July 12, 2007
Crash Course in Wine and Art

IMGP1527_edited.jpgI'm starting to believe something I'd heard and read of the Paso Robles wine country, that it's one region where you still are likely to find the owner or winemaker or both at wineries you visit. After two days about Paso Robles, I'm finding that's true a bit more than half the time.

This, for example, is Gary Carmody Conway, and these are two of his paintings, which with other canvases hang in the combination tasting room and gallery of his and his wife's Carmody McKnight Estate Wines at the far western reaches of San Luis Obispo County.

It's a heck of a drive to get there, but the reward is a spectacular picnic site, a bevy of individualistic wines, and the good chance that the energetic Conway will be around to discuss passionately the area's soils and climate. An actor and screenwriter as well as painter - he starred in the TV series "Land of the Giants" - Conway landed near Paso Robles a bit too literally about 40 years ago when he was scouting for a rural retreat that would provide an escape from his hectic life in Los Angeles.

He and his pilot real-estate agent were scouting the region for potential property when their helicopter...well, let him tell it: "It was a moment of ecstasy. We came over this ridge late on a bright, crisp day. The light totally put me into a euphoria of some kind, and then we hit the wire."

The chopper collided with a power line and plunged to the ground, destroyed, but both men walked away, and the first person they walked into was the farmer who owned the ranch. Conway assured him that his search for property was over and that he was buying the farmer's spread.

Conway and his wife - Marian McKnight, Miss America 1957 - have been developing and savoring the site since, converting a feld of barley into wine grapes in the 1980s, establishing their winery, initially named Silver Canyon, about 1990. Pack a picnic lunch, grab a table under a massive oak beside the ponds just outside the tasting room/gallery, and be prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon mesmerized by the silence, breezes and light.

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