The Cass Story
In 1999 Steve Cass retired from his career of twenty years at Charles Schwab. (Not to be confused with two-buck Chuck, Charles Shaw of course!) Forty-eight at the time, Steve had planned a sailing trip around the world with his wife Alice in order to give some thought as to what to do with their retirement years. After a few weeks on a boat with Steve in the Mediterranean on a test sailing trip, Alice informed Steve that there was no way she was going to participate in this trip.
Thinking about what to do now, Steve knew he wanted to move out of the San Francisco Bay Area. He had visited Paso Robles a few years before and really liked the area and also subsequently heard it was quite the burgeoning wine country. A great place to start a vineyard. He then took on an exploratory trip to find a potential home and vineyard site. He was with a real estate agent and Paso Robles pioneer grape grower Jim Smoot when they came upon the then pastureland of Cass Vineyard. A year later in 2000 the 145 acre Cass Vineyard was established with twelve varieties to be planted. The barn to house all the farming equipment was built at roughly the same time.
In 2002, the man that built the new Cass residence and barn, Ted Plemons, and Steve Cass took a golfing/wine-tasting trip to Stellenbosch, South Africa to celebrate the completion of the residence and the establishment of the vineyard. During this trip they fell in love with the South African wine style and the ambiance of the tasting rooms there.
One night during this trip they sat down for dinner at a fancy South African restaurant and were amazed to see how inexpensive their bill was due to the value of the South African rand being so low. So, they ordered another bottle of wine, or two… During the consumption of these Syrahs Steve and Ted agreed to become business partners in starting a winery. Ted is a builder and knew how tough building permits could be to come by in regards to starting a tasting room. He had seen multiple year waiting periods with some Santa Ynez wineries at the time. So they decided to jump at the opportunity because at the time building permits for wineries in Paso Robles were relatively easy to come by.
The next day, they took a trip to the local University of Stellenbosch and put up a job wanted sign for an assistant winemaker. After a short interview process, Cass found winemaker Lood Kotze who was head winemaker at Cass up until 2014. Once the vineyard began to bear fruit in 2003, the first vintage began. Two years later when the barn was finished being converted into a tasting room and the reds had aged a few years in the barrel, the Cass Winery tasting room opened its doors in May 2005.
Sterling Kragten - Winemaker
Sterling grew up in Southern California with a passion and skill for cooking at a young age. He thought about being a chef and having worked in some kitchens, found out about a major in Food Science. This major focuses on the chemistry, microbiology, safety and innovation of food products; which was definitely more mhis style. Shortly thereafter Sterling moved up to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly and this is when his introduction to wine started. Although he started tasting a large variety of wines at Cal Poly, he did not think most people would have considered him a wine connoisseur since his tasting involved "drinking Franzia straight out of the bag."
His real wine education began when he moved to Newcastle, Australia on a study abroad trip organized through Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He spent a good amount of time on the beach, surfing, mountain biking, legally drinking, and trying to convince his current wife, "a hot American student" that she should date him. The University was located near Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine growing region. Here he was of legal age to taste higher quality wines. He was learning about the wine making process while wine tasting and it just clicked; the creation, sensory perception, art and chemistry. Wine encompassed each aspect of what he was most passionate about in life.
After a semester abroad, he returned to Cal Poly and was able to add a Wine and Viticulture minor to complement his Food Science Major. After spending a summer in Costa Rica surfing with that girl from Australia, he graduated from Cal Poly and took an internship at Eagle Castle Winery in Paso Robles. He subsequently quickly moved his way up to Assistant Winemaker. Here, he actually spent my time tasting wine in a dignified manner! He was still studying and trying to learn what he could about the science of the wine, and also trying to convince that girl from Australia that she should marry him.
After a few years at Eagle Castle, he decided he needed another wine adventure, so he took a job in Marlborough, New Zealand for Oyster Bay label wines. It was a factory more than a winery, but he learned a lot about large production winemaking. From there he moved onto Justin Vineyard & Winery for the following harvest. It was while working at Justin in 2013 that we asked if he would like to come work for us as our Assistant Winemaker.
He spent the first harvest learning to produce wines in the Cass-style and learning Lood Kotze’s (our former winemaker) tips and tricks. He took a few months sabbatical from Cass in order to take a position as Vintage Winemaker in Margaret River, Australia where he helped run a large custom crush winery. There, he produced wines in a variety of qualities- from $100 high-end bottles to wine made for cows in China (you read that right).
