is your philosophy on wine and winemaking?
Stanley: We’re very minimalistic in cellar and try not to get in the way of what the grapes want to do. Grapes naturally want to become wine and wine wants to become vinegar. My job is to guide it in the first transformation and stop it from going into the second. Great wines start in the vineyard so it’s important that 1) we work with growers who share the same vision and passion in wine and 2) closely monitor the conditions that mother nature controls. We also want our wines to be a true representation of its site, vintage, and varietal and therefore try to keep blending to a minimal but will blend if the addition of another varietal will yield a better wine.
Matt: Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing (with one of your wines or not)?
Stanley: One of my favorite food and wine pairings is Grüner Veltliner (especially Emmerich Knoll) with a scallop ceviche! Also, a HOOD burger with TOP Exert Syrah never fails.
Matt: Favorite restaurant in the Paso Robles area?
Stanley: The Hatch is fantastic and my go to lunch spot during harvest. They have the best chicken sandwich around. For dinner, hands down Il Cortile nails it. The pappardelle al cinghiale with a glass of Barolo always hits the spot. I’m a sucker for pasta and Barolo.