Pasco (Pasco Project)

#299 – July 19, 2015

Including Lewis Pasco in a newsletter about new and unknown wineries may seem inconsistent to anyone who has been following the Israeli wine scene for more than a few years.  However, despite making quite a splash on the local scene during his seven vintages at Recanati, he disappeared from the country after parting ways with the winery and only to recently return with a new project (pun intended), releasing wines under his newly founded eponymously named winery – the focus of this newsletter.

After a childhood spent in Tenafly, Lewis dropped out of New York’s Columbia University to spend a few years working the New York kitchen scene before heading to San Francisco at the age of 22 and working his way up the local restaurant ladder including a head chef position at the tender age of 24.  After a number of years hustling in the kitchen and honing his creative skills, Lewis returned to school, this time pursuing degrees in viticulture and oenology from UC Davis (not to mention his undergraduate degree in botany), intending to take his newfound skills to France where he hoped to gain some practical experience working in a winery or two.  However, fate works in mysterious ways and he found his eye wandering towards the holy land in response to winemaker’s want ad from Dalton.  By the time he gave Dalton a call in response to the ad, the position had been filled but Dalton’s Alex Haruni referred him to the Tishbi winery which had a winemaking position they were looking to fill.  After spending three vintages at Tishbi, Lewis was poached by the Recanati family to bring his considerable winemaking talent to the newly launched winery where he served as founding and head winemaker for seven vintages or so.  After parting ways with Recanati, Lewis (along with his Israeli wife and two children) packed up and left quietly back to California where they have been living ever since.

However Israel clearly had some unfinished business with Pasco (and vice versa) and in 2012 Beit-El Winery’s Hillel Manne reached out and asked that Lewis come back and provide some “adult supervision” consulting advice to the growing winery which was blessed with top tier (Shomron) fruit but a lack of professional winemaking experience.  With Hillel offering winemaking facilities instead of a salary (not to mention a roof over his head for a few months until he got settled and was able to have his family follow him back “home”), Lewis took the opportunity to finally start his own winery while helping Hillel and other wineries (most recently the Hevron Heights Winery as well) improve their wines.

The Lewis Pasco winery has released three wines to date, his entry level Bordeaux-blend for both the 2012 and 2013 vintages and a reserve-level wine (Liquidity) for the 2012 vintage.  Unlike his counterparts to this newsletter, the Pasco wines are exported to the US and are pretty widely available (although the inaugural 2012 Pasco Project #1 is officially sold out and the 2013 Pasco Project #2 is going fast).  Unlike many Israeli winemakers who profess to make Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Israel solely because the market demands it (as opposed to any inherent connection between the varietals and Israel’s terroir), Lewis appears to remain steadfast in his belief that they remain the best base for quality Israeli wines (while also seemingly acknowledging that Israeli Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah are high-quality and can bring something extra special to his wines).  An extremely passionate individual with oodles of winemaking knowledge and experience he is happy to share with anyone who is interested, Lewis brings plenty of himself into his winemaking where his limitless enthusiasm is evident in his wines. Showcasing his solidly Californian winemaking philosophy, Lewis is continuing his tradition from Recanati (which has since been replaced by the aforementioned more subtle style discussed above) and creating rich, bold and delicious crowd-pleasing wines, which can sometimes belie the wine’s underlying structure, complexity and potential longevity.

Listed below are the three wines Lewis has released to date, with the 2013 Pasco Project #2 and 2012 Liquidity the current releases and available in both the US and Israel.  I look forward to following Lewis’ upward development during the current stage of his winemaking career – Ale V’Hatzlach.

Lewis Pasco, Pasco Project #2, 2013:  Switching it up a bit from his inaugural 2012 release, Lewis added a bit of that quality Carignan from the Beit-El Winery into the blend which is comprised of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 7% Carignan (replacing last year’s Petite Sirah) which spent nine months in older French oak and once again clocks in at 14.5%.  The Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan hailed from the Shomron  while the Merlot was sourced from Givat Yishayahu in the Judean Hills.  A rich nose of blackberries, black currants, plums and tart cherries along with earthy minerals leads into a medium to full-bodied palate that is more approachable than the 2012 vintage but showcases the same balance, structure and Pasco flair that was evident in Pasco Project #1 along with notes of bell pepper, spice, graphite and fresh-ground coffee grounds leading into a lovely lingering finish with black fruit, hints of blueberries and rich baker’s chocolate.  Drink now through 2018.

Lewis Pasco, Pasco Project #1, 2012:  The first release by Lewis Pasco out of his newly launched eponymously-named winery under the “Pasco Project” label is a Bordeaux-styled blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% merlot, along with 4% of Petite Sirah which spent nine months in new French oak barrels and clocks in at 14.5% AbV.  The wine opens with a warmly inviting nose of rich blackberries, plums, red fruit, cherries, sweet cedar, a hint of smoke, array of mostly warm spices and a hint of blueberries.  The medium to full-bodied palate is loaded with rich fruit, sweet cedar, fresh-cured tobacco, black pepper, a hint of dried Mediterranean herbs and eucalyptus and an overlay of slightly smoky oak with now beautifully integrated tannins showcasing the elegant structure and good balance and ending in a dark chocolate finish. Drink now through 2019.

Lewis Pasco, Liquidity, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012:  Lewis’ inaugural reserve-level wine is a classic Bordeaux-blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, primarily sourced from the Shomron  and made in Hillel Manne’s Beit-El Winery.  The wine spent 19 months in new French oak.  With Lewis’ winemaking easily recognizable with the elegant structure and good balance between the rich and mostly red fruit, smoky oak and bold tannic structure, the in was also clearly geared towards the mainstream kosher-drinking crowd, who prefer their wines with recognizable rich fruits backed by oak and juicy acidity.  A rich and elegant nose of blackberries, cassis, plums and warm spices along with sweet cedar, red fruit and espresso leading into a full-bodied palate with much of the same surrounded by an overlay of slightly smoky oak and gripping tannins which are now finally integrating and showcasing the powerfully elegant structure and near-sweet fruit.  Drink now through 2018.