Making A Paso Dream Come True: My Second Career as a Vineyard Owner & Winemaker

Paso Robles Winemaking Pioneers to Speak at Garagiste Festival

By Terry Nozick

Wines and their stories have always been at the heart of Paso Robles annual Garagiste Festival, and this year is no different. The fourth annual Garagiste Festival (November 6-9 at the Ponderosa Pavilion at the Paso Robles Fairgrounds) will not only offer attendees an opportunity to meet 75 winemakers telling wine tales, but on Saturday morning three of Paso’s own pioneer garagistes – Victor Abascal, Bob Tillman, and Carl Bowker – will discuss how the pursuit of their dreams led to their second careers as wine makers in the seminar Making a Paso Dream Come True: My Second Career as a Vineyard Owner & Winemaker.  

Vines on the Marycrest

Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest juggled two careers for almost a decade, one as a music, TV, and movie soundman down south in Culver City, and another as Vines On The Marycrest owner and winemaker up north in Paso Robles. The role as winemaker making award-winning wines became a solo act in early 2013 when he made the final trip north and joined his wife Jenni and their two children full time at their vineyard property in North West Paso.  In 2004, he said “You could see something about to pop. Little did we know.” In a place as sprawling as Paso he believes there is a surprising ‘we are all in it together’ camaraderie among the winemakers. Abascal’s advice to anyone considering becoming a winemaker? “Just because you might like shoes, it doesn't mean you should start making them!”    

Alta Colina

Like many of the Bay Area’s early high-tech workers, Bob Tillman had easy access to the wines of the surrounding regions. A wine appreciation class at Free University in 1971 was the impetus that led him, over time, to explore many of the great wine regions of the world and eventually hatch the idea to try his hand at making it, first chance he got. “I schemed for more than 30 years before finally giving it a go,” says Tillman He developed a liking for Rhone varieties in the late 1990s and suspected that Paso Robles would become the focal point for these wines in the US, so in 2003 chose Adelaida Road in the coast range west of Paso for his 31-acre Alta Colina vineyard, where his Rhone vines are now in their tenth leaf. Tillman says the current Rhone explosion “is giving a lift to the entire Paso area, creating a buzz and attracting connoisseurs and novices alike.” He is in the process of building a winery, having made eight vintages at a neighbor’s facility.


Carl Bowker was a convention and trade show man for years, managing things like freight, plants and floral design, and general contracting. The many hats he wore prepared him well for life as a winery owner.  The Bowkers’ decision to move to the Central Coast, and specifically Paso Robles’ Templeton Gap, was a gradual one, but once Carl discovered the area’s huge potential for growing Rhone varieties, the deal was sealed. Paso’s soils, and diurnal temperature swings were enticing. Their winery, Caliza, is located in the Paso Robles Willow Creek District, one of the recently named AVAs in the area. “Paso Robles is special first and foremost because of the people and culture of the area,” he says. “I believe a lot of that has to do with the farming community and the history of the area, but now a great deal is because of the wine industry where people care and look out for each other.”

To buy tickets for the festival and to hear these winemakers tell their stories and offer advice (and to taste their wines) visit