After that, he came back to Cass with a few wine making tricks of his own, but not before a short backpacking trip around most of Southeast Asia. He was most of the way through the 2014 harvest when Lood surprised us all by announcing his retirement from the wine industry and Sterling thus became the new Head Winemaker at Cass.
Bryan Cass - General Manager
Bryan’s start in the wine business began in High School shortly after his family purchased the property that Cass Winery and Vineyards now sits on. The summer before his junior year of High School, in 1999, he and his friends would work away the days repairing fences, clearing out debris, and avoiding rattlesnakes on the soon-to-be vineyard.
He applied to Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo and got accepted under an Agricultural Business major with a minor in Wine and Viticulture. During his stay at Cal Poly, he spent two vintages, 2003 and 2004, working at Courtside Cellars in San Luis Obispo. This got him acquainted with working on a bottling line, doing pump overs, punch downs, as well as yeast and chemical additions amongst other things. He really enjoyed this experience, not yet being 21, and getting to work with wine and see how it is made. Around this time, someone found an abandoned dog in the vineyard. Bryan’s sister named him Buster, and he has had him as a pet now for almost ten years. Buster comes with Bryan to work every day and is the 50% American Staffordshire Terrier, 25% Boxer, 25% Corgie…winery dog.
After graduation from Cal Poly in June 2005, he started working in the Cass tasting room which opened the month before his Cal Poly graduation. Then in February 2006 six months later, he started graduate school at the University of Adelaide, Australia.
He went to school or “uni” there for a year and a half, completing a Master’s degree in Wine Business, and worked for a few Australian wineries along the way. Coriole Winery in the McLaren Vale and Abbey Rock winery in the Adelaide Hills. His most memorable experience during graduate school was the three week-long sensory evaluation classes they were required to take,where we learned how to detect, evaluate, and describe the different flavors, aromas, and faults in red, white, and fortified wines. The sensory class was 200 graduate and post-graduate winemaking, viticulture, and wine business students. Students taking their degree online would fly in from all around the world to take part in these classes. This was the most nerve wracking part of his schooling by far as each student had to talk into a microphone and describe a wine in front of the 200-odd colleagues. Luckily, the Aussie professors were extremely patient and friendly, there were no wrong answers. After graduation in June 2007, Bryan moved back here to Central California and started working for Cass again. Since then Bryan has worked in the tasting room and managed the wine club and he is currently the General Manager.
Kelley Hutcheson - Hospitality Director
Kelley has been with Cass since 2011 and is originally from Pleasanton ,CA. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration with a concentration in event management. From working with Cal Poly Athletics to city events and fundraisers, Kelley found her true passion within events in a winery setting. From public to private events there is always a new experience she creates for our guests. As the Hospitality Director, Kelley oversees and manages staff for all of Cass’s Weddings, Winery Events and Off-Site Catering. Being able to transform client’s dreams to reality has always been a passion of hers!
Meegan Huff - National Sales Manager
Meegan Huff brings a diverse set of skills and background to the sales team at Cass Winery. From television production to real estate development, event sales and management, Meegan brings a dynamic business sense combined with a knack for organization, concise communication style, sales and marketing experience and relationship building to the winery and the Cass brand.
As National Sales Manager, Meegan intends to grow the Cass brand locally, regionally and nationally. By targeting new markets and building relationships with new and existing distribution partners she aims to grow the brand. Meegan’s love and appreciation for fine wine is also an asset.
Brought to the Central Coast in 2010, Meegan fell in love with the Paso area and the lifestyle of the region. Meegan had her baby shower at Cass and welcomed her daughter, Quinci Rose, in December 2013. “I knew then that Cass was a special place and I felt like family. I was thrilled to officially join the Cass team in April of 2015. The wines are exceptional and the experience in the tasting room leaves you feeling truly like a member of the Cass family.”
Jacob Lovejoy - Executive Chef
Chef Jacob Lovejoy developed an appreciation for food and learned to respect the time and skill involved at an early age. Growing up on the family farm where all the family produce and livestock were raised Jacob developed a passion for working with the fresh and local ingredients that were available each season.
After graduating from the Cordon Bleu Culinary Program in Fresno, his love of working with fresh and local ingredients brought him to the central coast of California. Working his way up and down the coast Jacob ultimately ended up at Cass Winery where he has further enhanced the culinary experience at the winery. Chef Jacobs creations can be sampled daily at the Cass Café or at one of the winery’s manyevents held throughout the year.
