Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Knack for Sustainability

An entrepreneurial family champions sustainability at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

Selim Zilkha and Nadia Zilkha

Selim Zilkha and Nadia Zilkha

Selim Zilkha has spent a lifetime searching out sustainable solutions to life’s everyday complexities. With a background in such varied industries as retail for mothers-to-be and their babies, natural gas exploration and renewable energy, Zilkha’s most pleasurable pursuit by far has been implementing sustainable methods at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, on California’s Central Coast.

Born into a banking family in Baghdad, Zilkha bought the Laetitia property in 1998 with high hopes of moving the winery toward self-sufficiency. His first order of business was amassing a team of people who caught the vision, starting with his own daughter, Nadia Zilkha, in marketing.

“I grew up discussing business with my dad and learned a lot,” says Nadia, “watching him make decisions, take risks and encourage his employees to be autonomous and empowered.” Nadia has focused on marketing, conveying the Laetitia message of elegant Pinot Noir and sparkling wines crafted from the best of both ancient and modern sustainable methods.

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

As for sustainable farming practices, Vice President Vineyard Operations, Lino Bozzano, has worked closely with Zilkha to employ creative methods such as cover-cropping and goat grazing, which preclude the need for harmful pesticides and herbicides or tractors that run on fossil fuels. President and Head Winemaker Eric Hickey has been instrumental in completing and championing the Vineyard Team’s progressive Sustainability In Practice (SIP) certification process, of which Laetitia is a founding participant.

One of Zilkha’s next dreams for the Laetitia property is better energy efficiency. “We are always looking into various ways to grow our own energy,” he says. “Specifically, we are looking at utilizing the land between the rows to grow alternative energy crops such as Camelina to make biodiesel, which could offset our diesel usage on the ranch.”

“Other pursuits in the ways of sustainability on the ranch include a complete analysis/retrofit of our irrigation system to ensure that we are accommodating the needs of the different soil types on the ranch, as well as more mechanization (to assist in the labor shortage) and employing bio control strategies, such as raptors and falcons to hunt and feed on animals which attack the grapes.”

The Laetitia goats

The Laetitia goats

Today, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery and its sister brand, NADIA, are thriving benchmarks by which many producers are measured.  “Differentiating our wine from others in the region while still honoring its similarity is both challenging and exciting,” says Nadia.

Since moving to New York several years ago Nadia’s role with the winery has changed slightly, though she still represents the Laetitia and NADIA brands on the East Coast.  “I’ve really enjoyed working alongside my father, who has taught me a great deal. He’s fascinated with technology and encourages our team to apply it both in farming and in winemaking.”

She adds, “I also love working alongside our team, learning from Eric and Lino, and working to improve our portfolio with each vintage.”


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Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery’s Matt Ortman tackles harvest in a brand new production facility


It isn’t every harvest that a new winemaker gets a brand new production facility and a near-perfect growing season for his first vintage, but that’s exactly what Villa San-Juliette Winemaker, Matt Ortman, enjoyed this year.

“I’m pretty amazed at how lucky we’ve been,” said Ortman, who joins fellow Central Coast vintners and growers in proclaiming the virtues of 2013. “This year’s dry conditions and consistent heat made for long hang-time and nicely-developed flavors in the fruit.”

Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery has been on the Paso Robles wine scene since 2008, but it wasn’t until this year that a new production facility was built to receive the winery’s estate-grown fruit.  Phase I of the facility, which was designed with input from Ortman, includes state-of-the-art web-based technology that allows him to monitor cellar operations from his Smartphone.

When completed, the expanded winery building will comprise about 16,000 square feet, including a 4,000 square-foot covered crush pad, 2,400 square feet of administration offices, and a 1,400 square-foot mechanical yard.  The project will include a 3,200-square-foot fermentation pad for new tanks, a 2,300-square-foot crush pad, and 1,200 square feet of mechanical buildings, as well as a wastewater pond to handle Villa San-Juliette’s long-term production needs.

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A Fun and Fabulous Way to Give Back

Third Thursday Puts the Community First

ThirdThursdayLogo_Final_Rust_Taglinemust! Charities has teamed up with several downtown Paso Robles businesses to host “Third Thursday,” wherein every third Thursday of the month, consumers can shop, eat, drink and play knowing that a portion of the proceeds will help create sustainable health, hope, compassion and resources for those in need. Third Thursday begins October 17, 2013.

The Third Thursday concept originated as a co-branding customer appreciation day by Jacque Leonard, owner of Salon Roux in downtown Paso Robles. Leonard was subsequently asked if the concept could be shared in a more profound way through must! charities by Carole MacDonal of Il Cortile Ristorante and La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant.

“I was more than grateful to be a part of a bigger picture. It’s amazing to see our Third Thursday event spread to the downtown merchants and restaurants. It warms my heart to know that now, through this monthly event, we can reach more of our community as they take advantage of special discounts and offerings, and in turn give back to our community through must! charities,” said Leonard.

“We were thinking of a way to give back and to show off downtown Paso Robles,” said restaurateur, Carole MacDonal of Il Cortile Ristorante and La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant, whose establishments have previously partnered with must! charities. “Third Thursday is a fun way to accomplish something meaningful and long lasting,” said MacDonal.

La Cosecha's mixologist, Eric Carfagnini, puts the finishing touches on a signature cocktail.

