Paso Robles has lost one of the region’s most highly respected pioneers.
Winegrape grower Jim Coffee Smoot Jr., who consulted for many of the region’s top wineries over the last three decades, passed away after a year-long fight with cancer. He was 67.
“Jim Smoot set a high standard that many after him emulated,” vintner Justin Baldwin of Justin Vineyards told Wines & Vines, adding: “He was one of a kind, and will never be duplicated.”
Baldwin said he first met Smoot in 1981, “when Jim was the only vineyard consultant in Paso Robles.” Smoot laid out plans and oversaw the planting of Justin Vineyards and Winery. Baldwin described Smoot as well known for his strict attention to detail, and his pride in keeping current with the latest vineyard practices.
“Jim was great at bridging the knowledge gap between city folk like me and others, and the reality of grape farming,” Baldwin recalled. “In many ways he was a mentor, as well as a listening post for the many frustrations we all experience in dealing with nature.”
Doug Beckett of Peachy Canyon Winery said he worked with Smoot frequently in the past when he bought grapes from other vineyards in Paso. “Whenever I went into a contract with a vineyard that Jim managed, it was a guarantee we would get quality fruit and we would get everything the growers promised.”
Smoot, a graduate of Fresno State University, began his winegrape growing career in 1978 in Paso. His peers described him as a visionary who saw the potential of Paso to produce premium quality winegrapes. That was five years before the AVA was established in 1983.
He worked in most of the microclimates and soils within the Paso Robles appellation, and consulted for many of the most highly regarded wineries in the region.
Gary Eberle, founder of Eberle Winery, said, “People always refer to me as a pioneer in Paso, but Jim was one of the very early pioneers in viticulture.” Eberle explained that Smoot was instrumental in raising the overall quality throughout Paso: “He had a whole lot to do with getting the right grapes planted in the right places.”