Graveyard Vineyards – Curious Name, Serious Wine

by M-Gillies
Bottle of Paso Tombstone Red Wine from Graveyard Vineyards

Graveyard Vineyards is a boutique winery located next to a cemetery in the Paso Robles area of California.

Wine has had a long, rich and cultural history. It has been seen as the symbol of blood, with blood representing life; evolved as part of European life, culture and diet; and emerged as not just an art, but a science practiced by many globally. It enhances the flavors of meals and reduces the risk of heart disease, and in Paso Robles, California, one of the largest and most diverse wine regions in California, it has bestowed upon them the moniker of being the wild west of wine.

But tucked northeast of Paso Robles, on a bluff overlooking the Estrella River with an old historical cemetery nearby named Pleasant Valley Cemetery, lies a small vineyard known not just for its curious name but also its serious wine.

Graveyard Vineyards might be a small winery, but what the vineyard owned by Rob and Paula Campbell-Taylor lacks in size, they make up with personality – particularly when it comes to how the couple choose the name. They’d only just recently moved to their 81-acre ranch in 2003, when Paula got a phone call from her neighbor asking if she wanted to serve on the Pleasant Valley Cemetery Board.

At the time, it wasn’t all that strange of a request as their property was adjacent to the historic graveyard that served as the final resting place for area residents since 1865. In fact, as the story goes, the cemetery was first built when a landowner donated one acre of his land to the First Presbyterian Church of that year. But when tragedy struck and the landowner’s wife died, she became the first grave on the property.

Paula agreed to the position, after all, they were new to the neighborhood and what better way of meeting new people than to accept a position serving on a board. But as several weeks passed without any notice of a Cemetery Board meeting, Paula began to wonder if the board had heard word she was a new member. Taking to the phone, she called her neighbor and asked when it was the board met.

“Honey,” her neighbor began, “you are the Cemetery Board.”

Since that day, Paula has kept her role as the Cemetery Board – handling paperwork for the three or four people buried each year – though the position is unpaid, it’s been a juxtaposition to their full-time venture, Graveyard Vineyards.

First opening in 2005, Graveyard Vineyards began more or less as a dream the Campbell-Taylors wished to pursue. Rob had been a native in Bakersfield and earned an engineering degree after transferring to Fresno State University. Almost immediately, he began working as a petroleum engineer in the San Ardo field, just north of Paso Robles before returning to Bakersfield to work for Tenneco Oil Co. But it would be his experience in Paso Robles that sparked the genesis for his desire to return.

Meanwhile, Paula had moved to Bakersfield from Los Angeles in the 1980s, where she became involved with the Junior League and Singles Working Against Arthritis. It would be during a joint party with the Avalanche Ski Club – which Rob was involved – where the two would first meet in 1989. Two years later, they were married.

After the marriage, Rob soon took a job offshore in Santa Barbara County with Venoco in 1996, but Paula wasn’t happy about the move. Within time, the couple began viewing property in the Paso-Robles area, with a desire to raise their children in a rural area. That’s when they discovered the property, and with it, a 10-acre vineyard, planted by the previous owner some seven years earlier.

Though they were interested, opening a vineyard wasn’t what they had planned. At first, they thought of selling the grapes on the land, but with other experienced growers having trouble selling theirs, they soon decided they’d have to open their own winery and create a clientele.

But it wasn’t an easy task operating a winery for two people who had little experience owning one. That’s when the Campbell-Taylors met Jason Bushong, who since 1996 has continuously pursued studies in the finer aspects of winemaking. He began, during his undergraduate studies as a wine cellar worker who quickly advanced to assistant winemaker before becoming a full-time winemaker.

Since then, Graveyard Vineyards has only excelled with their selection of cabernet sauvignon and syrah wines, many of which have won numerous awards in wine competitions throughout California, which includes the Paso Tombstone White, Paso Tombstone Pink-dry Rose, Deliverance-chocolate dessert wine, and the ever popular – but sold out – Dark Phantom Petit Sirah and Mortal Zin. 

To further share their wines, Graveyard Vineyards offers a Skeleton Key Club with two membership packages available, ranging from the Grape Expectations Membership to the Grapeful Dead Membership. To learn more, visit their website at www.graveyardvineyards.com, or if you find yourself in the area, visit their tasting room.

 

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