La Cosecha’s mixologist, Eric Carfagnini, puts the finishing touches on a signature cocktail.

The mission of must! Charities is to improve quality of life in San Luis Obispo’s North County by partnering with existing non-nonprofits in fields such as education, healthcare, mentoring and employment coaching to create long-term, sustainable transformation within the region. Third Thursday gives local businesses and their customers an opportunity to contribute to and partner with local non-profits to make a difference.

“must! charities is all about collaboration,” said the organization’s Executive Director, Becky Gray. “Third Thursday shows support to local business while also addressing our community’s needs strategically and collectively. I can’t think of a better way to rally behind and take care of this place we call home.” Please visit for more information about must! charities.

Inaugural downtown businesses featuring special discounts on favorite products and services – and donating a portion of their proceeds – will include:

  • Salon Roux – full-service salon and spa
  • La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant – boasting flavors from Spain, Central and South America
  • Firefly Gallery – boutique for home, apparel and accessories
  • General Store Paso Robles – locally sourced provisions for picnic, pantry and home
  • Il Cortile Ristorante – memorable fine Italian dining
  • AndBe Boutique – a place to discover beautiful things for you and your home
  • Sole Tree – shoe boutique offering quality leather footwear from around the world
  • Studios on the Park – nonprofit open studios art center
  • Dr. Darya Boland – naturopath and wellness expert

For more information about Third Thursday and the special offerings of each merchant, please visit Third Thursday – Paso Robles on Facebook.

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Expanding a modern classic: Meet the new Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Lounge

Chef Julie Simon

Chef Julie Simon

If you’ve ever dined at Thomas Hill Organics Bistro in Paso Robles, you probably remember your meal very well. Julie Simon is one of the most talented and original young chefs on the food scene today, and her vibrant, eclectic dishes crafted from locally-grown, organic ingredients tend to linger in the memory long after the last bite.  We’re talking:

  • Roasted Beet and Strawberry Salad with Butterleaf Lettuce, Oranges, Kumquats, Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette, and Sesame Brittle
  • Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Black Rice, Baby Bok Choy, Green Onion and Ginger Relish, Pickled Cherries, and Fried Egg
  • Contadina Pizza with Crushed Tomato, Mozzarella, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Beef Sausage, Candied Jalapenos, Arugula, and Basil

Given the demand for their cuisine, Thomas Hill Organics recently expanded into an adjacent space which is now the Thomas Hill Organics Wine Lounge.  The acquisition also redirected the location of the popular restaurant’s entrance, which is now directly on Park Street in Paso Robles’ charming Park District.


Featuring a comprehensive and creative wine and beer list, the new THO Wine Lounge now offers table service overseen by sommelier and Wine and Service Director, Serena Harkey.  Regular specials and wine by the 3-oz. or full glass allow diners to explore the full array of Harkey’s wine list in the same rustic-chic ambiance as the original Thomas Hill Organics Bistro.

 “Expanding into the wine lounge space is a response to the popularity of what we’ve done over the years, the freshness of the ingredients and the creativity of Julie’s menu,” said proprietor, Debbie Thomas, who opened Thomas Hill Organics in 2009 as a delicious way to show off locally-grown organic produce, grains, and proteins.

Thomas Hill Organics also continues to cater for a wide array of functions including birthday celebrations, wine events, weddings and holiday parties. Chef Julie and her team work with clients to design seasonally-inspired menus that create a one-of-a-kind experience, whether on the THO fully-covered outdoor patio, in a private home, or among the vines at one of the Central Coast’s beautiful wineries.

Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Lounge is located at 1313 Park Street in Paso Robles, California.  For more information please visit or call 805.226.5888.

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Pleasantly Unexpected – The Pleasant Valley Wine Trail

If you love wine, you probably already know about Paso Robles and the high-profile wines coming out of that AVA. But have you heard of the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail?  If you’ve never taken the time to wander through San Miguel out toward the hills, you are missing out on some of the prettiest countryside and most delicious wines this area has to offer.


Why not make a day of it? The trail includes eight wineries:

04 Cab 1 TTBLocatelli Vineyard & Winery – A charming winery which has partnered with Mission San Miguel to produce wines that benefit the ongoing restoration of the mission.

Villa San-Juliette – Be sure to enjoy an artisanal cheese board or pizzetta from the small bites menu as you taste through VSJ wines.

Ranchita Canyon Vineyard – This small-production winery makes a lovely Super Tuscan-style wine called Seranata that’s worth trying…if you can get your hands on it.

Tackitt Family Vineyards – A small winery from a family that has lived on the Central Coast for generations.

cellar-05-cab-sauvJ&J Cellars – The gorgeous views surrounding this beautiful property make for a picturesque tasting experience.  Check out their “Cellar Full of Noise” wines, which are dressed in fun, festive labels.

Graveyard Vineyards – This winery gets its name from neighboring Pleasant Valley Cemetery, and its wine club is even called “The Skeleton Key Club.”

Silver Horse – Apparently, “The New York Times and LA Magazine stated that Silver Horse Winery has the best view in all the Central Coast.” Not a bad endorsement!

Riverstar Vineyards – This stately winery also boasts a beautiful vacation rental on the property, perfect for family reunions, weddings, or corporate meetings.

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