Claiborne & Churchill Winery Review: Got Gewürztraminer?

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The Thompson family at Claiborne and Churchill winery

In the heart of Edna Valley lies Claiborne & Churchill Winery. Founded in 1983, this winery first specialized in the dry white wines Riesling and Gewürztraminer of Alsace, France. Today, it produces a range of quality whites and reds in a unique winery near San Luis Obispo.

Create Your 805 Wine Country Adventure

Our winery reviews are designed to give you the information you need to learn about the winery, how to get there, and what to do once you make it down.

  • What to Know
  • How to Go
  • What to Do
  • What to Try

What to Know

Claiborne & Churchill Winery was one of the early wineries built to take advantage of the cool climate of the Edna Valley AVA.  

With its picturesque views of the valley and surrounding farmlands and the welcoming feel, both from the winery and the staff, it’s a great place to stop in and see (and taste) what makes Claiborne & Churchill special. 

Inspired by the dry white wines of Alsace, France, owners Claiborne (Clay) and Fredericka Churchill Thompson left behind the academic world as teachers at the University of Michigan and began their winemaking journey in California. Their first crush produced 565 cases of dry Riesling and dry Gewürztraminer. 

Today, they produce about 8,000 cases and a range of wines, including cool-climate Rose, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Grenache. But it’s safe to say that when one is searching for quality white wines on the Central Coast, the name Claiborne & Churchill will be high on the list.

How to Go

The winery is easy to get to, and located just south of the Highway 227 / Price Canyon Road intersection. (Highway 227 is the same as Broad Street if you’re heading south from San Luis Obispo.) Whether you’re coming south from SLO, north from Arroyo Grande, or east from Pismo Beach, the drive is beautiful as you pass vineyards and farmland along the way.  

When you pull into the parking lot with a pretty white fence, look past the tasting room and you’ll see part of their estate vineyard. The tasting room is just ahead.

What to Do

Wine Tasting

The tasting room is at one end of the wine storage and production facility. But this is not the typical metal warehouse you see at many wineries. Built in 1995, the Claiborne & Churchill facility is a straw bale building, made with 16-inch thick walls constructed of bales of rice straw. It was the first straw bale building in California. This method makes it highly energy efficient, as the thick walls provide an incredible R 55 insulation rating to protect against both heat and cold. Inside, the building remains at a constant cellar temperature, with no need for mechanical heating or cooling.

Just inside the front door, be sure to find the “truth window” that shows the straw bale construction that lies beneath the finished stucco walls. 

We’ve been to many tasting rooms inside winery production facilities, but the Claiborne & Churchill tasting room feels very open and inviting, and it’s a great place to taste the wines and get to know the tasting hosts. 

Original rubbing of English knight (Robert Trumpington) done by Claiborne

🍷 Tasting Fees

$18 waived with 2 bottle purchase.

Events

During the summer, they also open up tasting areas outside to enjoy their lawn and pretty side areas. With comfy seating and shade, this area’s nice to relax with wine and to take in the fresh Central Coast air and the beauty of Edna Valley.

Nowadays, many wineries have live music in the summers. Claiborne & Churchill started the trend years ago with their Sips & Songs concerts series on alternating Friday evenings. Today, the event is super popular, as people gather on their lawn and enjoy wine, music, and some local food provided by a local food truck/vendor.

What to Try

As we mentioned, Claiborne & Churchill has made a name for itself by producing Alsace-inspired dry white wines (Riesling and Gewürztraminer). These are fairly rare on the Central Coast and just a few wineries make and specialize in these varietals. This gave Claiborne & Churchill a unique focus. While it took a bit of time to help wine drinkers become familiar with these white wines, Claiborne & Churchill now has a great following and loyal fans, and for good reason. 

Claiborne Thompson talks about the how the winery came about

Since these are the hallmarks of the Claiborne & Churchill program, it’s always good to start with these. 

Under the talents of winemaker Zack Geers, the results with these whites is dry, crisp, and nuanced. If you’ve always thought of Riesling and Gewürztraminerat as sweet, heavy, and unremarkable, Claiborne & Churchill will change your mind. They’re light and will pair perfectly with seafood and lighter foods.

Next, try the Cuvée Fredericka, a unique blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer

All at once rich, aromatic, and fruity, it’s a delightful white wine. 

Each spring, Cuvée Liz is released. The winery’s Rosé of Pinot Noir is dry with a beautiful color, and is named for daughter and Outside Sales Manager Elizabeth. Fun fact: the label features artwork she did when she was 11 years old. 

The winery makes other whites as well, which they may be pouring when you visit. 

Next we move to their lovely reds, starting with Pinot Noir. One of our favorites is the Runestone. Produced in very limited quantities, it showcases vineyard-designated grapes. The name comes from a stone engraved with an inscription of an explorer who died on an expedition. Clay Thompson, who was chair of the Languages Department at the University of Michigan, translated the original inscription for the bottle artwork. 

Claiborne & Churchill also creates wonderful Grenache, Syrah, and Grenache/Syrah blend. They also do a fun Port.

Claiborne and Elizabeth Thompson next to the original runestone that inspired the runestone pinot noir label
Elizabeth Thompson shares their Rose with her artwork
Elizabeth's original art work on the Rosé

Stop in soon to Claiborne & Churchill for a tasting and get ready to explore the world of Alsace white wines combined with exceptional Central Coast expressions of other whites and reds.

Talking with the Claiborne and Churchill family about wines past, present, and future

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