Stephen Ross Dooley: The SLO Coast’s Master Winemaker

Stephen Ross Dooley is perhaps the most influential, pioneering winemaker of the SLO Coast, California’s newest and coolest AVA. The son of two Midwest college professors, he is a 1977 graduate of UC Davis who quickly became assistant winemaker under Mike Martini at the Louis Martini Winery in Napa Valley. He also worked at Backberg Estate in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region and Chittering Estate in Western Australia before moving in 1987 to the Edna Valley to become winemaker at Edna Valley Vineyard, producing their popular barrel fermented Chardonnay. In this article, we review Steve’s wines from his Stephen Ross Winery. The IWR’s full report on the wines and vineyards of the SLO Coast will be published soon.

Steve left Edna Valley Winery in 1994 and founded his own label Stephen Ross Cellars. He also made the wines at Chamisal/Domaine Alfred for three years (1998-2000) while making wines for his own label, which was initially made at Talley Vineyards and later at custom crush facilities. In 2008 he finally moved to his own facility in San Luis Obispo. He also partnered with Brian Talley in developing the Stone Corral Vineyard and served as President of the SLO Coast Wine Collective for several terms. Dooley played an influential advisory role at Filipponi Ranch and makes the wines for Cutruzzola, Piedra Creek, and Peloton Cellars.  It’s difficult to think of any winemaker who has had as long and positive impact on the wines of the SLO Coast.

We met Steve at his San Luis Obispo winery to taste his new releases.  Our reviews follow.

The Wines

Stephen Ross 2021 Albariño Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County ($28) 92 Clean, very fresh nose of white peach, citrus and minerals. The palate mirrors the bouquet; it’s very clean, crisp, and mineral like with Bosc pear, white peach and white citrus notes. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. A delicious wine from one of California’s best vineyards for this variety. Steel fermented and aged. pH 3.34, 13% alc.

Stephen Ross 2021 Chardonnay Edna Valley ($30) 92 The 2021 Chardonnay offers aromas of yellow apple and peach with hints on toast. It is broad in the mouth and full of flavor with excellent acidity. Aged in 16% new French oak with full malo, it is a delicious wine, bright and fresh with lots of tropical fruit flavor. Sourced from Greengate (52%), Paragon (32%), and Bee Sweet (16%).

Stephen Ross 2021 Grenache Blanc Edna Valley ($28) 91 The Grenache Blanc is pale straw in color and has a perfumed bouquet. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, it is crisp and clean on the palate, offering flavors of melon and citrus. 12.5%.

Stephen Ross 2019 Pinot Noir Edna Valley ($40) 93 Medium ruby, the  Edna Valley Pinot Noir offers pretty aromas of red cherry on the nose and cherry and spice on a silky palate. It reveals lovely acidity and perfect balance with nice purity and lingering extract on the finish.

Stephen Ross 2020 Arête Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard Edna Valley ($80) 94 The Arete Pinot Noir is the top red wine in this outstanding portfolio. Medium red in color, it offers spicy dark cherry with a silky and spicy mouth feel and a very long and concentrated finish. The two best barrels from Stone Corral Vineyard; 50% Clone 777 and 50% Wädenswil clone, destemmed and fermented in open top tanks; aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. 13.5% alc.

Stephen Ross 2019 Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard Edna Valley ($68) 94 The Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard is sourced from the preferred lower part of the vineyards. Medium ruby red in color, it offers savory notes with cherry skin spice on the nose. Aged 15-16 months in 33% new oak., it reveals a firm structure and is dry and mineral like more savory character, dry and mineral like. Long finish.

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Stephen Ross Dooley: The SLO Coast’s Master Winemaker Stephen Ross Dooley: The SLO Coast’s Master Winemaker *Stephen Ross Dooley: The SLO Coast’s Master Winemaker