Adam Lemon - Wine Club Manager
Adam was introduced to the Central Coast at age 5, when in 1989 his family relocated from Southern California to Paso Robles in search of more acreage for their small army of Thoroughbred race horses, dogs, cats and ducks. He spent the vast majority of his childhood years around the farm; riding horses, feeding horses, taking care of the other various critters, or riding his mountain bike around Paso Robles back country roads.
In the Spring of 2000, Adam’s Mother planted 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 acres of Syrah Grapes on their property when he was 15 years old. Through this he learned about the hard work that goes into making an end product. He distinctly remembers helping lay PVC irrigation pipe in triple-digit temperatures by following behind a continuously-moving tractor travelling up a 15 degree slope!
After Adam left Paso Robles to complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, his interest and involvement in the industry had waned to a nearly non-existent state, until he came back to Paso Robles for Summer break in 2007 and got a job working in the Cass tasting room, which happened to be down the street from his Mother’s vineyard.
Even though he left in the Fall to complete his studies, through his hard work and dedication, he would still drive him up to Paso Robles on the weekends just so he could work in the tasting room at Cass. When he moved back to Paso Robles on a permanent basis in 2008, he spent more and more hours working in the tasting room, and even spent a good amount of time helping out with events as well. From here, Adam graduated to Wine Club and Shipping Manager. Adam’s strong work ethic, experience, and positive demeanor make him the ideal person to fulfill this very important role.
Rachel Hunter - Tasting Room Manager
Rachel was lucky enough to be raised in the lovely town of Templeton, California. Throughout her childhood she was involved in year-round sports such as volleyball, softball, and cheerleading. Her summers were spent camping at Lake Nacimiento and traveling. She loved growing up on the central coast because of its great weather, laid-back attitude, and of course great wine, so it only made sense for her to stay in the area and seek out a position that incorporated her favorite things.
Rachel had known our Chef, Jacob, from a previous job and one day simply inquired if Cass was hiring. Well, I guess you can say the rest is history.
She has now been with Cass for a few years and plays a key role in providing exceptional customer service and building relationships with our customers and wine club members.
Michelle Curry - Wedding Coordinator
Michelle grew up in Fresno California, where she enjoyed the first 25 years of her life playing sports, traveling California, and discovering her love for the ocean and the great outdoors. After high school, and few years of traveling, she attended CSU Fresno. It wasn’t until after dipping her toes in a few different majors; Biology, Animal Science and Criminology, that she would discover the explorative major of Recreation Administration. Within this study, she soon learned that she could enjoy planning fundraisers, student backpacking trips, community youth programs, and environmental beautification projects; all in efforts towards accomplishing a degree she loved.
She has always been the person to plan her loved one’s birthdays, vacations, and even a large Portuguese family reunion; she had realized a talent for making these special days perfect! She credits a large portion of her perfectionism and meticulous attention to detail to her father. As a young girl, she can remember helping him create timelines for family vacations to Walt Disney World. Once finished, Michelle would present the family with a packet, including multiple options for each day, and items they would need for each possible scenario! She would say the “event planner seed” had been planted, yet it would not be until many years later that she would be able to grow that passion into a career. In the spring of 2014, an opportunity to merge her passions of event planning and living on the Central Coast presented itself. She took a position at Robert Hall Winery in Paso Robles, assisting in their weddings and events department; and started exploring her new home through kayaking, fishing, hiking, and of course, wine tasting.
Throughout the next 6 months, she fell in love with coordinating weddings and the ability she had to help create lasting memories for those special couples and their families. Fast forward to March, 2015. Michelle started working with Cass Winery as an Event and Wedding Coordinator.
Katie Gebauer C.S.W - Wine Educator
It all began during a mid-winter escape from my frigid hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. I was visiting a friend who brought me to her favorite local winery. As I lounged in the 70 degree weather under the protection of a massive oak tree, sipping a refreshing rose it struck me, "I'm moving here." The town was Paso Robles, the winery was Cass Winery, and nearly five years later there are few things I enjoy more than sitting in that exact spot with a glass of Cass wine.
Since that day my passion for knowledge and curiosity about wine has motivated me to pursue the Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Sommelier programs. I learned about the many facets of wine from history, culture, geology, geography, viticulture and chemistry, among others. I love that each of these aspects is ever evolving.
I created the Wine Education program at Cass with the goal of sharing my wine appreciation and knowledge with anyone, from the novice to the connoisseur, interested in expanding their understanding of wine. My favorite moments are when I am able to witness an individual's wine “Aha" moment; the second something just clicks – as it did with my experience under Cass's oak tree.