There they built their dream home — a Palladian-style villa, designed by Walter himself–and planted a new cabernet grape vineyard with their own hands. They even built a small winery on the property that would handle about eight barrels of wine. And then, 10 weeks after their first harvest, Walter suddenly and unexpectedly passed away while Roberta was traveling in Europe with their son.
Rather than sell the property, and move on to a less difficult, more simple life, Roberta did just the opposite. She completed the guest house on the property and turned it into a Vacation Rental. She planted more grape vines, on her hands and knees in the vineyards for weeks, and she started making her own wines.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Roberta runs the elegant vacation rental by herself, doing everything from serving breakfast to changing sheets, and she manages her eight-acre vineyard with the love and care a mother would give her child.
And her wines show it. Her Cabernet Sauvignon recently won gold medals at the 2009 Los Angeles Commercial Wine Competition and at the Central Coast Wine Competition. At last year’s California State Fair, Bella Collina won two gold medals, earning 94 points each, and the year before, her viognier won Best White Wine at the 2007 California Mid-State Fair. In fact, Roberta has a wall in her bedroom filled with dozens of ribbons and awards that her wines have won just in the few short years since releasing her first 2004 vintage.
Roberta’s winemaker, Ryan Horn, knows why they have been so successful. “Making good wine with fruit like hers is easy,” Horn says. “I’m a good winemaker, but I don’t have to do much when it comes to Roberta’s fruit.”
Horn, who owns the Vinter’s Vault, a full-service supplier of winemaking supplies and equipment, also has a custom-crush operation at his facility on Riverside Road in Paso Robles. Horn, the former assistant winemaker for Justin Vineyards & Winery, makes wines for several small vineyard owners such as Roberta, often teaching them winemaking skills so they can eventually produce wines on their own.
“I’m totally happy turning the winemaking over to them,” Roberta says of Horn, and his assistants Aaron Meidam and Lee Alegre. “Without them I wouldn’t be producing this amazing wine, and I’m fully aware of that.” But she doesn’t just turn over the grapes and leave. She is actively involved in the winemaking process, referring to the fruit as “her babies.”
“I’m going to do the punch down this year,” Roberta says. “I like to talk to them and encourage them.”
She also sells her fruit to other area winemakers, including Horn and veteran winemaker Ken Volk, among others. Her tempranillo — a difficult varietal to find in this area — is commanding top dollar this year. “It’s because of the awards that I’ve won, I think,” she explains.
“And they also know that I’m really involved with my little babies.”
As if tending the vineyard and making 600 cases of wine wasn’t time-consuming enough for the 68-year old dynamo, her two-bedroom B&B is booked at least two weekends a month, providing a nice $275-a-night income for the vineyard’s ongoing expenses.
While she has been selling her wine mostly through word of mouth and to guests who stay in her Vacation Rental, she now is exploring other ways to sell her increasing production. “That’s my next challenge, finding the way to market it right.”
In the meantime, she continues to enjoy life at Bella Collina — which means “beautiful hill” in Italian —and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t want to retire,” Roberta says adamantly, “this is too much fun. I love my life!”
Bella Collina Vineyards
Address: 3650 Mustang Springs Road, Paso Robles
Owner: Roberta Weideman
Winemaker: Ryan Horn
Cases produced: 600 this year
Acres planted: Eight
Varietals: cabernet sauvignon, viognier, tempranillo